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Regular Season Wraps Up with a Home-and-Home Series

The Pandas and Golden Bears wrap up their respective seasons with a home and home series against the Mount Royal Cougars

Both University of Alberta hockey teams finish their regular conference 2015-2016 seasons with home-and-home series against the Mount Royal University Cougars. Both teams find themselves sitting in third place in their respective conferences. The Pandas find themselves in a much tighter race as their regular season draws to a close; only two points separate the Pandas from the first place team in Canada West: UBC. The Golden Bears, however, find first in the Canada West out of their reach. Six points separate the Golden Bears from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. However, the Bears face a steeper test in that the MRU Cougars are currently ranked second in Canada West while Mount Royal's women's team ranks seventh in Canada West.

Pandas Preview

The Pandas played away from home in Saskatoon while the Bears hosted the Huskies at Clare Drake this past weekend. The Pandas had some success against the Huskies, managing to pick up a victory in Saturday night in double overtime after losing a tight game on Friday night. The Golden Bears managed to collect victories in two hotly contested affairs where the watch word seemed to be dramatics.

The Pandas started their game on Friday on a positive note. Despite there being no scoring in the first period, the Pandas' Ashley Morin opened the scoring at 13:23 of the second. Unfortunately for the road team, by the period's end Willoughby and Zary had added goals for the Huskies, giving the home side a lead. With no scoring in the third, the Pandas fell by a score of 2-1 to the Huskies, but the Pandas played a very disciplined game. They received only two penalties, both of which they were able to neutralize.

Saturday night saw the Pandas and Huskies return for the ice in the final game of their season series. The results favoured the Alberta side, as they prevailed in double overtime. The final score was again 2-1, but this time the Pandas were the team on top. Cunningham scored a power play goal for the Pandas late in the first period. That goal stood as the game winning goal until the very end of the third period. Flinton scored for the Huskies at 19:56 of the third period, forcing the game to overtime. As one overtime period was not enough to settle the matter, the game moved to double overtime.  1:27 into the second overtime, Steblin scored a second power play goal for the Pandas, ending the game.  The Saturday night game was a less disciplined affair, with the Pandas accumulating seven penalties and successfully negating the Huskie's advantage each time.  The Pandas power play was also quite successful, with two goals scored on six opportunities.

Going into their final series, the Pandas will want to limit the work their penalty kill has to do, despite its excellent results; it ranks third in CIS with a 92% success rate. Mount Royal has a power play which scores on only 11% of opportunities, but power plays are often responsible for momentum changes during games. The Pandas power play is only slightly more effective; it has approximately a 14% conversion rate. This shouldn't be a problem as the two least penalized teams in Canada West are facing off in this series.  The Pandas will be hoping to use the lower-ranked Mount Royal to solidify a bye into the semi-finals of the Canada West playoffs.

University of Alberta Pandas Mount Royal Cougars
CIS Ranking Not Ranked Not Ranked
Record (Rank) 13-9-1-3 (3rd) 9-12-3-2 (7th)
Goals For/Goals Against (Rank) 57/40 (1st) 50/59 (6th)
Power Play (Rank) 14/101 - 14% (4th) 12/112 - 11% (8th)
Penalty Kill (Rank) 90/98 -92% (2nd) 72/84 - 86% (5th)
PIM 218 (7th) 180 (8th)
Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS) Alex Poznikoff (11-5-16) Sarah Weninger (11-5-16)

Golden Bears Preview

The Golden Bears played a series against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies that was the definition of the term donnybrook. Friday night started with the Bears in special warm up jerseys and a three piece drumline in the arena. From the very start of the game, it was apparent there was no love lost between the teams. Each scrum in front of either net or after the whistle had an intensity to it which hinted at the long history of competition between these two teams.

By halfway through the first period, the Huskies' Fransoo had garnered a ten minute misconduct. Despite the flaring tempers, the game remained deadlocked until 9:40 of the second period when Riley Kieser scored for the Bears. By far the most dramatic part of the game was a fan managing to shatter a panel of glas as the teams on the ice once again let their tempers run away with them after the whistle. It certainly is a rare experience to see the glass shatter just from the force of the fans' passion.

While the resulting clean-up operation might have given both sides a chance to rein in their tempers, it was not to be. From the melee came a power play opportunity for the Bears, and they capitalized on it early in the third period with Jordan Rowley scoring a power play goal. With Luke Siemens playing to the potential that was obvious in his limited starts last year, the Bears were able to weather the storm as the game disintegrated into a series of lost tempers and retaliation penalties. The Bears would finish with three goals as Kruise Reddick added one more power play goal late in the period. Siemens managed to maintain his shutout.

The real story was the 15 penalties the Golden Bears and the 16 penalties the Huskies took. With the ridiculous amount of special teams on display, the game could hardly be called one for the ages, but it was definitely an experience.

Saturday's night game looked to be starting in the exact same way as the Golden Bears' Yadlowski took a ten minute misconduct penalty before the puck was dropped. The majority of the first period was similar to Friday's game - intense competition between talented competitors. Levko Koper changed the course of the game at 16:40 in the first when he scored. During the second period, the Golden Bears added two more goals to their lead, both of on the power play and courtesy of Jordan Rowley and Thomas Carr.

The Bears gave up both a short-handed goal, scored by Jesse Ross, and an even strength goal from Sean Aschim before the end of the period. With their lead reduced to one, the Bears returned to the ice in the third determined to separate themselves from their opponents and regain a more comfortable lead. After all, when playing the best team in the country, a one goal lead may not seem to be enough. Legault added a power play goal in the third, and Jamie Crooks added some extra insurance at 15:14 in the third. With a final score of 5-2, and a less disruptive 7 Golden Bears and 12 Huskies penalties, the weekend series ended.

With two victories over the top team in the country behind them, the Bears look to face the team directly ahead of them in the Canada West standings. With only one point separating the Bears and the Cougars, the coming series will determine if the Bears finish with a bye into the semi-finals of the Canada West playoffs.

The Bears and the Cougars are evenly matched teams who have a similar motivations and records going into this weekend. The power plays and penalty kills of both teams are closely ranked. The Mount Royal Cougars have two players in the CIS scoring race. In fact, their top scorer-Tyler Fiddler-ranks above the top-ranked Golden Bear-Jordan Hickmott. However, the Bears have a considerably greater representation on that list-five Bears are present compared to only two Cougars.

University of Alberta Golden Bears Mount Royal Cougars
CIS Ranking 5 7
Record (Rank) 17-7-2 (3rd) 17-6-3 (2nd)
Goals For/Goals Against (Rank) 106/62 (1st) 96/63 (3rd)
Power Play (Rank) 29/99 - 29% (1st) 24/108  - 22% (3rd)
Penalty Kill (Rank) 86/98 - 88% (2nd) 80/98 - 82% (3rd)
PIM 387 (1st) 242 (6th)
Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS) Jordan Hickmott (11-21-32) Tyler Fiddler (12-23-35)

Farewell to the Graduating Players

This weekend is also an opportunity to recognize the graduating players from both teams as this home and home series marks the end of the 2015-2016 regular season. Both teams have a considerable number of players in their last year of CIS eligibility.

The Pandas graduating class consists of Natasha Steblin, Janelle Froehler, Tess Houston, Lindsey Cunningham, Amy Helfrich, and Alison Campbell. Their leadership, abilities, and ability to score some truly timely goals will be missed.

The Golden Bears graduating class is made up of Thomas Carr, Brett Ferguson, Kruise Reddick, Jordan Hickmott, James Dobrowolski, Levko Koper, and Jordan Rowley. With important pieces of their offense and defense graduating at the end of this season, it will be somewhat of a new look Golden Bears team for 2016-2017.