TORONTO, ON – The Calgary Dinos had never beaten the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West playoffs.
That is, until Sunday, when the Dinos ended a roller-coaster best-of-three series with a 4-3 win over one of the premier programs in Canadian university hockey, sealing a watershed victory and booking a date with the Alberta Golden Bears.
The Calgary Dinos got out to a quick start in Game 1 of the series, beating the Huskies 3-2 in Saskatoon, led by a 33 save performance from goaltender Brodan Salmond. In Game 2, the Huskies staved off elimination with a dominant 4-0 win.
While the Huskies entered the series as the higher-seed, and with championship expectations, once the puck hit the ice, the two teams were even, leading them to a do or die third game on Sunday.
Stretching the series to an extra game, the two programs ensured the spotlight was on them, with only one other U SPORTS men’s hockey game scheduled for Sunday.
Roller coaster or hockey game?
The Huskies did not get out to the start that they hoped for, conceding in the first five minutes as Calgary’s Connor Guttenberg slotted his shot home on the powerplay.
While Saskatchewan couldn’t get a puck past Salmond in the first, forward Zane Franklin imposed the Huskies’ physical play checking a Calgary player over the boards and into the Dinos’ bench.
The Dinos extended their lead midway through the second with Riley Stotts scoring his first of the post-season, but the second-period story fell to Saskatchewan Vince Loschiavo.
The rookie forward brought the Huskies within a goal less than a minute after falling back to 2-0, before levelling the game a two apiece with 4:30 to go in the period and leaving it tied entering the third.
Looking like they had found their rhythm in front of the home crowd, the Huskies extended their lead to 3-2 with Gunner Kinniburgh scoring his first U SPORTS goal seven minutes into the period. However, that soon dissipated.
When Mike Babcock coached the Toronto Maple Leafs, his teams became known for folding late in games and their early first-round playoff exits. But, with 13 minutes to go, the former NHL coach and Olympic champion hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
Tim Vanstone took the game upon himself, grabbing the puck and beating two defenders before slotting his shot past Ross to bring the Dinos back level at three.
“[I’m] glad I could be the guy who could put it in the back of the net! If it wasn’t me, it was gonna be someone else,” he said of his goal, which sparked the Dinos’ late comeback. “The timing of it. The finish. It’s something I’ll definitely take to the next round.”
For the Huskies’ Babock, the goal was a turning point too. “The game was 3-2 and I didn’t like the way the game was going. We made huge mistakes on the Vanstone goal,” he told HuskieFan.ca.
Calgary’s Max Patterson silenced the 2,149 fans with his winning goal, firing the puck through a crowd and past Ross to put the Dinos back in front with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
Despite late pressure from Saskatchewan, Calgary stayed solid and with a late save from Salmond, saw out the win, sealing their first-ever playoff series win over Saskatchewan.
Post-game and moving on
With the series victory, the Dinos move on to face Mount Royal in a best-of-three semifinal series next weekend, with the winner moving onto the Canada West final and sealing a spot at the U CUP tournament in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
“What a roller coaster game,” Dinos head coach Mark Howell said to Huskies Athletics on Sunday. “I’m really, really happy for these guys. We’ve been kind of up and down all year, but we’ve learned lots and now we get to go to the semis.”
For the Huskies, missing key plyer on Sunday and down the seasons’ final stretch hit them in their third game in three days.
“Our lack of depth was exposed in this series. I thought we played well in Game 1 and Game 2. I didn’t think we were as good today – they were the better team than we were,” Babcock told HuskieFan.ca “In the end, even though we got some breaks, we weren’t able to maintain play at a high enough level. It is disappointing.”
With the Huskies season in the books, it is no secret that Babcock is looking to return to the NHL. Still, after the game, he wouldn’t hint at future plans to HuskieFan.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and my wife have a deal where we meet at the end of every year and talk about what we are doing next,” he said. “For a long time, we went everywhere and that’s what we had to do. We don’t have to do that anymore, so we will talk about it and get it all sorted out.”
The Dinos drop the puck against the Alberta Golden Bears on Friday, looking for a spot in the final against UBC or Mount Royal.
Cover Photo: Calgary Dinos Athletics