TORONTO, ON – Handshakes for both sides, but just one advancing. After gruelling playoff battles, it’s a facet in hockey, something that had been missing in the U SPORTS game since March 2020, before COVID-19 ravaged North America.
On Saturday, the Alberta Pandas and Saskatchewan Huskies punched their ticket to the Canada West semi-finals, completing their respective sweeps in the quarter-finals and cueing the handshake lines.
Alberta, who finished the season in third place, just missing out on a top-two bye, will play the second-seeded UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver, while Saskatchewan makes their way to Calgary to take on the Mount Royal Cougars.
The winners of the semi-final best-of-three series move on to the U SPORTS National Championship, hosted by UPEI.
Stingy series ends with Alberta advancing
Although the Alberta Pandas were the higher-seeded team heading into the weekend, their series with the Regina Cougars could not have been closer.
In Game 1 on Friday night, it took until the third period for the goals to start flying. Regina had opened the scoring in the first period through a goal from Olivia Leggett but couldn’t add to their lead until the third.
For Alberta, it came down to two goals in the final 10 minutes to flip the score from 2-1 to 3-2 in their favour, with former Carleton Raven Megan Wilson scoring her first Canada West playoff goal and the eventual winner.
While the Game 1 victory took until late to settle, Game 2 was much more peculiar, with the two sides combining for just 27 shots over the full game. In Game 1, Alberta had 29 shots compared to 15 in Game 2.
The tight second game came down to goaltending for the two teams, neither of whom looked to take any chances. Third-year Pandas goalie Halle Oswald stopped all 12 shots, while Payton Laumbauch and Taylor Anchor scored to sent the Cougars packing.
With the sweep, Alberta moves on to face UBC, a team they lost twice to this season.
Saskatchewan Huskies topple higher-seeded Bisons
The Saskatchewan Huskies needed two games to sweep the Manitoba Bisons out of the Canada West playoff picture, winning on Friday and Saturday night to book their spot in the semi-finals.
Only two points split the teams in the standings, making it an even matchup coming in, but with the Bisons hosting in Winnipeg, it would have been a safe bet to pick them getting at least one win.
On Friday, Saskatchewan Abby Shirley opened the scoring in the first period before later completing her hat-trick with an empty-net goal, leading the Huskies to a 4-2 win.
While Shirley’s offensive output pushed Saskatchewan over the edge in Game 1, the Bisons kept it close for most of the game, ending the first period at one apiece and being tied heading into the final five minutes.
Scoring against Manitoba’s Erin Fargey marked the first time the Huskies had led the Bisons all season, after losing all four games to them in the regular season.
Goaltender Camryn Drever’s 18 save shutout, while also scoring three goals to secure their place in the semi-finals.
The Huskies brought all they could to Saturday’s second game, winning 3-0 to eliminate Manitoba.
Sophie Lalor opened the scoring for the lower-seeded Huskies before adding a later assist for her two-point night, en route to Saskatchewan’s victory.
Abby Shirley did not add another goal to her playoff tally. Still, she picked up an assist on Saskatchewan’s second goal of the night, bringing the Delisle, SK native to four playoff points, leading the Canada West in scoring.
Huskies goaltender Camryn Drever ensured the Huskies did not need all three goals, stopping all 18 shots to secure the elimination game shutout.
“It feels really good. I’m feeling really confident coming out of last night’s win, and I just want to build going forward,” Drever told HuskieFan.ca. “(The team) played unbelievable both games this weekend. I owe it to them for sure. They forechecked so hard, and I’m just very proud of them.”
With the sweep, Saskatchewan shifts their focus to next week and a semi-final series with the nationally-ranked MRU Cougars, who topped the Canada West conference regular-season standings.
Cover Photo: Don Voaklander/Flickr