Hockey Headlines

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 231

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, hits the air tonight with some chatter about everything happening in the NHL right now as deals are being made and lineups are being evaluated and adjusted for the final push to the playoffs and beyond! We'll talk about the deals already made and which ones seem smarter than others as well as taking a peek at what some teams might do with guys they've deemed expendable! It's a big show for deadline deals, so let's roll!

Tonight, we'll wrap up the road trip to Kenora for Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada with our final thoughts on Kenora, talk about the potential players available for trade deadline deals, players who have been traded already, a discussion on what the Jets and Moose need to change, and we'll plug Barys Astana in the KHL, the Aalborg Pirates in Denmark's Metal Ligaen where Brandon Reid is coaching, the CWHL Clarkson Cup Playoffs, and the CWUAA Women's Hockey Playoffs! There's a lot to talk about on th show tonight, so make sure you tune into the program at 5:30pm CT!

If you're gonna be out and about tonight, but still want to hear the show, you really should download the UMFM app. Like now. It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows, so get to it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today!

If you're all over social media, we try to be as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, we talk trades, what needs to change, what has changed, international results, and the outstanding city of Kenora, Ontario on The Hockey Show only on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: February 23, 2017: Episode 231

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A Unique Stop

As we near summer, the annual movement of AHL teams will get underway. We already know of a few teams that will be changing addresses next season, but the Senators - currently of Binghamton, soon-to-be of Belleville - made a stop that one normally doesn't see while playing for their current-and-soon-to-be-former city. Some would say that holding a practice in the city you intend to move to shows a wee bit of disrespect for the current city and its fans, but the Senators cared not for societal norms today as they arrived for a meet-and-greet and practice in Belleville, Ontario.

More than 300 enthusiastic fans showed up for the open practice in Belleville today to watch their soon-to-be new team work through the drills on the ice before the team got a tour of the practice facility they'll be using next season. The reason they made this stop is because they are returning to Binghamton from Toronto where they fell to the Marlies 4-2 on Monday before hosting the Marlies on Friday. Having three days off between games means this is quick visit before they get back to business at home.

"It was unreal coming out here and seeing the stands full and people cheering," Senators captain Mike Blunden told Paul Svoboda of The Belleville Intelligencer. Blunden's brother, Stephen, played for the OHL Bulls from 2006-08. "It's going to be fun here. Belleville's a great hockey town. It was a great OHL town. My brother loved it when he played here."

If you're still reading this with one eyebrow raised and questioning the motives of the why the B-Sens would make this trip, it appears this visit to their new home was initiated by the players. "The players all agreed to stop here," said Belleville rec director Mark Fluhrer. "This is a day off for them. They're coming off a road trip. We're very appreciative of their efforts."

It sounds like fans, arena management, and the team are all pretty happy about this unscheduled stop on the team's day off. I'm not entirely against the team making this effort, but it just seems like with the Senators some half-dozen points back of a playoff spot, they're looking forward to next season instead of trying to close out this one with, to quote another red-and-black clad man in Deadpool, maximum effort.

I'm happy that Belleville is finding hockey after the OHL's Bulls left town, but it's not like the Albany Devils have gone wandering into Binghamton while the Senators were away and started checking out their new digs for next season. Albany is focused on the task at-hand as they compete for top spot in the AHL's Atlantic Division rather than taking road trips to Binghamton to meet fans. There will be lots of time for that in summer as the team makes its move, but the Devils know they have a job to do.

I don't know, but this seems like a classless move to me when there's still a month-and-a-half of games to play as the Binghamton Senators. I know that the city of Belleville is awaiting their arrival, but the Senators are still representing the city of Binghamton for the remainder of this season for however long that lasts. Showing up at their new home prior to the end of the season, to me, shows a serious lack of respect for the city of Binghamton.

I was a fan of the Senators in Binghamton, I would have dropped my support of them like a bad habit upon reading this story. The relationship was already tenuous with the announcement of the Senators moving, but this just shows a lack of tact when it comes to ending the relationship with Binghamton and the hockey fans in that city amiably.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

More Than Just First-Place

It's rare in the sports world today for any team to lead its league all season without faltering. Teams go through ups and downs just like everything else, and other teams can get hot at the right time and overtake them. Sometimes, injuries play a part in slowing a team's progress. The fact that this is something rare makes accomplishing the feat that much more meaningful for the members of that team, and it speaks volumes to the work done off the ice with regards to team building, game preparation, fitness, and recovery. After 43 games, let's throw some credit at the Aalborg Pirates as they have officially clinched first-place in Denmark's Metal Ligaen after leading all season long!

There are still two games to play and the Odense Bulldogs could conceivably tie the Pirates with 88 points, but Aalborg holds the tie-breaker between the two teams after today's 6-2 win over the Herlev Eagles, giving last year's eighth-place team a new accolade as they will finish as the top team in the league this year! Aalborg currently sits at a 26-11-4-2 record, and will hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs unless they fall. For a team used to traveling for playoff games, this will mark a major change for the organization!

Who they will play is still up for grabs, but you can't think anyone wants to roll into Aalborg after this season. As of writing, the Rungsted Seier Capital are five points back of seventh-place SønderjyskE, and Aalborg sports a 4-0-1-0 record against Rungsted this season as they have outscored them 15-7 in their five contests with the one shootout goal taken out. It hasn't been easy despite a recent 6-2 victory over Rungsted, and the pressure only ramps up in the playoffs so the Pirates will need to be ready for a team that has played them close all season long.

The key in the Metal Ligaen playoff scenario, though, is that Aalborg will be able to choose which team of the bottom-four playoff teams they'd like to play! This unique playoff scenario means that the seemingly-tough Rungsted team may not be the team that Aalborg chooses if they've found more success against the other teams, and there are five teams in contention for the bottom-four spots right now. Clearly, the team will have some decisions to make before kicking off the most anticipated playoff season in some time!

Among the individuals who are leading the way for the Pirates, one of the early recruits that Brandon Reid brought into Aalborg was 27 year-old defenceman Bryce Reddick. The Winnipeg-born player is the son of former Winnipeg Jet Eldon "Pokey" Reddick, and he had a special set of skills that Reid liked in recruiting. Reid told Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press in June, "We needed a guy with good speed who could really control the power play. A right-handed shot. We looked at all the options we got from the agents. One main thing is you got to be a good person if we're going to take you. He was the perfect fit for us."

Reddick has kept his end of the bargain as it appears he'll finish fourth on the team in scoring this season and as the team's leading scorer from the blue line by a large margin. Reddick has been a key cog in Aalborg's defensive turnaround as well as he has the abilities to either skate the puck out using speed or make a good outlet pass, and his speed is vital in chasing down opponents while being extremely mobile in his own zone. He's the kind of player that Reid leans on to settle the team defensively thanks to his capabilities, and it's quite clear that Reddick is thriving in the opportunity.

I'd be remiss in not speaking about Peter Quenneville once more. Quenneville was a goal back of league-leading Harrison Reed of SønderjyskE just a week ago, but today's scoring race sees Quenneville atop the league's goal-scoring standings with 29 markers to date! He's also fourth in overall scoring with 48 points, just one point back of two players. I doubt he's going to score 12-15 points over the next two games to catch Odense's Dale Mitchell for the overall scoring league, but anything can happen. I'm almost certain, however, that head coach Brandon Reid isn't going to run one of his best players ragged for a scoring title.

Another player who deserves a lot of kudos is Julian Jakobsen. Relatively unknown to most hockey fans on this side of the ocean, the former Swedish Elite League and German League centerman has found some incredible chemistry alongside his national team partners in the Hojberg twins on the top line, and the result is that the 29 year-old Dane sits second in assists with 34 this season, just two back of league-leader Dale Mitchell. He's a very fluid skater with good vision on the ice, and he loves to generate offence. While his goal total of eight will largely be overshadowed by Quenneville's total, make no mistake that Jakobsen can score if given the opportunity. His play-making ability is what has him on Aalborg's top line, though, and that's come through in spades this season.

And let's not forget about the man between the pipes who has had a direct contribution on Aalborg's minuscule goals-against total this season. Ronan Quemener is another one of those unknown players to most North American fans, but let's run down the stats this 29 year-old French netminder has put up this season: seventh in save percentage (.918), seventh in goals-against average but fourth among goalies who have played 2000+ minutes this season (2.06). That's nearly a goal-and-a-half better for GAA and some 30 points better in save percentage compared to last season's starting netminder. To say that netminding hasn't been a key contributing factor in the Pirates' turnaround would be underselling how important Quemener's contributions have been this season!

So the Aalborg Pirates have some key players and have take some important steps in earning their best finish ever in the Metal Ligaen. The players above have been key contributors, and the team is playing exciting hockey. None of that matters, of course, if no one is watching the team. As head coach Brandon Reid told McIntyre in his article, "We're trying to do what the Winnipeg Jets are trying to do. We're trying to bring back that fever. Aalborg is a great hockey town. It can be something great if you get that winning culture into it. There's big opportunity over here. It can be a really great lifestyle. I played 10 years in Europe. I'm known over here, my wife and I feel comfortable."

Aalborg has a 5000-seat arena, one of the largest in the Metal Ligaen. In 2015-16, the IIHF reported that the Metal Ligaen averaged 1361 fans per game, meaning there may been a lot of empty seats in Aalborg's arena. That was down from 2014-15 where the league averaged 1481 fans. That's a worrying trend, but it seems Aalborg has followed that trend as shown by the numbers on The Internet Hockey Database as attendance has fallen year after year after that third-place finish in 2013-14.

Granted, the team was the second-most watched team in 2015-16, but the arena would look empty with more than 60% of the seats still unfilled. It sounds like Reid's efforts in making this team the best in the circuit could push Aalborg to being the most attended team in the league if photos of the rink are any indication of the city's excitement over their hockey club's performance. Unfortunately for us, the Metal Ligaen doesn't release attendance reports on their website.

"From what I've heard, he used the hall to be packed with people, it was not just sport, it was an event," Reid told MigogAalborg.dk, and stresses that his goal is to get that mentality back in town, and he is not in doubt if the team has the potential to bring Aalborg Gens are back to hockey hall.

"About three years if all according to plan, we have 5000 spectators for each game, not only because we continue to win, but because hockey culture is back in town."

Season tickets in Aalborg are only 1000 Krone or about $186 CDN. Aalborg simply wanted to see more tickets sold to the walk-up crowd so they can put more butts in seats. One of the most amazing things about the attendance figures for Aalborg this season that will eventually be released is that Aalborg did something completely unheard of in professional sports: walk-up tickets were free all season long... with an asterisk.

You might be shaking your heard in wondering how a professional hockey team with costs and expenses to pay can offer up free tickets. How they do it is completely unique. Instead of charging for every ticket, beer, and soda as fans walk through the door, the Pirates' only caveat in entering the arena is that before the entering of the arena, fans must buy a beer or soda for a maximum of 40 Krone! By doing this, fans get a ticket and a beverage when they show up to the rink!

Thomas Bjuring, director of the Aalborg Pirates, told MigogAalborg.dk - and loosely translated by me and Google,
"The concept has been received with great enthusiasm by both fans and partners. I have received countless inquiries from fans and sponsors and had visits from both North Jutland, P4, TV2 north and our own TV team yesterday. 10 minutes after the publication, internet traffic on the net was so large that the server crashed. We are all wildly enthusiastic about the massive reception this concept has gained. Now we cross our fingers for the city's suppoort with a great turnout in the new season," said Pirates boss.

"Gigantium is a great arena, and all our fans and sponsors love when there are many people in the hall. The new initiative is only possible thanks to good partners," says Bjuring.
Pirates management wanted a full arena, but they needed to do more than just offer a beverage and a ticket. There had to be a reason to come down to the rink if the Pirates wanted to see this promotional idea come to fruition. I can honestly say that the Pirates are a much better team with Brandon Reid in charge, and that culture both he and Bjurring spoke of is spreading wildfire through the Aalborg region.

Once players have enough money to live comfortably, they will seek out winning cultures in hockey because the window to win championships decreases daily for players. Not every player will say he has won a championship, so players will seek the best places they can win in order to fulfill that need to win. Both Detroit in the 1990s and Chicago in recent years have seen veteran players come to the team for less money in order to have a shot at a championship. Brandon Reid is building the same winning culture in Aalborg with his team, and that three-year plan he spoke of has been kick-started in a big way with this incredible first season.

In the end, if the Aalborg Pirates somehow are upended this season in the playoffs, there will be disappointment in them falling short. The goal of any hockey team is to win its respective league championship each and every year. Brandon Reid's work in recruiting impact players, getting more out of returning players, and giving fans a reason to flock to the arena is already paying dividends in his first year, but this is only Year One of what appears to be a three-year plan. Losing will hurt, but the culture being installed in Aalborg should guarantee repeated success in future years. Make no mistake that fans a love a winner and Aalborg will continue to see support as they move forward with the plan.

Finishing atop the standings in the Metal Ligaen is an incredible accomplishment for Brandon Reid and the Pirates. I don't know if anyone would have predicted this in his first season, but we stand here today with that fact in-hand. The playoffs stand before the Pirates, and they'll need to be better than they were in the regular season if they hope to capture the Metal Cup. I suspect Brandon will have the players ready to go once the calendar flips to March.

Seasons, however, will come and go. The big picture in long-term sustainability for this franchise is changing the culture surrounding this team, and that job has only started for the Pirates. But let's make sure we call a spade "a spade" when it comes to how they started this three-year plan: pretty damned great! And the Pirates can cap it off with twelve wins over the next month to hoist their first Metal Cup in club history and the first in the city's history since 1981!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Pucks And Jerseys

We've almost worked our way through another season on the calendar year, and that means there have been a vast number of concerts that have gone on in and around hockey rinks all over this great land. With every visit, some rinks hand out jerseys like flyers to anyone who can carry a tune. Other jerseys are acquired by the artists for a purpose. The key is that all of the following musicians are wearing or holding hockey jerseys that show some support for the event or city they are appearing in that night. That's right, folks. It's another Musicians in Jerseys article!

The full list of musicians can be found here, and I believe every team is represented at this point. There are some musicians who represent a large number of teams thanks to their affinity for collecting jerseys, and there's another one of those musicians below. Peruse at your leisure and see who has represented hockey teams from across the world!

We're going to start with a guy who is representing six teams in today's article. Country musician Dierks Bentley has carved out a nice little music career with a number of hits, but he takes his hockey very seriously when he's not in the studio or on stage! If you didn't think so, here are six examples as Dierks suited up in an Edmonton Oilers jersey, donned a Grand Rapids Griffins jersey, sported a Saskatoon Blades jersey, celebrated in a Waterloo Black Hawks jersey, highlighted a Saint John Sea Dogs jersey, and jammed out in an Oklahoma City Barons jersey!

Just when you thought you may have seen enough of Dierks Bentley, he also popped up in an All-Star Game jersey with Chris Young! These two are looking quite dapper at the mid-season event! Also appearing at various All-Star Game events were Carly Rae Jepsen, Vince Gill and his daughter Corinna Gill, Snoop Dogg, Tracy Lawrence, Chris Young and Amy Grant, R5's Ross Lynch, Eli Young Band bassist Jon Jones, Kelsey Ballerini, and the kid who got hammered by Chris Pronger. That's a heckuvan all-star team of musicians!

I will fully admit that I have no clue on any song titles for musician Ace Hood, but the man has a hockey allegiance! Antoine McColister was born and raised in Florida where he was a football player until an injury sidelined the hip hop musician's dreams of playing professional football. He's been making music since 2006, so it was a little surprising to see him wearing the colours of the Edmonton Oilers on a recent tour!

The Arkells are a successful Canadian band that calls Hamilton, Ontario home. We've seen appear on the list once as they threw their support behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, but their recent tour took them through Edmonton as well where they were given their very own Edmonton Oilers jerseys!

I don't think there is enough recognition given to indigenous music in society, let alone the major awards shows, and I'm happy to feature one of Canada's best indigenous music groups here. The Northern Cree Singers have been nominated for six Grammy Awards in their time, and they are up for another one this year with their album Temptations. The Saddle Lake Cree Nation musical group recently had a photo taken, and a number of the band members showed support for the Edmonton Oilers from their home province! Good luck at the Grammy Awards!

Hockey has been a long supporter of our troops over in far-off lands, and a number of NHL players have fought in wars through the history of the NHL. The NHLPA has asked its alumni on occasion to go overseas to visit the troops in an effort to thank them for their service, and they routinely take other celebrities along with them. One such case was when Alan Frew accompanied the players over to Kandahar! Alan Frew fronted Glass Tiger and has released solo albums, and he proudly wore the colours of the Toronto Maple Leafs on this trip!

Robert Smith of The Cure is already on the list in a white Maple Leafs jersey, but it appears he had the complete set as he also wore a blue Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on stage!

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and KISS have appeared on the list a few times. If there was ever one of those moments where you'd want to see an iconic band with iconic jerseys, KISS made an appearance in St. Louis during the 1990s where the Blues decided to celebrate their appearance in the city with Gretzky-era Blues jerseys! The key in that photo? Those are pro jerseys, not replicas!

I have no clue about her music, but rest assured that Zendaya Coleman - known better just as Zendaya - sings. She also acts and dances as she was part of the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up. She's a pop/R&B singer, but she hasn't received any sort of critical recognition as of yet. A couple of years ago, she was asked to sing the anthem at a CHL Bloomington Blaze game, and she was given a Blaze jersey of her own!

Speaking of people names "Daya", the Pittsburgh musician was invited to the World Cup of Hockey as part of the musical performances there. I would have thought she might represent a Canada jersey with Crosby being from Canada and the musical event being held in Toronto, but she went with the trendy choice and wore the colours of Team North America!

Fifth Harmony has had its negative publicity after pulling out of the NHL All-Star Game festivities at the last second, but they haven't missed a beat when it came to their tour a year ago. The five-some at the time toured through Tampa and appeared at Amalie Arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning made sure they endeared themselves to the hometown crowd!

James Hetfield and Metallica are big supporters of the San Jose Sharks, and they've appeared on the list before. This is simply the gents playing the anthem prior to the game in more Sharks jerseys!

Paul Brandt. Country musician. Proud Canadian. He's won a ton of musical awards and accolades, and he's a big act in Canada. For some reason, he's never really caught on in the US yet, but country music fans tell me that American country music fans are missing out. Maybe it's his choice in hockey jerseys?

O.A.R. is a solid rock band whose origins in Maryland would make one believe that they may have an affinity for the Washington Capitals. Currently on tour with Train, O.A.R. showed support for another team when Marc Roberge and Richard On donned the uniforms of the Minnesota Wild to play a little shinny!

Sportsnet's Hometown Hockey program is hosted by Ron MacLean and Tara Slone. I'm not sure how many people know this, but Tara Slone is actually a very accomplished musician! Slone started with aspirations as a child to become an opera singer, but it was at Concordia University where she began singing rock music where she would eventually front the band Joydrop. She has been nominated for a Juno, appeared on Rock Star INXS, and was a former host of Breakfast Television on CityTV Calgary. Needless to say, she's had a heckuva career thus far. In appearing in Hometown Hockey, Tara's been able to add some new clothes to her wardrobe. She's received a jersey from the Saint John Sea Dogs, the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Newmarket Redmen, and the Kootenay Ice!

While this series looks at musicians in hockey jerseys, one team decided to flip the script and wear jerseys dedicated to musicians in order to raise money to help one the band members. The OHL's Kingston Frontenacs decided to help out the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research through Sunnybrook Hospital by wearing specially-made Tragically Hip jerseys! From the Frontenacs' website,
The jersey was designed by the Kingston Frontenacs and Catstich, an Ontario-based jersey manufacturer who specializes in theme jerseys for hockey teams. "We started with the base of the 1964 Boston Bruins home jersey, to reflect the year Gord Downie was born and his favourite team," said Chenier. "We added The Tragically Hip's logo-wordmark from their 2011 concert at Bobcaygeon as the main logo on the front of the jersey, and their signature-wordmark on the back. In the background of the jersey is the name of every album and song recorded and released by the band, from their self-titled 1987 debut to 2016's Man Machine Poem. We wanted to include the lyrics of every song they've recorded, but typed in 11-point Arial, the 30,333 words, or 128,380 characters was 45 pages long."
While they have yet to unveil how much money was raised, they will do so next week at a special press conference where it's expected that the Frontenacs will have raised the most money for any charity off this jersey auction. Well done, Kingston, on this auction and to the fans who pledged their money in helping this incredible charity with their purchases of these unique uniforms!

Once again, if you're hunting for other images, please check the full list of musicians here before sending me pictures. I unfortunately had to leave a number of pictures off this article simply due to people sending images that are already linked. I do want to see your images, though, so please send me any pictures you want included and I'll credit you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Rundown - Week 18

This week's edition of the Rundown will be shorter than most thanks to the fact that only four teams in Canada West women's hockey saw action. Two teams unfortunately did not acquire enough points to make the playoffs while those that had all too many points for their own good got a week off as a reward for finishing atop the standings. The four teams in the middle squared off in the opening round of the CWUAA Playoffs with their reward for winning being a road trip while losing would end their seasons. Who would move on? Let's find out on this week's episode of the Rundown!

REGINA at SASKATCHEWAN: The fifth-place Regina Cougars traveled north to Saskatoon to meet the fourth-place Huskies in the battle of Saskatchewan with a trip to either Vancouver or Edmonton on the line. Like any good playoff series, this best-of-three saw the first period go scoreless as both teams began to feel one another out for weaknesses. Regina would carry a 10-8 lead in shots into the second period, but both Regina's Jane Kish and Saskatchewan's Cassidy Hendricks played well in the opening frame.

Lauren Zary's bodychecking penalty with 28 seconds left in the first period carried over into the second period, and it would kick off the scoring for both teams. Saskatchewan would grab the lead just 48 seconds into the period while shorthanded as Kaitlin Willoughby got just enough blade on the puck sent over to her by Kayla Kirwan to get it past Kish for the 1-0 lead. 39 seconds later, Regina ended the power-play when Melissa Zerr took a pass in the slot and went high stick-side over the shoulder of Hendricks to make it a 1-1 game at 1:27. Saskatchewan's Kira Bannatyne would head to the sin bin 23 seconds later, and Regina would use this new power-play to gain the lead when Alexis Larson's shot from the point found its way through traffic and was tipped by Tamara McVannel past Hendricks at 3:02 to make it 2-1 for the Cougars! Saskatchewan, though, would use a power-play of their own to tie the game as Willoughby's rush into the zone saw her zip a shot past Kish at 7:32 to make it a 2-2 game! The remainder of the period saw the teams trade chances, but they would enter the second intermission deadlocked at that 2-2 score.

Saskatchewan went up 3-2 just 4:52 into the third period when - who else? - Willoughby found a puck in the slot and wired the puck stick-side past Kish. Exactly two minutes later, Kori Herner was sent in on a breakaway off a neutral zone turnover, and she made no mistake in beating Kish to make it a 4-2 game for the Huskies. Regina would make a desperate push late in the game as Jaycee Magwood was able to close the deficit to one when she beat Hendricks off a scramble in front of the Huskies net at 16:18, but the Cougars couldn't get the one they needed in the end as Saskatchewan emerged victorious in the 4-3 victory. Hendricks made 28 saves in the victory while Kish stopped 25 shots while coming up short. Saskatchewan gained a 1-0 advantage in the series.

REGINA at SASKATCHEWAN: Regina would have last change in this game, and they needed a win to keep their season going. Saskatchewan would be the road team on home ice, and they were looking to close out this series. Both teams had their chances early on, but it was a goal late in the period that would put the Huskies up 1-0. Bailee Bourassa's shot from the right face-off circle found a path through traffic and Jane Kish to dent twine at 17:51 to put pressure on the Cougars.

The second period was more defensive in nature, but the chances that were generated were stopped at both ends so we'd be forced to move to the final 20 minutes of regulation with the Huskies still leading 1-0. Midway through the third period, Kylee Kupper's shot was stopped by Cassidy Hendricks, but the rebound came out on her stick-side and Jolene Kirkpatrick was there to bang home the loose puck at 9:33 to get the Cougars on the board and tie the game at 1-1! It would be a mistake and a turnover in the neutral zone that would lead to the next goal as Kori Herner picked up the mishandled puck, broke into the zone, and fed Kaitlin Willoughby for the shot on Kish that pinged in off the post at 16:25 to put Saskatchewan back up by a 2-1 count.

Desperation set in quickly for Regina as they needed a goal badly. Kish was on the bench with nearly three minutes to play, and a late power-play for the Cougars had everyone on the edges of their seats, but the final horn would end this game with no further scoring as the Saskatchewan Huskies survived the late pressure by the Cougars to win the game 2-1 and sweep the series by a 2-0 count. Hendricks stopped 31 shots in helping her team advance while Kish made 21 saves as the Cougars' season comes to an end.

MOUNT ROYAL at MANITOBA: The sixth-place Mount Royal Cougars traveled east to visit the third-place Manitoba Bisons for a battle to determine who would advance to play either the Thunderbirds or the Pandas. This game started off quickly as both teams pressed early in trying to force a mistake by their opposition. It would be Mount Royal who flinched first as a failed clearing attempt up the boards was corralled by Caitlyn Fyten, and her slapshot after changing the shooting lane was deflected perfectly by Venla Hovi past Emma Pincott at 2:55 to put Manitoba up 1-0 early. Even with the furious pace, the two teams couldn't find the net again in the first period as Manitoba took the lead into the intermission.

The battle continued in the second period, and Mount Royal would finally solve Rachel Dyck on the power-play. Gabrielle Seper cut into the Bisons zone and received pass from Sarah Weninger before throwing a low shot on net that eluded Rachel Dyck's outstreched left leg and somehow found the inside of the far post to even the game at 1-1 at the 10:57 mark. The Cougars actually took control of this game for a portion of the period after the goal, but it would be a veteran who changed the tides of momentum. Manitoba's Karissa Kirkup pulled off an incredible individual effort as she chipped the puck past her check, put the puck on her backhand, skated into the slot, and went top-shelf with the backhander past Pincott at 16:47 to score one of the prettiest goal this season in giving the Bisons the 2-1 lead!

The two teams went back and forth at the start of the third period, and it would Kirkup who would strike at the midway point of the frame. She carried the puck into the Cougars zone, stopped in the face-off circle, and ripped a shot through Pincott at 10:12 to put the Bisons up 3-1. Five minutes after that, the Bisons were killing penalty when Alanna Sharman forced a turnover at the point and led a two-on-one the other way. Her feed over to Nicole Carswell was perfect as Carswell poked the puck between Pincott's legs for the shorthanded goal and the 4-1 lead at 15:13. Alex Anderson would tee up a point shot at 18:47 that appeared to change direction to elude Pincott with 1:13 to play, and that would be more than enough for Rachel Dyck to close this game out as the Bisons win 5-1 and go up 1-0 in the series. Dyck stopped 26 shots in the win while Pincott turned away 20 shots in the loss.

MOUNT ROYAL at MANITOBA: Game Two of this series saw the Cougars shift to the home team while the Bisons, playing on home ice, would be the road team. This would give the Cougars the last change, and they would use that advantage to match lines and get key players on the ice in specific situations. Quite literally, Mount Royal played a perfect road game despite being the home team in clogging up the neutral zone so Manitoba couldn't attack with speed and keeping the Bisons on the outside when they did gain the offensive zone.

Through 40 minutes, the Cougars and Bisons played scoreless hockey with a few chances, but both Rachel Dyck and Zoe DeBeauville were flawless in their netminding. However, the third period saw the scoreless draw snapped as the Bisons' third line made their presence felt. Caitlyn Fyten cleared her zone with a perfect bank pass off the boards to Erin Kucheravy who evaded a defender at the blue line and broke down the left-wing wall. She threw a centering pass across the ice where Alana Serhan, who had a step on her check, reached out and redirected the puck past Zoe DeBeauville whose sliding save wasn't quite stretched far enough to stop Serhan at the 8:18 mark.

With the Bisons leading 1-0, the Cougars began to throw everything they could at Rachel Dyck. Late in the game, the Bisons were down two women due to penalties and head coach Scott Rivett pulled DeBeauville for a six-on-three advantage. Blocked shots, big saves, and desperate clears kept Manitoba in the lead until the final horn sounded as the Bisons survived Game Two by a 1-0 score to win the series 2-0 and move on. Dyck was perfect on all 12 shots for the shutout win while DeBeauville was outstanding in making 15 stops in her final game this season.

Up Next

The top-four teams in Canada West women's hockey will play in the semi-final series as the Saskatchewan Huskies will travel west to Vancouver and play the UBC Thunderbirds in that best-of-three series while the Manitoba Bisons will head northwest to Edmonton to visit the Alberta Pandas for a best-of-three series.

UBC and Saskatchewan were 2-1-1-0 this season against each other with the teams splitting the two-game series in Vancouver in early October. Obviously, things have changed since then, but Saskatchewan is the only team in Canada West to have defeated UBC twice this season. That could be important as the two teams were similar in their defensive play - UBC had 45 goals-against while Saskatchewan had 52 goals-against. UBC, however, scored 30 more goals than Saskatchewan did this season, so we'll have to see if UBC can get that potent offence running. If I were a betting man, I think this series goes three games with UBC prevailing.

The other series is decidedly in one team's favor. Alberta has had Manitoba's number all season in going 3-0-1-0 against the Bisons. Three of the four games, though, were one-goal decisions, so there may be something to build on if you're a Bisons fan. Both teams had similar positive goal differentials, so they question of scoring and stopping goals shouldn't be an issue. It's just a matter of who can stop more pucks, and right now the Pandas have that advantage on paper. If we learned one thing from this Manitoba team, though, it's that they can play on the road and win a series in Edmonton as they did last season. I'm going to bet against common sense here to say that Manitoba wins this series in three games.

These two series should be exciting and fun to watch, so find a way to get to the rinks or tune in via Canada West TV. It might be some of the best, most spirited hockey you see all season as neither team in either series likes one another!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!