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University of Alberta Hockey Looks to Finish Regular Season Strong

The U of A takes on UBC in the final clash of the regular season

The Canada West regular season finishes this weekend; the Pandas and Golden Bears finish their seasons against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Golden Bears will finish their season on the road. The Golden Bears will return home with home ice advantage for the Canada West playoffs as they have clinched first place. The Pandas will host the Thunderbirds in a battle for the second playoff bye.

The Pandas split their final road series against the Saskatchewan Huskies. They won the first game in round nine of the shootout. The Huskies won the second game by a score of 3-2. Now a three-way battle for the second playoff bye has been set up. The Thunderbirds have 53 points; the Saskatchewan Huskies and Pandas have 52 points. One of these three teams will have secured a playoff bye at the end of this weekend.

In the first series the Pandas and Thunderbirds played, both games when to overtime with the teams splitting the points equally, one win each. That could happen again as both teams are a mix of strong of defense and offense. Both teams have had a strong second half to the season. The Pandas went on an eight-game winning streak and the Thunderbirds managed a six-game winning streak. Both teams have multiple players in the top 10 of the Canada West scoring race. The Pandas have double the number of players in the top ten and the top two players in the scoring race.

The Pandas offence might not have exploded in the last two series like it did against Regina where they scored eight goals, but the Pandas have still managed to produce consistent and varied offense. While the majority of the Pandas recent offense has involved either Autumn MacDougall or Alex Poznikoff, the Pandas scoring depth –including Deanna Morin, Amy Boucher, Cayle Dillion, and Kennedy Ganser – has also contributed to the Pandas recent successes. Strong defenses for both teams will most probably make this a low scoring series despite the number of highly talented forwards on both teams.

Saturday’s game is also the Pandas annual charity game. The game will feature several fundraising activities as the Pandas raise funds and awareness for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Fundraising events will include a jersey auction, raffle for a variety of prizes, and chuck-a-puck.

Both the Golden Bears and the fourth place Thunderbirds have qualified for the Canada West playoffs. The Thunderbirds fourth place rank is primarily due to the seven-game winning streak (including two against the Saskatchewan Huskies) that they put together in the second half of the season. The Golden Bears have regained their early season form with two commanding victories over the Saskatchewan Huskies last weekend.

The Golden Bears have regained their position as first in the U Sports Top 10 this week and clinched first place in the Canada West conference. In their last series against the Thunderbirds, they won both games by four goals. This series looks to me more of the same unless the Golden Bears are less motivated than the Thunderbirds.

Statistically, the Golden Bears are stronger than the Thunderbirds having scored more goals and allowed less. The Golden Bears also have multiple players in the Canada West top 10 scoring race, while the Thunderbirds top scorer sits at 17. On paper, the Golden Bears should be able to secure four more points.

The Golden Bears offense has been electric this season, regularly producing multi-point games for multiple players (sometimes multiple players in the same game). While the offense has garnered a good deal of attention for their excellence performance, the Golden Bears goaltending has also been league leading. Brendan Burke and Zachary Sawchenko sit first and second in goals against average. Burke also sits first in save percentage.

Depending on the results from this weekend, the Pandas may be in action in the quarter-finals on February 16th to 18th. The Golden Bears won’t return to action until the Canada West semi-finals at the end of February.