Sunday, 4 April 2010

Defence Wins Championships

There's something to be said about being dominant. The McGill Martlets, the University's women's hockey team, had built a program that simply did not lose. The proof of this were the last three CIS women's hockey championship titles, and the 86-game winning streak they had put together in that time. You read that correctly: 86 games without a loss or a tie. However, that win streak is now over thanks to another dominant hockey program. The University of Alberta Pandas are your 2009-10 CIS Women's Hockey Champions, and they dropped a hammer on the 86-game win streak in the process.

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia played host to the CIS Women's Hockey Championship this season. Six teams took part, representing their respective conferences: the top-ranked McGill Martlets of the QSSF, second-ranked Wilfred Laurier University Golden Hawks of the OUA, third-ranked University of Alberta Pandas of Canada West, unranked University of Saint Mary's University Huskies of who finished third in the AUS, fifth-ranked St. Francis Xavier University X-Women of the AUS, and ninth-ranked Université de Montréal Carabins who finished second in the QSSF.

McGill opened the tournament on March 11 with a 2-1 win over conference-rival Montréal, and followed that up by defeating Saint Mary's 7-2 on March 13. McGill would advance to the CIS Championship game by winning Pool A on the strength of those two victories.

Alberta opened the tournament on March 11 with an upset over the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks in a hard-fought 1-0 win. Alberta continued its defensive ways by slamming the door on St. Francis Xavier 2-0, winning Pool B and sending them to the CIS Championship game.

And so it setup a game between the most-dominant team in Canadian University ice hockey and the last team to have handed them a defeat before they began their 86-game win streak. McGill's offence had carried them into the championship game whereas the Pandas' defensive play had put them in the biggest game of their season.

You know how coaches stress that defence wins championships? Well, that theme will come back throughout the championship game.

The Pandas opened the scoring when Melody Howard found herself one-on-one against a McGill defender on the right wing. Howard angled in towards the net fron the face-off circle, and got off a shot that went through the defender's leg. McGill goaltender Taylor Salisbury made the initial save, but the puck landed out in front of her for a juicy rebound. And Howard took that opportunity as she raced around the defender to the loose puck and slammed home a goal on Salisbury's glove side. Alberta led 1-0 on Howard's second goal of the tournament at 6:09 of the first period.

McGill and Alberta showed what shutdown defensive play looks like throughout the first period, and, aside from the rebound goal given up by Salisbury, both teams were quite evenly matched. Alberta did carry the play in terms of shots on net in posting the 8-4 lead, but several of the registered shots came from the outside where Salisbury could easily handle the shot.

Both teams continued their moves and counter-moves in preventing attacks from happening in the second period. Another goal was scored, but it took 18:49 for that to happen. A scrum in front of the net saw Alana Cabana poke-checked to prevent a great scoring chance in the slot. However, the puck slid out towards the blueline where Pandas' defenceman Stephanie Ramsey fired the puck back into the crowd. It hit Panda Tarin Podloski in front, and slid towards the net where it hit the post. A diving Cabana, however, corralled the loose puck and swept it into the net past Salisbury and three Martlet defenders. Cabana's second goal of the CIS tournament put the Alberta Pandas up 2-0 in the CIS Championship.

After forty minutes, it appeared that vaunted McGill offence would have to find a way to break the stingy Pandas defence if they wanted a chance at a fourth-straight CIS Championship. The Pandas led in shots through two periods by a 16-9 lead, and had the all-important 2-0 lead on the scoreboard.

The third period was all about Pandas goaltender Dana Vinge. The Physical Education and Recreation student put up a wall against all eleven shots she faced, and stonewalled the Martlets' opportunity to capture another CIS Championship. When the final horn sounded, Vinge and the Pandas skated to a 2-0 shutout victory over the most dominate women's team in Canadian University hockey.

Vinge shutout the Martlets in their 87th game since their last loss. The Martlets had not been beaten or tied in a hockey game since December 30, 2007 when they were beaten by the Alberta Pandas by a 2-1 score. From that game forward, the Martlets went on an insane 86-game winning streak! And it all came to an end in the last game of 2009-10 at the hands of a defensively-dominant Pandas hockey team!

What's more impressive is the fact that Vinge and the Pandas didn't surrender a goal in the three games they played at the CIS Women's Hockey Championship. If defence truly wins championships, the 2009-10 Panda hockey team is the epitome of that mantra, and deserve the title of Women's Hockey Champions for their achievements.

Congratulations go out to the University of Alberta Pandas women's hockey team in capturing the 2009-10 CIS Women's Hockey Championship. Not only did David slay Goliath, but David was crowned king, or queens, after the victory! Enjoy the win, ladies!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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