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Big Weekend for University of Alberta Hockey

Golden Bears and Pandas Both in Action at Clare Drake

University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas

The University of Alberta hockey teams reignite the battle of Alberta with a home-and-home series with the University of Calgary Dinos. Both the University of Alberta Pandas and the Golden Bears will be in action on opposite nights as they switch venues in their weekend series. The Pandas team will host the Dinos on January 20th with the Golden Bears in Calgary, and the Bears will welcome the Dinos to Clare Drake on January 21st while the Pandas finish their series away from home.

The Pandas, who are currently second in the Canada West Conference, will play the eighth place Calgary Dinos. This is an important match-up for the Pandas as they are second by only one point, and only the first two teams in the Canada West standings receive a bye to the semi-finals of the playoffs. With the third place Manitoba Bisons playing the 7th place Lethbridge Pronghorns, the Pandas need to secure as many points as possible this weekend. They are also coming off two road wins in Regina against the University of Regina Cougars.

The University of Calgary Dinos have only 11 points this season and a penalty kill which is just under 80% successful. The Dinos have no players in the Canada West Top 20 scorers while the Pandas have three players. The statistics favour the Pandas in goals scored, fewer goals allowed, penalty kill percentage, effective power play percentage, and save percentage by the teams’ goaltenders. The only statistic where the teams are comparable is in penalty minutes: both teams have spent more time in the penalty box than many teams in the CIS.

These more frequent trips to the penalty box by the Pandas are less daunting against a team that manages a less than seven percent success rate on their power play, but are something the Pandas need to watch out for going forward in their end-of-season push. The players that spend the most time in the penalty box – D. Morin and M. Kelly – are important offensive and defensive players. Teams such as the Saskatchewan Huskies or the Manitoba Bisons will do their best to capitalize on any losses in control by the Pandas.

While everything points to a very winnable series for the Pandas, last year the Dinos went on a long winning streak to end the season, and their top scorer – Sasha Vafina – had an excellent rookie campaign. She’s been in a bit of a sophomore slump, but that doesn’t make her any less dangerous on the ice, or the Dinos any less willing to ruin the Pandas attempt to maintain their ranking in the Canada West.

Despite the urge to look beyond the eighth place team to opponents with higher ranks, the Pandas will need to be present and focused to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. They will need to rely on strong performances from whichever of their three goalies is in net for the series and will be hoping for an early goal to give themselves some breathing room.

The University of Alberta Golden Bears also have the University of Calgary Dinos. However, the matchup isn’t one that favours the Bears in the same way as it favours the Pandas. The Bears are also ranked second in the Canada West Conference, but instead of being ranked eighth like their women’s team, the men’s Dinos are ranked fourth. With only five points separating the Bears from the first place Huskies, and dominate performances against the University of Regina Cougars last week, the Golden Bears will be looking to close the gap some while opening up some space between them and the third place Mount Royal Cougars.

The Golden Bears have been a less than consistent team this year, struggling to hold onto leads or allowing game-winning goals in the last minutes (both games against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds) and following up a lackluster performance with a blowout the next weekend (the University of Regina Cougars). It leaves one wondering which team is going to take the ice, one that dominates or one that falls short.

The Bears have struggled from the crease forward as Luke Seimens’s play has been the Bears play in miniature. He is capable of making saves worthy of a highlight reel and just as likely to let in two goals on five shots from the hashmarks. Sometimes brilliant but frighteningly inconsistent, Seimens is the Bears starting goaltender and sets the tone for some of their defensive blunders. Likewise, the offense may or may not be able to score. They were shutout in both of their last games against the top ranked University of Saskatchewan Huskies, but scored 11 against Regina.

The additions of Fram and Sanford seems to have given the Bears more offense to work with as now they have three credible lines with which to attack. Between Crooks, who ranks third in the Canda West scoring race, and Hart and Baillie – fifth and sixth-- the Bears should have the offensive tools they need to be successful. A returning Legault – a selection to the CIS All Freshman team in 2014-2015 – should also contribute to the Bears offense.

The Bears and Dinos have similar power play conversation rates, only 0.1% separates the Dinos from their northern opponents. The Bears penalty kill is over 90% effective and is considerably better than the Dinos 82%. Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into a battle of special teams as both teams have spent a similar amount of time in the penalty box over the course of the season. While the Bears hold an advantage on the penalty kill, their penalty killing players are also the ones who have been producing the majority of their offense and hampering them by spending a lot of time in the penalty box doesn’t serve the Bears aim to take all four points.

With the series starting in Calgary, the rivalry should already be well underway for Saturday night’s game in Clare Drake, and it should be an entertaining and physical matchup. It will certainly be a great weekend of hockey at Clare Drake as the Canada West Battle of Alberta begins again.