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Golden Bears look for Canada West Three-Peat

University of Alberta Bears head back to the Canada West Finals

The Golden Bears have arrived back exactly where they were this time last year: the Canada West Finals. Last weekend, they swept the Mount Royal Cougars in the Canada West semi-finals. The Bears have also booked their ticket back to the CIS National Championship based on the format change that allows each division of the CIS to send two teams.

The Golden Bears swept the Cougars 7-1 on Friday night and 5-3 on Saturday night. The Bears now face the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West finals.  The finals will be March 4th to March 6th, and the Bears will travel to Saskatoon to play the Huskies in their arena as the lower seed.

The last time these two teams met was near to the end of the season, and the Bears swept the Huskies by scores of 3-1 on Friday night and 5-2 on Saturday night. The Huskies were the Bears' second last opponents during the regular season; the Bears have been facing their playoff opponents in reverse order of how their season ended.

The Bears offense was firing on all cylinders during their series with the Cougars. It started early on Friday night with Bredo scoring just 1:40 into the game. Fiddler tied the game for Mount Royal at 3:43 with a power play goal, but that was all the offense the Cougars would be able to mount. Crooks scored the game-winning goal just after fourteen minutes in the first. Hart added another goal at 3:37 into the second; Rowley added another goal at 15:46, and Ferguson capitalized on a power play opportunity in the last minute of the second period. Crooks added another power play goal in the third, and Hickmott scored the Bears last goal at 16:10 of the third period. The real story of the game was the penalties; the Bears and Cougars exchanged trips to the box with stunning frequency.

The second game in the series got off to a very different start. Stephens scored in the first period, and then Mount Royal doubled their lead just under eight minutes into the second with a  goal by Brown. The Bears got one back when Crooks scored on the power play. Fiddler regained a two goal lead for the Cougars with a the Cougars power play goal. Reddick and Hickmott scored for the Golden Bears, levelling the score at three by the end of the second period. Hickmott scored the game-winning goal about half way through the third period, and Ferguson added an empty-net goal in the last minute of the series. The Bears managed a come from behind victory, but again they found themselves spending a considerable amount of time in the penalty box. With Mount Royal capitalizing one of their power play opportunities, the Bears will need to play a more disciplined game against Saskatchewan. The last time the Bears and the Huskies played, it was a penalty-filled affair.

This time these two rivals are meeting for the Canada West Championship, and if tensions were high before, they're bound to be even higher. Though both teams are going to the CIS finals, the champion will secure a better seeding during the group stages.

The Bears are playing a Huskies team who also swept their opponents (the Calgary Dinos) in the semi-finals. The first game, however, was much more competitive as it took the Huskies two overtime periods to solve the Dinos. As the Bears and the Huskies are comparable in most statistical measures-to be expected from the first and second teams-the Bears must do their best to play a disciplined game.

When the Bears last played the Huskies, penalty trouble was the Huskies ultimate downfall. The Bears power play was able to capitalize on opportunities and use that momentum to control the game. The Huskies are just as capable of using power play goals as catalysts, and the Bears must be careful not to give them the opportunity. Both the Bears and the Huskies are teams with no shortage of offensive talent. Over the course of the season, both teams have scored frequently and limited the chances seen by their goalies.

  University of Alberta Golden Bears University of Saskatchewan Huskies
CIS Ranking 4 3
Record (Rank) 19-7-2 (2nd) 22-6-0 (1st)
Goals For/Goals Against (Rank) 116/66   (1st) 113/72 (2nd)
Power Play (Rank) 32/105 - 31% (1st) 31/117  - 27% (2nd)
Penalty Kill (Rank) 92/105 - 89% (1st) 56/77 - 81% (3rd)
PIM 407 (2nd) 404 (3rd)
Leading Scorer (G-A-PTS) Jordan Hickmott (11-24-35) Kohl Bauml (12-21-33)

The Bears will need a strong performance from their goaltender, which is one position which has been inconsistent throughout the year, to stymy the Huskies' goal scorers. By the same measure, the Bears will be looking to make Saskatchewan's goaltender face a lot of shots - much like they did in their most recent series at Clare Drake. Whatever else can be said about this series, it will be full of passion, skill, and at the end, we will know who the best team in Canada West was this year.