Last weekend was, without a doubt, an excellent weekend for Edmonton hockey teams. Both the Pandas and the Golden Bears won the Canada West titles, the Edmonton Oil Kings clinched a playoff spot, and I believe even the Oilers managed to not fuck it up. All in all, a banner effort.
But it’s really those first three which are achievements worth talking about. Because those first three are the ones hockey fans in Edmonton might be less aware of. So, let’s tackle them in chronological order over the weekend.
First, the University of Alberta Pandas played host to the University of Manitoba Bisons in the Canada West Women’s Hockey Finals at Clare Drake Arena. This is significant for two reasons.
The first being that it hints at the absolutely fantastic season the Pandas put together. The Pandas finished second for points since the institution of the three-point system, and tied three other teams atop the record for 23 wins in 28 games. They also finished with the second lowest amount of goals allowed in a season (only 24) and 13 shutouts. The 13 shutouts breaks a Canada West record. A huge thank you to Paul Cartledge (@statguypaul) who complied all these stats.
The second is really straight forward. If you have home ice in the finals, it means you’re the best team in the Canada West. Because of the way playoffs are seeded, the first and second place teams generally have a greater chance of meeting in the finals. The Pandas were the best this year, and being able to play on their home ice is a recognition of that fact.
The Pandas won the three game series in two games. Straight sets if I’m going to use a tennis analogy. And not just in two games, but in two dominant games. The score lines of 3-0 and 4-1 hint at the Pandas dominance. Against one of the toughest teams in the nation. Manitoba is ranked third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings for last week. By winning the series in two games, the Pandas allow me to continue to use one of my favourite phrases. Season sweep. The Pandas played the Bisons six times in the 2018-2019 season. They won all six of those games.
The Pandas never looked rattled or out of control. They made playing in the championship against a very tough opponent look like just any other game. That alone speaks to the incredible talent and skill of the players and coaches. The Pandas now raise their 13th Canada West Championship banner. Women’s hockey has only been a part of the Canada West for 22 years by the way. The Pandas now head out to PEI to play in the U Sports National Championship where they hope to bring back a record breaking ninth national championship.
The same night the Pandas #wonthewest, the Edmonton Oil Kings managed one of their more dominant efforts to beat the Brandon Wheat Kings 7-1. Having let a first period lead slip away the last time these two teams played, it was refreshing to see the Oil Kings maintain pressure throughout the game. The team seems to be fitting all the pieces together at just the right time to make some noise heading into the WHL playoffs.
Part of the incredibly tight Central division, the Oil Kings had yet to qualify for the playoffs. However, their victory on Saturday night means the team will have some breathing room as their season winds down. The Oil Kings have officially booked their spot in the post season. They just have to settle the matter of where. Currently, the Oil Kings sit atop the Central Division and if they can stay in first they will get the wildcard team instead of being matched the second or third qualifying team from their division.
Finally, the Golden Bears managed to pull off a come from behind series victory over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The Golden Bears dropped the first game of the series by a score of 4-2, but managed to shutout the Huskies in the following two games – 3-0 and 1-0.
The Golden Bears have struggled against a very strong Saskatchewan program this year making their championship victory all the more satisfying. The Golden Bears will raise their 28th Canada West banner next season. This is the Golden Bears third straight Canada West Championship. Wowza!
They will also head to Lethbridge in the coming weeks. With the Pronghorns acting as hosts, a change in format let the Golden Bears book their ticket to the U Sports National Championship heading into the championship. But it’s always better to have a higher seed at the tournament; the Golden Bears still have the opportunity to win their 17th National Championship and break their own record. EDIT: This section has been modified after a Twitter User pointed out the rules had changed around host teams at Nationals. So I corrected it.(As a completely irrelevant aside, there needs to be a new configuration of banners in the rafters of Clare Drake Arena. It’s running out of room.)
The Golden Bears season was not without its struggles, but the team managed to work them out in the early part of the season and have looked dominant since Christmas. With the winner of the Canada West scoring race in Luke Philp scoring the series winning goal, everything seems to have come together for the Golden Bears. They’ll be looking to see if they can continue their winning ways down south.
All in all, hockey in Edmonton has managed few weekends as perfect as the last one. Two championships and a much awaited return to the playoffs. Hockey fans in Edmonton have a lot to be proud of… just maybe not the team wearing orange and blue.