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Playoffs Are Here

The University of Alberta teams start their campaigns for playoff victories today!

It doesn't take much to find playoff hockey in Edmonton right now. A simple trip to Clare Drake Arena will provide hockey fans with two exciting series this weekend. Both the Golden Bears and the Pandas return to action in the Canada West semi-finals starting Friday.  Both teams will play best of three series at Clare Drake over the coming weekend that will determine if they progress to the Canada West Finals.

The University of Alberta Pandas and Golden Bears both finished their regular season conference play with a sweep of the Mount Royal Cougars. Those sweeps allowed both teams to earn byes into the Canada West semi-finals as the first and second ranked teams in the conference.

Pandas Preview

The Pandas finished their season playing the seventh-ranked Mount Royal Cougars.  The Pandas started the home and home series in Clare Drake, where they managed a 4-0 victory that included two power play goals and only one penalty kill - which was, of course, a success. The Pandas goals came from A. Morin, Helfrich, and two from Campbell. After a dominant performance in Clare Drake, the series shifted to Calgary where the Pandas once again were victorious. The margin of victory was much narrower in Saturday's game, however, as the Pandas returned home with a 1-0 victory.

It was also interesting that Friday night's shutout was the 25th of Lindsey Post's career as a Panda. In only 72 conference games, Post has a shut out percentage of approximately 35%. Saturday night saw Post add another shutout to the tally, Cunningham score a vital goal, and the Pandas secure the top spot in the Canada West rankings. There first place finish also saw the Pandas return to the CIS Top Ten in tenth spot. Everything considered, despite their less than ideal start, the Pandas season peaked at exactly the right moment, giving them an ideal finish and momentum heading in the Canada West semi-finals.

After the Canada West Quarter Finals wrapped up last weekend, the Pandas opponent for the semi-final was set. The Pandas will play the University of Manitoba Bison, who at the start of 2016 were tied with the Pandas for first place in Canada West. The Bison had a less than ideal second half to the season and ended their season ranked fifth. The Bison met the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the quarterfinals, and moved past the Huskies in the fifth overtime period of the third game of their series!

The Pandas and the Bison have faced off four times this year, with the Pandas walking away with three victories, including the last two. The Pandas will look to play a similar game to the one they played against Mount Royal. They will be looking to move the puck through the neutral zone, limit their opponent's time in their own zone, and stay away from battles along the boards, which give a size advantage to the Bison. They will also be hoping to see their power play capitalize on any opportunities presented, despite the fact Manitoba has a very strong penalty kill. With similar power plays, the Pandas will be looking to elevate their regular season stats and play a game that is based around their strengths.

Both of these teams have been built with a place in the CIS National Championships in mind, and for the Pandas, the first step to realizing that goal is eliminating the Bison.

University of Alberta Pandas

University of Manitoba Bison

CIS Ranking

10

Not Ranked

Record (Rank)

15-9-1-3 (1st)

13-13-0-4 (5th)

Goals For/Goals Against (Rank)

57/40 (1st)

57/53 (4th)

Power Play (Rank)

16/112 - 14% (3rd)

17/119 - 14% (3rd)

Penalty Kill (Rank)

90/98 -92% (2nd)

72/84 - 86% (2nd)

PIM

234 (7th)

300 (3rd)

Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS)

Alex Poznikoff (11-5-16)

Alanna Sharman (10-12-22)

Golden Bears Preview

The Golden Bears final series of 2015-2016 season was also against the Mount Royal Cougars. However, the Cougars were ranked above the Bears before the series began, sitting second in Canada West in comparison to the Bears third place. With both second place and a playoff bye on the line, the Golden Bears finished their season against the team that beat them to open their season at home.

The Golden Bears and Mount Royal Cougars were both very aware of what hung in the balance of their series. With the Cougars a single point ahead of the Bears at the start of the series, there was a winner-take-all mentality to it.  The Bears prevailed by a score line of 8-4 on Friday, and 2-0 on Saturday.

The final series started in Calgary. The Bears and Cougars faced off in a fast paced affair where Crooks opened the scoring for the Bears at 3:10. The Cougars answered back as the period continued with a goal from Stephens just before the thirteen minute mark. The Bears lead at the end of the first period based on another goal from Crooks, this one coming just after the seventeenth minute mark.

If the first period could be characterized by a back and forth style of play between the two teams, the second period would be the story of the Bears explosive offense. Mount Royal tied the game with a power play goal from Maclise at 3:55, but from that point on the offense as all the Bears. Bredo started the scoring at 10:51, Koper continued it at 12:52, Hart contributed less than a minute later at 13:32, and Dobrowolski added another less than a minute after Hart's at 14:24. The period ended with Ferguson adding a power play goal at 19:46. The second period started and ended with power play goals, but the four goals between them put Mount Royal in a very difficult position from which to recover.

Mount Royal opened the third period with a goal from Marshall at 1:01 and added another from Stephens at 6:26. Unfortunately for those hoping to see a Mount Royal comeback, they managed no more offense, and the last goal of the game was a power play marker scored by Reddick.

With one important victory out of the way, the series shifted back to the Bears home ice. Saturday night saw the Bears honour their graduating players before the puck dropped, and then another hard-hitting game started.  Saturday's game was physical in the extreme, with neither team willing to give ground. The dead lock finally ended at 19:10 of the first period when Carr scored a power play goal. Despite the pressure both teams maintained for the second period, there was no scoring. The third period continued much the same way as the second. Momentum swung back and forth as both teams fought to gain an advantage. This struggle continued until Koper scored an empty net goal in the last minute of the third period.

The Bears opponents in the Canada West semi-finals will be sharp in their memories. The Mount Royal Cougars  swept the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and set up a return match up with their end-of-season foes. These teams remain very well matched, and a playoff series between them looks to be an event worth taking in. Though the Mount Royal special teams are not as highly ranked as the Golden Bears, they have also spent less time in the penalty box over the course of the season. And while playoffs heighten emotions, it was also the Cougars who spent less time in the penalty box over the course of the last home-and-home series. The Bears will be looking to play a fast, disciplined game that will frustrate the Cougars and give the Golden Bears a chance to use their best in the country power play. If they get those chances, while maintaining their own discipline, they will have provided themselves a good opportunity to win the series and advance to the Canada West Finals.

University of Alberta Golden Bears

Mount Royal Cougars

CIS Ranking

4

7

Record (Rank)

19-7-2 (2nd)

17-8-3 (3rd)

Goals For/Goals Against (Rank)

116/66 (1st)

100/73 (3rd)

Power Play (Rank)

32/105- 30% (1st)

25/117 - 21% (3rd)

Penalty Kill (Rank)

94/106 - 89% (1st)

83/104 - 80% (4th)

PIM

407(2nd)

268 (6th)

Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS)

Jordan Hickmott(11-24-35)

Tyler Fiddler (12-23-35)

Game Times

The Pandas play Friday at 2pm, Saturday at 1pm, and Sunday at 1pm if required.

The Golden Bears play Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 6pm, and Sunday at 6pm if required.