Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Huskies Are Top Dogs

It took a little longer than one may have expected, but the Saint Mary's Huskies can finally say they are CIS men's hockey champions. The eighth-ranked team in the CIS defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears on Sunday night in overtime to win the biggest championship in Canadian University hockey. There were a number of stories that followed the Huskies this season, but everything worked out in the end as the Huskies hoisted the CIS Championship Trophy at the end of the season. Let's take a look at some of the stories that put the Huskies into the news.

The first thing that Saint Mary's University was in headlines for was the admittance of a former NHL player and criminal to their school and hockey program. Mike Danton, the former St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils forward, had enrolled into SMU's Arts program, and this caused some minor controversy as Danton had spent time in a US federal prison after having been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. However, both Danton and university officials stated that they were confident in Danton's rehabilitation after 63 months behind bars, and Mike Danton officially was part of SMU's student population.

Danton's passion for hockey hadn't diminished, and he was interested in playing for SMU's hockey team. Again, there was some concern about Danton playing hockey, but SMU stood behind their student.

"This is a unique opportunity to prove that a university can offer someone a second chance, whether they have been challenged economically, socially or by other circumstances. I am proud to be associated with Saint Mary's University and the role we are playing in this case," said SMU Athletic Director Steve Sarty in November.

"If we say no to Mike Danton, who are we going to say yes to?"

That was the question, and Danton showed that he would be an integral part of the team. The 29 year-old former NHLer scored his team's only goal in his first game, a 4-1 loss to the Acadia Axemen on January 27, 2010. Through to the Atlantic University Sport championship, Mike Danton played in 16 games for the Huskies. He recorded nine goals, four assists, 28 PIMs, 55 shots, and was a +11 in those games. Not bad at all, I'd say.

But the story of the Huskies this season doesn't stop there. Saint Mary's finished the season 16-8-4 to finish third in the AUS Conference. That qualified them for the playoffs, but the biggest test lay before them as they embarked on the quest to win the AUS Conference.

The Huskies knocked the Université de Moncton out in the quarterfinals in two games. They knocked out Acadia University, who had secured a first-round bye by finishing second in the AUS, three games to one. And it was a three-game sweep of St. Francis-Xavier University, the fifth-ranked team, to give the Huskies the AUS Championship.The championship run by Saint Mary's resulted in their qualification to the CIS Championship tournament.

Their first round-robin game on March 26 in Thunder Bay saw the Huskies face the McGill Redmen out of Montreal. Saint Mary's won that hard-fought game by a 4-2 score. March 27 saw Saint Mary's hammer the University of Manitoba Bisons by a 5-0 score. Their 2-0 record in Pool B of the round robin allowed the Huskies to advance to the final as one of the top-two teams.

The final saw the Huskies matched up against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Alberta was the Canada West Conference Champions, and had a stellar record of 25-5-1 up to that point. The Huskies needed to play an excellent game in order to defeat the Golden Bears.

Alberta got on the board first at 14:21. Tyler Metcalfe scored the only goal in the period as his shot got past goaltender Neil Conway, and the Bears led 1-0. The most telling stat in that period was the shots-on-net. The Golden Bears outshot the Huskies by a 12-5 margin, and turned that into the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Just an aside from the game, check out Alberta goaltender Travis Yonkman's mask. I love the Hanson brothers on it! Excellent paint job on his mask! That might be one of the best masks I've seen this season!

The second period saw the Huskies pull even when Cam Fergus buried a shot past Yonkman at 10:37. However, the real story was the goaltending of Neil Conway in the Huskies' net. Conway stood on his head again as the Bears outshot the Huskies in the second period by an 11-8 margin for a 23-13 advantage through two periods. But the score on the scoreboard is the only one that matters, and the Huskies and Bears were even at 1-1 after 40 minutes.

The third period saw the Huskies pull ahead. Andrew Hotham notched Saint Mary's second goal of the game just 3:46 into the third period, and the Huskies led 2-1. Alberta battled back, though, and finally broke through at 15:17. Derek Ryan tied the game at 2-2 for the Golden Bears, and the two teams were headed for overtime after the final 4:43 played out without any additional goals. Another period of the Bears outshooting the Huskies, this time by an 11-9 margin, saw the shots stand at 34-22 at the end of regulation time.

The CIS Championship was decided 9:13 into overtime. Saint Mary's Marc Rancourt fired a shot on Yonkman from a sharp angle, and Yonkman couldn't control the rebound. Brad Smith was standing on the doorstep, and he whacked the loose puck past Yonkman to give Saint Mary's the 3-2 overtime victory.

Saint Mary's secured their first CIS Championship in school history, and celebrated accordingly. Defenceman Andrew Hotham received the Major W.J. "Danny" McLeod award as the tournament's MVP. He was also named as a tournament all-star, and was joined by Huskies goaltender Neil Conway, forward Cam Fergus, and forward Cody Thornton. Alberta's Ian Barteaux and Chad Klassen rounded out the all-star team.

Congratulations goes out to the Saint Mary's Huskies for their championship victory!

And, for Mike Danton, his return to public life after 63 months away from it is starting out pretty good. He's getting an education, he has won a CIS hockey championship, and he's only 30 years-old. I'd say that his road to redemption might be paved with gold for a while yet!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

TheIronLung said...

Great blog!

On a side note, my blog www.canadacardworldblog.com has been nominated for the Upper Deck Blog Awards. If you're interested in some free sports cards, please visit our site, follow the simple rules, and maybe we both can win!