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Bears Fall Prey to Bison and Look to Rebound

The Golden Bears Return to Clare Drake this Weekend

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The Golden Bears look to open their home schedule in 2016 with a better result than they saw on the road last weekend. The Bears host the University of British Columbia's Thunderbirds this weekend in a rematch of a somewhat tumultuous series played in Vancouver back in November. Coming off a disappointing series in Manitoba, the Golden Bears will be looking to prove themselves on home ice.

The Bears' season is heavily weighted towards home games during the final stretch of the 2015-2016, providing them with multiple opportunities to improve their record on home ice. The Bears sit second in Canada West but sixth in the CIS National Rankings, which is the lowest they've been so far this season. This dip in ranking can most probably be attributed to the fact the Bears were swept in Manitoba by the Bison last weekend. They lost the first game by a score of 7-4 and the second by a score of 3-2.

The Golden Bears travelled Winnipeg for their first series after the winter break. Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, their trip to Manitoba got off to a rough start when Brooks scored exactly five minutes into the first period. Less than a minute later, Hickmott tied the game. DePape quickly gave Manitoba the lead once more with a goal at 6:08, but the real story for the Golden Bears was in goal. Halfway through the first period the Bears were trailing 2-1, and the shots favoured Alberta by a margin of 5-3. If the Golden Bears hope to make a deep run into the spring, they will need early goaltending that can provide a better than 0.33 save percentage. The Golden Bears offense, while formidable, is most effective when it is not called upon to bail out questionable goaltending.

The end of the first period saw the scored tied at two. Dobrowolski added a power play marker at 12:58 to once again bring things level. The Bears, however, gave up a goal early in the second (scored by Wasylak). As has happened in the first, the Bears responded with Kieser and Carr both scoring by 10:41 to give the Bears their first lead of the night. The Bison, however, didn't go away. Stovin scored at 15:33 of the second, and both teams once again ended the period tied.

The Golden Bears surrendered three unanswered goals throughout the third period (a power play marker for Bresciani, and goals for Merasty and Hunter), which lead to 7-4 defeat. As with the early minutes, the story of the game for the Bears was truly found in goal. Luke Siemens faced only 21 shots through the 53 minutes he played. That roughly equates to every third shot being a goal. If the Bears are looking to be contenders for the CIS National Championship, they will need a better performance out of Siemens.

The Bears and Bison tangled again on Saturday. The Bears again started Siemens, who had a better game. He only allowed 3 goals on 23 shots instead of 7 on 21. However, he was nowhere near as reliable as Justin Paulic of the University of Manitoba, who faced 48 shots and still only allowed two goals. The Bison goals came from DePape, Callis, and Merasty while the Bears offense was provided by Reddick and Kieser. Again, the Bears had a lead during the game and allowed it slip away.  The Bears drop the season series to the Bison 1-2-1. A losing season series against Manitoba is a new development for the Bears, but one they will have to shake off as they get ready to host the Thunderbirds.

The UBC Thunderbirds have a penalty kill that's second only to the Golden Bears, so the Bears will have to make their power play opportunities work for them. They can't expect to have the easy goals they did against the Regina Cougars earlier in the season.

The Golden Bears managed two goals over the course of six Manitoba penalties in Winnipeg, which is fairly good. However, if they manage to get some consistent goaltending a reliance on power play goals won't be as critical. The Bears need to be able to trust that every third shot won't make it past their goaltender, and after two less than fantastic performances in Winnipeg, Siemens's save percentage has dropped to a 0.902. The Bears are also in the unenviable of having two virtually untested backups. Demharter, who relieved Seimens in Winnipeg, has very limited experience. Daigle, meanwhile, is a new addition to the team. Over the course of the season, a definite preference has been shown towards playing Siemens, despite several rough games.

  University of Alberta Golden Bears University of British Columbia Thunderbirds
CIS Ranking 6 Not Ranked
Record (Rank) 12-5-1 (2nd) 8-7-3 (5th)
Goals For/Goals Against (Rank) 74/41   (1st) 49/54 (6th)
Power Play (Rank) 21/64 - 33% (1st) 16/75  - 21% (6th)
Penalty Kill (Rank) 58/66 - 88% (1st) 73/84 - 87% (2nd)
PIM 228(3rd) 230(2nd)
Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS) Jordan Hickmott(9-14-23) Anthony Bardaro (9-10-19)

If the Golden Bears are going to turn this weekend's series into a rebound effort, solid goaltending and the ability to keep a lead will be key. The Bears have lost several games over the course of the season by being unable to prevent late goals or protect their lead.  Hopefully, the somewhat lackluster offense of the Thunderbirds helps the Bears in this respect. The Thunderbirds top scorer (Bardaro) is the only member of their team with a position in the top 50 of the CIS scoring race.  The Bears maintain thee players ahead of Bardaro in the scoring race: Hickmott, Koper, and Reddick.

Fortunately, the Bears also play one of the few Canada West Teams prone to taking more penalties than they do. If the Bears can play a disciplined game and provoke a few UBC penalties, they should be able to see if their first ranked power play can crack UBC's second ranked penalty kill.

Games go Friday night at 7pm and Saturday night at 6pm.