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U of A Hockey Returns

The Pronghorns are Next on the Nenu

The bye week has ended and the Golden Bears and Pandas return to action this weekend. The Golden Bears will host the struggling University of Lethbridge Pronghorns at Clare Drake Arena. Meanwhile, the Pandas will travel to Lethbridge to play the Pronghorns.

The Golden Bears remained a perfect 8-0-0 after their series against the Regina Cougars; the Golden Bears are the only team in the Canada West Conference with a perfect record. This record sees them perched atop both the Canada West standings and the U Sports Top 10 rankings.

The Golden Bears last series saw them struggle a little more than expected. Despite a comfortable 4-3 win on Friday night, the Golden Bears were expected to steamroll the last place Regina Cougars. That didn’t happen. The Golden Bears started strong with three goals in the first period, but Regina battled back to bring the score within one goal by the end of the second. A scoreless third period saw a far more competitive score line than expected. Saturday’s gamer against the Cougars, a 4-1 victory, was much more aligned with the expected results.

One highlight from the series with the Cougars is Luke Philip’s first goal. Philip had lead the team scoring with 12 assists, but no goals. Getting his first goal of the season, Philip has to be feeling like he’s gotten the metaphorical monkey off his back.

The Pronghorns have a similar record to the Regina Cougars. With only one victory and three points, the Pronghorns will need a substantial change if they wish to challenge the top teams in the Canada West conference. Lethbridge may see that change start against the Golden Bears.

The two teams are a mismatch on paper, but the Golden Bears would be wise not to take the Pronghorns lightly. Lethbridge’s top scorer – Mitchell Maxwell – has four goals and five assists. If the Pronghorns can support him and play a smart defensive game, they won’t be the pushover that might be expected based on their record.

The Golden Bears will have the opportunity to extend their winning streak, build confidence, start positioning themselves for the Canada West playoffs, and take four points from a statistically weaker opponent. Golden Bear top scorers – Philip and Legault – should be able to capitalize on the defensive troubles that have already seen the Pronghorns allow 35 goals. For the Golden Bears, goaltenders Burke and Sawchenko have been solid and can be expected to split the starts.

This Saturday also sees the Golden Bears honour former coach Clarke Drake for his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year.

The Pandas series against the Regina Cougars has a less ideal ending. The Cougars won Friday’s game 3-2 in a shootout. The Pandas rallied, winning Saturday’s game 3-2 in overtime. The way that points are assigned for women’s games in the Canada West, each side earned three points.

The games against Regina highlighted the Pandas ability to play without the pick and their patience in constructing plays against a very good team. The Pandas didn’t become visibly frustrated despite being trapped in their defensive zone for much of the second period on Friday night. They played a strong, disciplined game and used their speed to take advantage of any opportunity presented by Regina. Poznikoff’s overtime winner, for example, was the result of a Regina turnover.

The Pandas will face the Pronghorns in Lethbridge this week. After splitting the last series, the Pandas fell into a second place tie in the Canada West, with 16 points. Their opponents are ranked sixth, but only have one regulation win this season. The relatively small positional disparity does not show through in points. The Pandas have over twice as many points as the Pronghorns this season.

The Pronghorns have depended on goaltender Alicia Anderson this season. She has started in all eight of their games this season and given them a chance to take points from many games. Anderson’s 0.958 save percentage is the highest in the Canada West conference. Her 1.55 goals against average ranks her fourth. Over all, Anderson has been one of the best Canada West goaltenders. The Pandas will have to put a lot of shots on net if they hope for more than a low scoring game.

Offense for the Pandas has come from some unexpected sources so far this season. What might be considered the top line (MacDougall, Ganser, and Poznikoff) has been relatively quiet. Boucher, Olenyk, and D. Morin have gotten off to strong starts in the scoring race. The Pandas scoring has always been presented as a scoring by committee approach, and that has been highlighted so far this season. Hopefully, a series against a traditionally weaker team will allow the Pandas to continue to spread their offense among the entire team.

Solid from the crease forward, the Pandas may split the starts this weekend. They have used both Owen and Chamberlin fairly equally, giving them the option of switching goaltenders without having to worry about having a negative effect on the team.

Much like the Golden Bears, this is a series the Pandas have a statistical advantage in. The Pronghorns, however, have already upset the University of Saskatchewan Huskies this season and aren’t a team to be taken lightly despite their track record in recent years.

The weekend will be a good test for the Pandas and offers a chance to move up in the Canada West standings. The Saskatchewan Huskies and the UBC Thunderbirds play each other; a matchup which pits two top teams in Canada West against each other. If the Thunderbirds sweep the series, the Pandas will regain sole control of second. If the Huskies and Thunderbirds split the series, a Pandas sweep in regulation would see them regain first place.

The Pandas will welcome the Saskatchewan Huskies to Clare Drake on November 17th. The Golden Bears will travel to Saskatoon to play the second place Huskies that weekend. As the Bears have a three point advantage on the Huskies, next weekend will be an important series in determining who will win the Canada West.