Both the University of Alberta Pandas and Golden Bears were in action last weekend in the Canada West semi-finals. The Clare Drake Arena played host to two playoffs series as both the Pandas and Golden Bears entered their respective series as the higher seed. Both teams finished the regular season as the second ranked team in the Canada West Conference, earning a bye to the semi-finals.
The Pandas played against the University of Manitoba Bisons in the 2pm series and took the first game 3-2. The Pandas got an early power play goal from Abby Benning from Regan Wright and Ashley Morin at 5:23 of the first. The Pandas kept their lead over the Bison until 1:24 of the second period when Canada West scoring leader Lauryn Keen (from Venla Hovi) evened the game at 1. Less than two minutes later, Amy Boucher regained the lead for the Pandas. The Pandas maintained their lead for the rest of the game when Alex Poznikoff added a third goal on the power play. Poznikoff was assisted by Cayle Dillion and Pandas captain Sasha Lutz. The Bisons also tallied a power play goal from Erica Reider assisted by Lauryn Keen. Despite Keen’s multipoint game, it wasn’t enough as the Pandas held onto their lead and took the first game of the best of three series.
The second game of the series started Saturday afternoon. The Bisons needed to win to push the series to three games. Abby Benning once again opened the scoring at 12:58 of the first period. The Bisons evened it up on the power play as Karissa Kirkup scored. Ashley Morin put the Pandas ahead again before the end of the second period. Despite back and forth action and a number of trips to the penalty box by both teams, the Pandas added a third goal scored by rookie Kennedy Ganser unassisted. Much like the first game, the Bisons’ added another goal. This one came from Venla Hovi, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Pandas from sweeping them and assuring themselves a place in the Canada West Finals and the Coupe U Cup later in March.
Next up for the Pandas are the defending Canada West Champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the Canada West Finals this coming weekend. As the top ranked team in the country, the Thunderbirds have home ice advantage and the Pandas travel to Vancouver to attempt to dethrone the reigning Canada West Champions. The Pandas won only their last game against the Thunderbirds, but have had a very successful second half to their season. They have had impressive performances from veteran goaltender Lindsey Post, rookie forward Kennedy Ganser, and sophomore defender Abby Benning.
The Golden Bears faced their own opponent later in the day. The Bears welcomed the third-ranked University of Calgary Dinos for a playoff Battle of Alberta. The Bears fell behind early in game one giving up a goal (scored by Danny Gayle) as the Bears penalty kill ended. The Bears then scored three goals; two of them in quick succession at 2:11 and 3:00 of the second period. Cole Sanford and Lucas Nickles were responsible for the first two goals and Rhett Rachinski scored the third short-handed, as the second period saw the Bears take six penalties. The Dinos then scored three goals of their own in a see-saw affair. The Dinos goals from Gayle, L. Fisher, and Dow came in less than a minute and caused the Bears to switch goalies from Burke to Siemens. Rachinski added to his second goal of the game late in the third to send the game to overtime, where Luke Philip became the overtime hero and lifted the Bears to an exciting game one victory.
The rematch of on Saturday night was just as full of fireworks, as the Bears managed the score the first goal courtesy of Luke Philip at 17:49 of first period. Parker Bowles tied the game at 1 in the dying seconds of the second period on a truly ugly-looking goal. The Bears and Dinos traded goals in the middle of the third as Philip scored his second of the game and Gayle added to his weekend totals. Stephane Legault scored the game winner at 18:46 of the third period putting the Bears through to the Canada West Finals, booking their spot in the Coupe U Cup and securing the sweep for the home team.
The series was definitely a fast-paced and exciting one that showcased just how talented and deep both teams were. The Bears received some timely offensive output from both rookies and veterans and saw strong performances in goal from Brendan Burke and in relief from Luke Siemens. Dinos’ goaltender Greenfield was something special to watch as he made many improbable saves. The Bears next opponent will the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, the number one seed in the Canada West playoffs. The Huskies have won the last three games against the Bears and the two meet for a record 19th time in the Canada West Finals. The Huskies took their 18th meeting last year, and so this year’s series looks to be one full of rivalry and fast-paced hockey. Much like the Pandas, the Bears will have to play the finals on their opponent’s ice. However, a sweep of the third seed in the Canada West playoffs has to have increased the Bears confidence and was most definitely a test of their readiness for the Huskies.
All in all, the coming weekend is looking to be a great weekend of hockey. Just like the last one.