As the push towards the Canada West playoffs continues, the Pandas and the Golden Bears are once again in action this weekend. Facing off against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, both teams will be looking to sweep their respective series. The Pandas will host the Pronghorns at Clare Drake Arena on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The Golden Bears will travel to Nicolas Sheran Arena and play Pronghorns on the road.
Winners of their last five games, the Pandas seem to have moved past their early struggles against lower ranked teams. In their last four games, the Pandas haven’t allowed a goal whole they’ve scored 15 on their opposition. The Pandas last series against the Regina Cougars saw Deanna Morin score a hat trick while Alex Poznikoff had two goals. The series before, against the Calgary Dinos, Amy Boucher also had a hat trick. The Pandas appear to be peaking at just the right time to make a push for a playoff bye to the Canada West semi-finals and a deep run in the playoffs.
Led in scoring by Autumn MacDougall and Alex Poznikoff – first and second in the Canada West scoring race – the Pandas seem to overmatch the Pronghorns defense; the Pronghorns have allowed the most goals of any team in the Canada West with 40. But if the Pronghorns have one star player who might stymie the Pandas, it is Alicia Anderson.
Anderson, one of the top goaltenders in the Canada West statistically, has a save percentage of 0.951 and a goals against average of 1.66. Having played all but two of the Pronghorns 22 games makes Anderson’s consistency even more impressive. Anderson has been an integral part of the Pronghorns strategy this season.
The Pandas will have to put a large number of high percentage shots on goal if they want to capitalize on their series. In their first series against the Pronghorns, the Pandas managed an impressive 93 shots on goal and scored three times. Those three goals weren’t enough to propel the Pandas to more than two of a possible six points. The Pandas will be looking for different results this time.
The Pandas will need to continue their winning ways as they look to either pass the Manitoba Bisons or the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds – both three points ahead of the Pandas—for a bye to the Canada West semi-finals. For the Pandas, playing last place Lethbridge is an excellent opportunity to close that gap. The Bisons will play the University of Regina Cougars; the Thunderbirds have the toughest match-up when they take on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
This Friday the Pandas will also host a mental health awareness game, partnered with the upcoming Bell Let’s Talk Initiative.
The Golden Bears have had a difficult start to 2018 after an impressive 2017. Having lost three of the six games they’ve played in 2018, the Golden Bears are now tied with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for top spot in the Canada West conference. The Golden Bears have an excellent opportunity to regain sole possession of the top spot in Canada West this weekend against the sixth place University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
In their last series against the Pronghorns, the Golden Bears dominated with 7-2 and 6-1 victories. Last weekend, the Golden Bears exploded with a flurry of goals against the University of Regina Cougars. In two games, the Golden Bears scored 13 goals. The positive results against Regina point towards the Golden Bears offense finding their stride. Forwards Luke Philp, Trevor Cox, Jamie Crooks, and Stephane Leagult all had at least one multi-point night against the Cougars.
The Golden Bears goaltending remains some of the best in Canada West; perhaps, only challenged by the performance of Jordan Cooke of the Saskatchewan Huskies. Burke and Sawchenko are one and two in goals allowed and Sawchenko has the lowest goals against average with 1.98. Burke is third with 2.13. All things considered, the Golden Bears goaltenders have had very strong season.
The defense has played a large part in the goaltenders’ success. Strong play has limited the number of shots making it through to the net. The Golden Bears goaltending tandem has made 490 saves in 22 games, a little less than 150 less saves than Manitoba Bisons goalie B. Spriggs has made in only 20 games. Since the Golden Bears goals are not allowing goals, this must mean they are facing less shots.
For a one on one comparison, Calgary’s M. Greenfield has played the same number of games as Sawchenko at 13. Greenfield has made 375 saves and has a 0.915 save percentage. Sawchenko has made only 275 saves but has a comparable 0.916 save percentage. The Golden Bears defense has been very effective in limiting their opponent’s shots on net, helping to explain their low goals allowed numbers.
The Golden Bears return to Clare Drake to face the Saskatchewan Huskies on February 2nd and 3rd to decide who will be first in the Canada West Conference. The Pandas will face the Huskies at Rutherford Arena in another matchup with huge implications for the Canada West playoff picture.