Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Rundown - Week 6

All eight teams were back in action this week, and that logjam at the top of the standings in Canada West needed a little sorting out. There were some intriguing series this weekend as Regina visited Manitoba and Saskatchewan traveled to UBC, so we'll look at each of the eight games played and figure out who stands where after the dust settled this week. The action was intense in Canada West women's hockey, so let's check it out on The Rundown!

MOUNT ROYAL at CALGARY: We had a bit of quirk in the scheduling as this game went Thursday night as the first game of the Crowchild Classic between the two Calgary-based Canada West teams. Calgary got the home draw for this game, and they'd give the home crowd something to cheer about midway through the opening frame. With Mount Royal's Jordan Finnie serving a penalty, defender Laine Grace opened the scoring on a shot from the point at 11:36.
That would be the only scoring of the period as Paige Michalenko and Delaney Frey drew the assists on Grace's first U SPORTS goal. Despite the Cougars having chances on breakaways and one-timers, Kelsey Roberts was outstanding in the Calgary net with the Cougars outshooting the Dinos 14-3.

It appeared we would have a one-goal game to start the third period, but Calgary leading scorer Sage Desjardins had other ideas late in the period. On a partial breakaway, she'd find the twine with 22 seconds left to make it 2-0 for the Dinos.
The third period saw Calgary continue to build on their lead as Rachel Paul scored off a great individual effort at 12:01.
Paul's first of the season came 4:55 before Grace decided she wanted another goal as she unleashed a slap shot from the point that got by Zoe DeBeauville at 16:56.
When all was said and done, Kelsey Roberts rejected all of Mount Royal's chances in a 4-0 victory. Roberts stopped all 28 shots she faced while DeBeauville made nine saves on 13 shots in the loss.

CALGARY at MOUNT ROYAL: The second-half of the crosstown rivalry went at Flames Community Arena on Friday. Mount Royal needed to find some points at home, or they were in danger of falling completely off the board. Calgary looked to continue their winning ways after the 4-0 defeat on Thursday night. The only problem? There were no goals scored through the first twenty minutes as Mount Royal's Emily Severson stopped seven shots and Calgary's Kelsey Roberts continued to stonewall the Cougars with ten more saves. The play was carried by the Cougars, though, so it was clear they were hungry for a win.

Four minutes into the second period, the Cougars' relentless pressure paid off. Channia Alexander teed a puck up that whistled past Roberts for her first of the season to put Mount Royal up 1-0 at 4:09. The Dinos had chances as well, including a Holly Ruether breakaway, but Severson was equal to the task on all four shots she saw to carry the 1-0 lead into the third period. Mount Royal's pressure had them leading in shots 20-11 through two periods.

Things were tense down the stretch as both sides had chances in the one-goal game. Calgary opted to pull Roberts for the extra attacker at 18:25, and they would be rewarded with the extra player. Ruether, who had chances before, got a stick on a wrist shot from Morgan Loroff and deflected the puck past Severson at 19:10, and this game was destined for extra time!

The overtime periods would solve nothing, so the teams went to the skills competition. Reanna Arnold would score on Mount Royal's first attempt. Calgary was denied on its first two attempts before Delaney Frey skated to center ice needing to score.
With the miss on the final attempt, Mount Royal secured the 2-1 win! Severson picked up her first U SPORTS win with a 25-save performance plus three more in the shootout while Roberts suffered the loss in making 30 saves plus two more in the skills competition.

ALBERTA at LETHBRIDGE: On paper, this may have looked like a major mismatch, but Lehtbridge's Alicia Anderson has been other-worldly this season to keep the Pronghorns in games. She'll need to be outstanding once more against the defending U SPORTS national champions, and she was through the first period as she denied all 14 shots - some of the spectacular variety - she saw to keep Alberta off the board. Unfortunately, the Pronghorns couldn't score on Dayna Owen with their eight shots, so it was off to the second period to see if we could find a scorer.

Just 2:09 into the middle frame, we would get a goal. With Alberta's Alex Poznikoff in the penalty box, Alli Borrow set up Tricia Van Vaerenbergh for the one-timer from the face-off circle, and her blast found just enough room through Dayna Owen's pads to get across the line for the power-play goal and the 1-0 lead. Alberta barely had time to shake that goal off when Lethbridge struck again! 44 seconds after Van Vaerenbergh's goal, Kyra Greig scored her first U SPORTS goal of her career!
Greig's goal seemed to snap the Pandas out of their slumber as they came to life and blitzed the Pronghorns for the remainder of the period, outshooting Lethbridge 16-4. The story was the bend-don't-break defence of the Horns and Alicia Anderson once more as they went into the second intermission leading 2-0 despite being outshot 30-12 through forty minutes.

The Pronghorns weathered some early trouble from the Pandas in the third period to preserve the two-goal lead. Midway through the period, the Pronghorns found a third goal compliments of the power-play once more. Mattie Apperson set Alli Borrow up with a beautiful pass, and Borrow one-timed a rocket past Owen to make it a 3-0 game for Lethbridge. Anderson was lights-out once more as the Pandas went with the extra attacker with 3:35 remaining as she made stop after stop. However, Alberta would finally find a seam on Anderson with 50 seconds to play when Kennedy Ganser jammed home a puck in the crease to make it 3-1, but that's as close as Alberta would get on this night. Anderson stopped 42 shots in the 3-1 victory while Owen made 11 saves on 14 shots in the loss.

ALBERTA at LETHBRIDGE: Game Two went from Lethbridge's Nicholas Sheran Arena on Saturday, and you had to know that the Pandas would come out flying in this one after dropping Friday's game. Did I mention that Lethbridge may have the best netminder in the nation in Alicia Anderson playing for them? Because she was in the blue paint again, and she was beyond good once again. The Pandas were all over the Pronghorns in the first period, throwing 14 shots at Anderson, but they couldn't find the back of the net. The result was a scoreless opening period in which Alberta led 14-6 in shots.

The ice seemed to be tilted towards the Pronghorn net in the second period as the Pandas poured on the pressure. It would take nearly 18 minutes, but the Pandas finally broke through the wall known as Anderson. Taylor Kezama moved in from the point and let a shot go up high that beat Anderson over the shoulder at 17:54 to give the Pandas the 1-0 lead! The only problem? That lead would last a mere 43 seconds. Madison Toppe would even the score at 1-1 when she took advantage of some miscommunication between the Pandas defenders and netminder Kirsten Chamberlin to wrap the puck around the post and into the vacant net at 18:37 to tie the game up on Lethbridge's second shot of the period! Yes, you read that correctly as Alberta outshot Lethbridge 19-2 in the second period and 33-8 overall, but the scoreboard still showed things on even terms at 1-1.

Again, it was a Panda-centric period as they outshot the Pronghorns 14-7, but Anderson denied all 14 chances including a Kennedy Ganser breakaway. Lethbridge had shots on Chamberlin, but the rookie netminder turned them aside as well. With no scoring, we'd get some free hockey in this one! The overtime period wouldn't last long, though. Cayle Dillon put the Pandas on her shoulders and the captain snapped a shot past Anderson at 1:10 on Alberta's third shot of the extra period for the 2-1 victory! Chamberlin earned the win in making 14 saves while Anderson stopped 48 shots in the loss.

REGINA at MANITOBA: Two teams that were within striking distance of first-place met at Wayne Fleming Arena on Friday night. Manitoba was skating without Canada West leading scorer Venla Hovi due to her participation in the Four Nations Cup in Tampa Bay, captain Caitlin Fyten due to a shoulder injury, Jenai Buchanan due to lingering concussion issues, and Karissa Kirkup due to an undisclosed injury situation, so the Bisons were going to need some help if they wanted to take down the upstart Cougars. Where they found that help was in the form of the hockey gods as they seemed to be smiling on the Bisons. Just 27 seconds in off a dump-in by Erica Rieder, the puck ricocheted with a funny hop off a stanchion that caught Morgan Baker heading behind the net while the puck ended up in front of the net. Jordy Zacharias was all over the loose puck as she put it into the unguarded net to give Manitoba the early 1-0 lead. The rest of the period saw Manitoba control the pace as they outshot Regina 11-5 without rally giving up a good scoring chance.

The second period started with another crazy goal. After a turnover in the Regina zone, Megan Neduzak found Jordy Zacharias at the top of the slot. The puck, though, bounced on Zacharias, and she chose to tee up a puck on edge. The knuckle-puck floated over Morgan Baker's glove as she was way out to cut down the angle, and it found the top-right corner of the net just 28 seconds into this period to give the Bisons a 2-0 lead! From there, Regina began going to the middle of the ice as opposed to playing down the wings, and it almost worked. Jordan Kulbida was sent in on a partial breakaway, but Lauren Taraschuk turned her aside to keep her clean sheet. Lauryn Keen would make it a three-goal game with just over three minutes to play in the period when she centered the puck from behind the net to three Cougars in the slot, but the puck hit Tamara McVannel's skate and ended up behind Baker! After forty minutes and having the bounces go their way, Manitoba held the advantage in shots at 20-11 and, more importantly, on the scoreboard at 3-0.

It was up to the Manitoba defenders to preserve the lead in the third period, and they did some outstanding work blocking shots and knocking away passes and rebounds when needed. One tipped pass late in the game with Regina on the power-play resulted in Manitoba's Sheridan Oswald racing down the ice past a Regina defender for a partial breakaway. She went forehand-backhand on the break, but Baker stayed with her as the puck went off Baker's pad for the save. However, those hockey gods were smiling once again as the rebound went off Oswald, over Baker, and settled in the back of the net with 5:49 to play to give Manitoba the 4-0 lead. Honestly, if the Cougars didn't have bad luck, they wouldn't have had any luck on this night as Manitoba held on to the 4-0 score for the win! Taraschuk was solid in her second-straight shutout with 20 saves while Baker deserved better on this night as she stopped 31 of 35 shots.

REGINA at MANITOBA: I'm sure the Cougars were told by head coach Sarah Hodges to take the puck to the net more often after Friday night's loss because Saturday's game saw the Cougars play far more aggressively down the middle of the ice. Both defences were sharp in the first period in clearing rebounds and blocking shots, though, and both Regina's Jane Kish and Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk kept the puck from getting behind them as we played a scoreless first period in which the Bisons outshot the Cougars 9-6.

It took them four periods and six minutes, but the Cougars finally soled Taraschuk in the second period. While on the power-play, the Cougars moved the puck around the top of the umbrella before it reached Tamara McVannel in the left face-off circle. With Emma Waldenberger standing directly in front of her, Lauren Taraschuk peeked around the leg of Waldenberger on the right side. The only problem? McVannel's shot went to the far post on the left side, and it caught the inside of the netting for the power-play marker at 6:11 to give the Cougars the 1-0 lead! That goal also ended Taraschuk's shutout streak at 147:08! Despite a few chances coming in this period, Jane Kish kept Mantioba's shooters silent as Regina outshot the Bisons 14-9 in this frame!

Manitoba came out of the gates in the third period with guns a-blazing, but Kish was simply outstanding in sending wave after wave of opportunities aside. However, a hooking penalty taken by Melissa Zerr at 14:18 and a five-minute major for bodychecking on Martina Maskova at 14:49 gave Manitoba a two-person advantage for 1:29, and they made it count. Emma Waldenberger blew a tire on the top of the triangle coverage that allowed Erica Rieder to walk into the slot area and zip a shot past Kish on the glove side for the power-play goal at 15:37 to make it a 1-1 game!

With the five-minute major continuing, the Bisons continued to press, but the penalty killers of the Cougars continued to find way to relieve the pressure. On a late stand on the major penalty, the puck was worked around the top of the umbrella until it found Lauren Warkentin on the top of the left circle. I think the entire arena anticipated a shot with 40 seconds remaining on the clock, but Warkentin faked the shot and fed a perfect cross-ice pass to the left-side face-off dot where Alana Serhan had the stick armed and ready for the one-timer. Her drive was stopped by an outstanding save by Kish, but the puck popped loose from between her pads and sat behind Kish on the goal line. Courtlyn Oswald lunged for the puck and pushed it across the line to give Manitoba another power-play gal with 36 seconds to play and, more importantly, the 2-1 lead!

Despite pulling Kish and getting a couple of shots off, none made it through to Taraschuk as the Bisons snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with the two late power-play goals in a 2-1 win! Taraschuk had another fantastic outing as she stopped 23 shots for her fifth win of the season while Kish stopped 32 shots in the loss.

SASKATCHEWAN at UBC: In a battle of the top-two teams in Canada West, the Huskies travelled west to meet the Thunderbirds. This game had a playoff-like feel to it already despite just being Week Six of action. The opening period saw Saskatchewan have slightly more offence to speak of, but both sides had opportunities that were thwarted by Saskatchewan's Jessica Vance and UBC's Tory Micklash. In the end, the opening frame saw the Huskies with an 11-8 advantage in shots over the T-Birds.

UBC brought more of the firepower in the second period as they continued to pepper Vance and the Huskies with shots from all over. Saskatchewan, for their part, used their speed to set up shots and opportunities as well, but the two netminders were impenetrable at either end. UBC outshot Saskatchewan 12-9 in this period to even the shots at 20 apiece, but the game remained scoreless through forty minutes of play.

The third started the same way as the previous two periods went with both teams testing one another's defensive schemes, but a penalty midway through the period would see our first goal scored! With Leah Bohlken watching from the sin bin, Kaitlin Willoughby caused a turnover and went off to the races as she outskated the UBC defence for a shorthanded breakaway. The Huskies' most lethal scorer would make no mistake on this one as she deked Tory Micklash enough to open up the netminder before sliding the puck home at 9:34 for the shorthanded marker and the 1-0 Huskies lead. UBC would continue to press, including pulling Micklash for the extra attacker with two-and-a-half minutes to play, but the Huskies would give up nothing on this night. Chloe Smith's goal into an empty-net with 44 seconds to play iced this game as the Huskies took victory with a 2-0 score and leapfrogged the T-Birds into first-place! Vance was stellar in stopping all 33 shots she faced for her first win and shutout with Saskatchewan while Micklash stopped 27 shots in the loss.

SASKATCHEWAN at UBC: The playoff atmosphere between these two teams continued today as UBC was looking to avoid the sweep while the Huskies were looking to pad their lead over the T-Birds in the standings. And just as they did one night earlier, the two teams skated to a scoreless draw through the first twenty minutes of play. Amelia Boughn made four saves for the T-Birds while Jessica Vance stopped eight shots. Both goalies were tested, and both came away unscathed.

We'd find some scoring in the second period. Just under eight minutes in, Saskatchewan's Kayla Kirwin sent in a puck in on Boughn from the blie line that found its way through the traffic and past Boughn at 7:42, and the Huskies grabbed the 1-0 lead. Less than three minutes later, Hannah Clayton-Carroll picked up a rebound off a Mathea Fischer shot on the power-play, and she dented twine behind Vance at 10:35 to make it a 1-1 game. The tied game lasted all of 63 seconds. Emily Upgang found a seam on Boughn with her shot, and the Huskies jumped ahead 2-1. Saskatchewan was certainly the more aggressive team in the second period as they outshot UBC 9-5, leading to their 2-1 lead.

The third period saw Saskatchewan pour on the offence, keeping the T-Birds on their heels. The Huskies outshot UBC 15-5 in the final frame, and the five shots that Vance faced weren't overly difficult to stop. When the final horn sounded, Saskatchewan had swept the weekend series with a 2-1 win! Vance picked up her second win by stopping 17 shots while Boughn suffered the loss despite stopping 26 shots.

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
22 21 13
21 27 21
vs LET
18 23 17
vs SAS
British Columbia
18 21 16
15 22 25
vs CAL
11 13 15
8 8 15
Mount Royal
7 13 26
vs UBC

The Final Word

Alberta and UBC, the top-two teams in the nation, now sit in third- and fourth-place in Canada West. UBC lost a weekend series for the first time in over two years at the hands of Saskatchewan, so maybe it's time that the voters of the U SPORTS Top Ten start letting go of what happened last season because there are two teams ahead of the Pandas and Thunderbirds in their own conference. Regina's losses at the hands of the Bisons really set them back in the race for first-place, but they're not out of it yet.

What maybe bothered me the most this week was an article from a blog that supposedly covers women's hockey, but apparently doesn't bother watching any hockey. It all started with a tweet that I saw.
You're free to click on the link if you like, but let me save you the trouble. It's five paragraphs long, it mentions four players from the Cougars, it doesn't explain any reason why the Cougars are contenders aside from crediting their earning splits with Alberta, UBC, and Saskatchewan as a reason why, and the author thinks the fourth-place team only has weaker teams to play. I guess that's "all the details" on why they should be contenders, right?

Forget the fact that the Manitoba Bisons - this past weekend's competition - was ranked sixth in the nation. Apparently, Manitoba is a weaker team despite having a rookie goalie allow one goal in two games to the Cougars in taking both games and all six points from the Cougars. Forget the fact that they still have to play in Lethbridge against arguably the nations's best goalie in Alicia Anderson when they could barely manage a single goal against Manitoba. Forget that the "physical game" the Cougars play cost them Saturday's game against Manitoba.

It bothers me when people are writing articles that are better based for sports briefs than for blogs where examination and introspect are sought. It also leads me to believe that the author doesn't watch a lot of Canada West women's hockey because the insight and details that were provided could have been seen on the boxscore of most Regina games. Rather than talking about the leadership of Kylee Kupper and Jaycee Magwood and Sam Geekie in helping a young squad rich in freshmen and sophomores come together to play solid hockey, we instead get "they have goals and assists". It could have been written about the mentorship and work done by Sarah Hodges and her staff in getting some great recruits into the program who have high hockey IQs, but we instead get "goalie has won games and has good stats".

I'm lucky in that I get to see these amazing women play each and every week through calling games and by watching them via Canada West TV. I get to see the ups and downs these teams go through, and it's an incredible process each and every week. Regina, to their credit, could be contenders this season, but this is a team of 20 players who find contributions from each player that don't always make the scoresheet.

This weekend, I watched Shaelyn Vallotton make some solid defensive plays with her big frame that other defencemen wouldn't have been able to make. I saw Chelsea Hallson use her speed and skill to open up space in the offensive zone before dishing pucks to teammates. Emma Waldenberger had two great games using her size and reach to win puck battles, but just couldn't find the back of the net. Did any of these players get mentions? No. Why? Because they aren't easy-pickings at the top of the stats columns for the Cougars.

Don't believe me? Check out the top-three scorers for the Cougars.
Which three players were mentioned in the article? Hint: see above.

Canada West is a deep and talented conference of hockey players. Heck, it produced the gold- and bronze-medal teams last year at the U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship. The Regina Cougars could surprise a lot of people and find themselves there this season as the article alludes to, but it will take more than four players, a quick glance at the stats, and some generic descriptions about the team to convince me they should be contenders for the crown.

Why, you ask? Because I actually watch the games.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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