Hockey has once again returned to Clare Drake Arena as both the Golden Bears and Pandas have opened their seasons. Both teams had successful opening weekends. This coming weekend sees the Golden Bears host the University of Manitoba Bisons at home. Meanwhile, the Pandas will travel to Winnipeg to play the Bisons in a ses on the road.
The Golden Bears had very strong opening weekend. The routed the Mount Royal Cougars by a score of 7-0 at Clare Drake on Friday night. The Bears added a second 5-1 victory over Mount Royal in Calgary on Saturday, completing their sweep.
The Bears offence was firing on all cylinders on Friday night. Six Golden Bears had multi-point games. Luke Philip ended the night with four points and first star honours. The Bears dominance continued on Saturday night. Luke Philip recorded his second multi-point game in as many nights, recording another two assists. Goaltending duties were split between Brian Burke and newcomer Zach Sawchenko. Burke recorded a 26 save performance on Friday night. Sawchenko, making his debut in Canada West play, had 17 saves on 18 shots. The Bears opening weekend was a solid performance from start to finish.
With strong performances from all areas of the ice, the Bears have placed themselves near the top of the Canada West Conference standings and second in the U Sports National rankings. They appear ready to challenge for their 54th conference title. Beyond individuals having excellent games to start the season, the Bears have looked organized and comfortable. All four forward lines seem to have some chemistry – even if the lines change mid-game – and the defensive pairings are able to balance jumping up in the play and their defensive responsibilities.
The coming weekend sees the Manitoba Bisons try to topple the Bears. The Bisons got off to a slower start than the Bears, splitting their opening series against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. They lost the opening game 6-4, but rebounded for a 3-2 victory on Saturday night. Both teams will be looking to continue their winning ways.
The Pandas didn’t get off to the same start as the Golden Bears. The Pandas split their opening series with the Mount Royal Cougars, losing on the fourth round of a shootout. The Pandas still had a very good weekend, finishing on top of the Canada West standings and being ranked the top team in the U Sports National rankings.
The Pandas first road game of the year resulted in a 4-0 victory. Despite a 2-1 loss in the shootout, the Pandas dominated the majority of play. Several close chances, including one gorgeous shot that went off a post, highlighted the Pandas game; however, they were unable to convert a second time.
There were many positives to be noted from the weekend. The Pandas cycled the puck very well, especially on the power play. They moved through the neutral zone with speed, won battles along the boards, and controlled the puck and the speed of play.
Deanne Morin had two goals over the weekend; she was one of six Canada West players to record multiple goas on opening weekend. Goals came from all lines for the Pandas, getting their scoring by committee philosophy off to a good start. The Pandas will have to continue to reply on depth and discipline as their next series is against the Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg.
The Bisons split their series with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Bisons last clashed with the Pandas in the Canada West playoffs where they were swept. Manitoba will be looking for a different result this time around. Venla Hovi has looked dangerous with a goal and two assists in the first two games of the season.
A clash with the Bisons will test the depth of the Pandas roster. With two deep teams, the Pandas and the Bisons may just be the series to watch in week two.
The University of Alberta teams had an excellent opening weekend; both teams are highly ranked in the Canada West Conference standings. They will look to continue the momentum in week two.