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Pandas Busy January Ends with Battle For Mental Health

The University of Alberta Pandas have had a busy month and it ends with an important home game

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The University of Alberta Pandas have had a busy January! They've played six games so far, with a home and home series with the Calgary Dinos closing out the month. The month of January has seen the Pandas earn a .500 record, with three wins and three loses. The Pandas currently sit just behind the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West standings but are not ranked in the CIS Top 10, despite the presence of fourth place Saskatchewan in tenth spot. To be honest, the exclusion of the Pandas and inclusion of the Huskies makes little sense since the Huskies are on a four-game losing streak, the Pandas have more points and a better goal differential, and until recently, have been tied for first place in the Canada West Conference. If another Canada West team was going to join UBC in the CIS Top 10, it would seem logical it would be the Pandas. Only it's not.

The Pandas started their January at home against the Manitoba Bison.  The series was important as the Pandas started 2016 tied with the Bison for first in Canada West. The Pandas managed to sweep the series with two shutouts. The Pandas won on Friday night 2-0 and on Saturday afternoon 3-0.  The Friday game saw Campbell score off the first faceoff. The Pandas maintained their lead throughout the game, peppering Dyck, despite a lacklustre power play that was unable to capitalize on over a minute of 5-on-3 time. The Pandas penalty kill looked less sluggish than the power play, however, and was able to compensate for repeated penalties. The Pandas added an insurance goal in the last minute of the game when Campbell added an empty net tally. Saturday's game saw more of the same with Megan Eady scoring a little past half way through the first period. Dillon and Lutz added goals in the third period to give the Pandas the series sweep. The Pandas did run into some penalty trouble; they took three penalties to Manitoba's one, but the penalty kill was once again up to the task. In an interesting note, freshman Erinn Baddock didn't play in this series despite strong performances in the first half of the year.

The Pandas busy month continued in Vancouver, where the Pandas dropped two games to the UBC Thunderbirds. The Pandas were shut out by the Thunderbirds on Friday night; the Thunderbirds managed to put three past Lindsey Post and added an empty net goal in the third. The Pandas penalty woes continued as they tallied six infractions, but managed to kill all of them. Saturday night's game was a much closer affair, with Froehler scoring off an assist from Poznikoff in the second period to tie the game. Boyd (from former Panda Toth and Parhar) had given the Thunderbirds another first period lead. The game was eventually settled in double overtime, with Boyd scoring again.

The Pandas continued their season on the road the following weekend; this time finding themselves in Regina. As the Regina Cougars are the third place team in Canada West and the Pandas second, the contests were close as expected, with each team winning one. Olenyk (from D. Morin and A. Morin) and Poznikoff (from Cunningham) scored goals for the Pandas while Larson had the Cougars goal on Friday. The Cougars were the team who had trouble staying out of the penalty box in this game; they earned six penalties compared to the Pandas one. The Pandas power play woes continued though because despite multiple attempts, they were unable to capitalize. Saturday's game started differently than Friday's. The first difference was that the Cougars scored first, getting a goal from Magwood. A second difference is that the Pandas tied it up with a power play marker from Poznikoff. This is the first power play goal for the Pandas in five games. The Cougars took the lead early in the second with a goal from Shervan and maintained it until early in the third when Lutz tied it up. Waldenberger added a power play goal for the Cougars, ending the Pandas success at killing penalties. Gavelin added some insurance for Cougars, and despite the fact A. Morin added one more for the Pandas, the comeback fell short.

The Pandas now start their weekend in Calgary playing against the University of Calgary Dinos and finish at the home and home series in Clare Drake. Saturday's game is one of two remaining Pandas home games and is an important one for the Pandas. They will look to earn valuable points against the eighth place Dinos while supporting Mental Health Initiatives on the University Campus. The Dinos are a more dangerous opponent than their eighth place in the Canada West standings reflect. The Dinos have won their last five games, tying them for the longest win streak in the Canada West Conference; Calgary also has the top two scorers in Canada West. The Pandas will need to play a smart game, avoid giving the Dinos power play opportunities, and avoid allowing the Dinos to use their size to their advantage. The Pandas are a smaller team, and the size difference becomes especially apparent when the Pandas find themselves in puck battles along the boards.

This is the first year that the Pandas have supported mental health initiatives, though previous fundraisers have seen them support ovarian cancer research and the Zebra Centre. The Pandas organization plans on supporting their cause this year through a specialty jersey auction, 50/50 raffle, chuck a puck, and other events. With tickets only ten dollars at the door and less in advance, the NHL on All-Star break, a good cause to support, and nice weather expected, there are multiple reasons to help the Pandas pack the Drake.