MANITOBA at ALBERTA: There might have been some concern from Pandas fans that their team could come out a little rusty having had a bye week between the end of the regular season and Friday night's games, but that was erased early as the Pandas showed a ton of jump out of the gate. They would force Manitoba into drawing a penalty early on, and it would be Abby Benning ripping home a shot through a screen and past Rachel Dyck from the point at 5:23 to put the Pandas up 1-0. Both teams would settle down after the early power-play goal, though, as each side only managed four shots through 20 minutes of play.
The Bisons elevated their play at the start of the second period. Lauryn Keen, Canada West's leading scorer this season, followed up on her own initial shot to gain possession of the rebound where she turned and fired a shot that banked in off Lindsey Post from behind the goal line to knot this game up at 1-1 just 1:24 into the period! That score wouldn't last long, though, as the Pandas re-asserted themselves after the equalizer. Amy Boucher got in behind the Manitoba defence and received a great outlet pass from Kelsey Tangjerd to send her in alone where she made a gorgeous move to beat Dyck to make it a 2-1 game at 3:03! Lindsey post came up big in the second period for the Pandas as well as she stopped all eight shots fired on her by the Bisons as Manitoba led 12-7 in shots, but trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes.
If scoring early in periods wasn't a trend, it sure was after this game. With Venla Hovi sitting in the penalty box, Cayle Dillon's point shot was deflected beautifully by Alex Poznikoff through Dyck's five-hole, and the Pandas had a 3-1 lead just 1:42 into the final frame. Kennedy Ganser would head to the box 1:10 later, and Manitoba would capitalize on the power-play. Erica Rieder jammed a loose puck under Lindsey Post's pad from the side of the net at 3:53, and Manitoba trailed 3-2. Alberta controlled the middle of the period, but Manitoba began to play desperation hockey. Despite their efforts, Post and a number of blocked shots kept the puck out of the net as Alberta prevailed in Game One by the 3-2 score. Post stopped 14 shots in the victory while Dyck made 12 saves in the loss as Alberta went up 1-0 in the series.
MANITOBA at ALBERTA: The Bisons would have last change on Saturday afternoon as Game Two went in Edmonton. Both the Pandas and Bisons came out shooting and skating as chances were had at both ends, the Pandas would break the scoreless game midway through the period. Abby Benning skated the blue line until she found a shooting land she liked, and her blast would find the twine past Rachel Dyck at 12:58 to put the Pandas up 1-0. Despite the opportunities they found, the Bisons could not beat Lindsey Post through the opening frame.
An early power-play in the second to Manitoba after Deanna Morin was sent off for tripping saw the home team on visitors' ice tie the game. Karissa Kirkup found herself all alone in the slot and the puck found her, and she made no mistake in beating Post at 3:51 to make it 1-1. The Pandas would restore the lead just past the midway point when Cayle Dillon's rush saw the initial shot kicked aside by Dyck, but Ashley Morin pounced on the loose puck and fired it past a prone Dyck at 11:23 to make it 2-1 Alberta. For the rest of the period, Post and Dyck saw nothing as the two teams went into defensive mode and didn't generate another shot!
Manitoba poured the pressure on Alberta in the third period from start to finish, but shots that missed the net and saves by Lindsey Post kept the Bisons from finding the equalizer. With Dyck on the bench and Manitoba on a power-play late, Kennedy Ganser took the opportiunity she found by firing the puck into the open net while shorthanded to make it 3-1 for Alberta at 19:02. Venla Hovi wasn't going to go down without a fight, though, and she beat post with 11 seconds remaining. It was too little and too late, however, as the Pandas took Game Two by a 3-2 score and won the series 2-0. Post stopped 22 shots in helping the Pandas advance while Dyck made 14 saves in Manitoba's final gae of the season.
SASKATCHEWAN at UBC: Fourth-place Saskatchewan ventured over the mountains to play first-place UBC in the other semifinal series. This one was a defensive battle from the drop of the puck. UBC would score the only goal of the opening period when Nicole Saxvik's shot was kicked aside by Cassidy Hendricks, but Mathea Fischer put the rebound back on net almost immediately and beat Hendricks at 7:31 to put the T-Birds up 1-0. Chances were few and far apart after that as the teams carried that score into the intermission.
After a scoreless second period where, again, neither team had many chances, it would be some sort of magic or trickery that seemed to get the next goal. Hendricks poke-checked Madison Patrick in tight, and somehow the puck went up and over Hendricks before just barely sliding across the line. If there truly are hockey gods, that goal might have been purely on them as I still can't figure out how that puck ended up behind Hendricks. In any case, Patrick's goal at 3:27 of the third period put UBC up 2-0, and that was more than enough for Amelia Boughn on this night as she shut the door on the Huskies for the 2-0 win and the 1-0 series lead. Boughn stopped 14 shots in the shutout while Hendricks made 17 stops for the Huskies.
SASKATCHEWAN at UBC: The Huskies would assume home-team responsibilities in Game Two on Saturday, and this game was a carry-over from Game One's defensive battle. However, Saskatchewan would score the only goal of the first period early on as Bailee Bourassa's shot was stopped by Amelia Boughn, but Rachel Johnson picked up the rebound and zipped it past Boughn at 2:56 for the 1-0 Saskatchewan lead.
Did I say "the only goal of the first period"? How about that goal being the only goal in the entire game? Both Boughn and Cassidy Hendricks didn't allow another shot to pass through the remaining 57:03, leaving the Johnson goal as the lone marker in a 1-0 victory for the Saskatchewan Huskies! With the series tied at 1-1, we'd have a Sunday game! Hendricks stopped 23 shots in pitching a shutout while Boughn stopped 17 of 18 shots for the Thunderbirds.
SASKATCHEWAN at UBC: It was do-or-die, win-or-go-home on Sunday for both the Huskies and T-Birds. The Huskies were looking for the major upset while UBC wanted another shot at a national championship. The first period had an entirely different feel as UBC struck early. Kathleen Cahoon's shot would be turned aside by Cassidy Hendricks, but Haneet Parhar corralled the loose puck and was able to elevate the puck past Hendricks from a tight angle at 4:20 for the 1-0 lead. UBC would double that lead eight minutes later when Kelly Murray's shot from just above the high slot area found its way through traffic and Hendricks at 12:37 for the 2-0 lead. Saskatchewan would rally and get one back before the end of the period as Alyssa Dobler's low shot somehow got past a screened Amelia Boughn at 17:28, and the teams would head into the break with UBC leading 2-1.
The defensive game returned in the second period as neither team generated many chances with their seasons on the line, so we'd go to the third period with the 2-1 score still intact. Both teams played cautiously, but looked for another goal. Hendricks would be called to the bench with more than two minutes to play as Saskatchewan pressed, and Boughn made a number of key saves to keep UBC up by a goal. With five seconds to play, Nicole Saxvik booked UBC in the Canada West final with an empty net goal, and the T-Birds advance on the strength of a 3-1 victory and a 2-1 series win. Boughn stopped 21 shots in the victory while Hendricks made 18 saves in the loss.
Up NextAnd then there were two. The UBC Thunderbirds will play host to the Alberta Pandas next weekend in the CWUAA Women's Hockey Championship Final. Both teams have already earned berths at the USports National Championship, so this series is for bragging rights and pride as both teams will potentially meet at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ontario from March 16-19.
Honestly, these two teams were the two best teams in Canada West this season with UBC stringing together a 15-game win streak earlier this season while Alberta goes into the final series against UBC on a 13-game win streak. This championship will determine which team officially won the west this season.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!