Hockey continued at Clare Drake Arena last weekend as the University of Alberta Pandas hosted the National Champion University of Manitoba Bisons. The Pandas first series at Clare Drake in the 2018-2019 hockey season featured one of their toughest opponents. The Golden Bears, meanwhile, hit the road for the first time in the Canada West season. They travelled to Manitoba to play the Bisons.
The Golden Bears are the current National Champions. However, they have struggled since the Canada West season started. Splitting their first series against Saskatchewan isn’t an unusual result for the Golden Bears; the Huskies are were ranked just below the Golden Bears in the start of season polls. Two teams who have played each other over 500 times and dominated the Canada West conference, like the Golden Bears and Huskies, are expected to bring the best out in each other.
What is surprising is that the Golden Bears followed their split with Huskies up with a split against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Bisons are a ridiculously young team with 10 first year platers. The Golden Bears experience and incredible talent levels would have indicated that the Golden Bears sweep the Bisons. That’s not what happened however. The Golden Bears now sit in fourth place in the Canada West with a 2-2 record.
There next opponents, the Mount Royal Cougars have gotten off to a similar start. Also 2-2, the Mount Royal Cougars sit in third place in the Canada West. The series against the Cougars will be a home and home affair with the Golden Bears and Pandas travelling to Calgary on opposite nights over the weekend.
The Golden Bears would like to sweep the sweep Mount Royal to enter their next series against unbeaten UBC with momentum. The Golden Bears, if they want to establish themselves as contenders for the Canada West crown this season, need to build on their last win against Manitoba. An impressive 4-1 victory, it showed the Golden Bears were more than capable of strong bounce back games.
Golden Bears Captain Riley Kieser has been excellent this season. With seven points, he sits on top of the Canada West scoring race. Luke Philip and Taylor Cooper round out the Golden Bears players in the Top 10. With a little luck and some strong continued offense, the Golden Bears will acquire their first sweep of the season this weekend.
Unlike the Golden Bears, the Pandas are not looking for their first sweep of the season. Better than their first sweep of the season, the Pandas shut down the Bisons dynamic offense. The Bisons didn’t manage a goal during their visit to Clare Drake Arena.
After sweeping the National Champion Manitoba Bisons, the Pandas are firmly in the driver’s seat. They’re currently at the top of the Canada West standings with a 3-1 record. The series against the Bisons might have been a low scoring affair but it saw several key pieces of the Pandas offense contribute. Autumn MacDougall scored the game winner on Friday night and Alex Ponzikoff managed a short-handed goal on Saturday afternoon. MacDougall and Poznikoff were key pieces of the Pandas offense last season. The Pandas third goal of the weekend game on the power play from Hannah Olenyk. The fifth year added some insurance to an already amazing result.
The Pandas victories are especially sweet as the Bisons eliminated them from the Canada West playoffs last season in quadruple overtime. However, the Pandas will now turn their attention to the home and home series against the Mount Royal Cougars.
Mount Royal has gotten off to a slow start with a 1-3 record this year. Having played Regina and UBC to start the season, things don’t look to get much easier for the Cougars are the face the Pandas next. Mount Royal struggled to get their offense going against UBC, and the Pandas will likely be similarly stifling.
For the Pandas, Mount Royal presents an opportunity to keep their momentum from last weekend going. The Pandas, always a team with a scoring by committee mindset, will certainly have an opportunity to add some more names to their score sheet.
The Pandas series over the weekend was an incredibly disciplined and fast paced series. If the Pandas can replicate the spend and toughness (without being reckless or courting penalties) that they displayed against Manitoba, this season has the possibility of being very interesting. There are several Canada West teams which have shown some early flashes of brilliance -- the Regina Cougars who solved Alicia Anderson last weekend for example – and the season will definitely be the best one yet.