Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Rundown - Week 15

There were playoff spots on the line all over the western half of Canada this week as the Canada West Conference rolled into its final weekend of women's hockey. Manitoba had their destiny in their own hands, but Alberta, UBC, Saskatchewan, Regina, Mount Royal, and Calgary all still had chances at the five remaining spots and a possible first-round bye for the Pandas, T-Birds, and Huskies. The only team that had a chance to play spoiler was Lethbridge, although Manitoba could also be considered a spoiler if they're looking to derail the Dinos' playoff hopes. It was a dramatic weekend when it came to the standings with all the possible changes, so let's check out the action on this week's edition of The Rundown!

LETHBRIDGE at REGINA: Let's start with the team who had a significant chance to ruin a weekend as Lethbridge traveled to Regina to meet the Cougars. Regina started the weekend in seventh-place, so they had to win and get some help for them to reach the playoffs. Both teams came out in the first period looking a little cautious, and it showed in the shot margin as the Pronghorns led 7-6 in shots through one period as they seemed to embrace the role of spoiler. With no goals scored in the opening frame, we'd look to the second period for offence.

The second period seemed to be heading the same way the first period did, but a miscue with the puck behind her net while on the power-play allowed Keely Chalk to wrap the puck around the post and past Morgan Baker at 11:09 for the shorthanded marker and the 1-0 Pronghorns lead! Regina pushed back, but may have pushed too much when Chelsea Hallson was whistled for bodychecking at 15:19 and Tamara McVannel was sent off for roughing at 16:57. On the five-on-three, Lethbridge's Tricia Van Vaerenbergh wired a shot towards Baker that Delaney Duchek got a stick on to redirect past Baker for the power-play marker at 17:11 for the 2-0 lead!

The third period started off defensively, but the Cougars would not go quietly on this night. Lilla Carpenter-Boesch found room through Lethbridge's Brooklyn Paisley on a nice backhander to cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:04. Three minutes later with Jensen Smigelsky sitting in the penalty box, Regina's Bailey Braden notched a shorthanded goal of her own when her and Jaycee Magwood executed a perfect give-and-go with Braden finishing off the play top-shelf over Paisley to make it a 2-2 game!

However, just nine seconds later, Tricia Van Vaerenbergh came streaking down the wing and ripped a shot short side on Baker, and the Pronghorns went back up by a goal with Van Vaerenbergh's power-play tally! The only problem was that lead would last only for a couple of minutes. With Mattie Apperson and Eryn Johanson sitting in the Lethbridge sin bin, Regina head coach shocked everyone in pulling Morgan Baker to go six-on-three! Her gamble would pay off, though, when Tamara McVannel's shot was stopped, but no one checked Emma Waldenberger as she potted the rebound at 15:44 to make it a 3-3 game!

With nothing decided after sixty minutes, the two teams would need extra time. The four-on-four period gave nothing to report, but the three-on-three period would. Magwood used Apperson as a partial screen on a one-on-one in the Lethbridge zone, and her shot found beat Paisley high on the blocker side for the double-overtime winner as Regina takes this game 4-3! Baker was solid in making 31 saves in the win while Paisley made 37 saves in her only appearance this season in a double-overtime loss!

LETHBRIDGE at REGINA: The two-point win elevated Regina into fifth-place with Mount Royal's results yet to come, so the Cougars were looking to solidify that position with another home-ice win over Lethbridge. Lethbridge showed another strong outing on Friday, losing their fifteenth one-goal game of the season. Had Lethbridge taken half those games the other way, we'd be talking about them in a playoff position right now. More on this below in The Final Word, but let's get to Saturday's action!

The two teams began the game testing one another's defence, but neither would budge until just past the midway point of the game. Lehtbridge's Katelyn Breitkreuz was called for closing her hand on the puck, and the Cougars went to work on the power-play. Kylee Kupper found Emma Waldenberger with a pass, and she spotted Lilla Carpenter-Boesch wide-open for the easy tap-in past Jessica Lohues at 13:57 for the power-play marker and the 1-0 Regina lead!

We'll move to the second period where Lethbridge came out strong from the intermission. Tricia Van Vaerenbergh finished off a gorgeous feed from Brett Campbell to find the back of the net behind Jane Kish at 4:09 and tie the game at 1-1! Minutes later, Alli Borrow made the Cougars pay for a turnover by taking the puck in alone on Kish, and she zipped a shot past Kish on the blocker side at 8:51 to give the Pronghorns the 2-1 lead! The remainder of the period was mostly Jessica Lohues and the Pronghorns defence weathering an intense storm in their own zone as they were outshot 18-3 in the period, but they went into the intermission with the one-goal lead intact!

The ice was barely dry when Lilla Carpenter-Boesch decided she was going to take over the game. The Regina forward slipped a wrap-around past Lohues in the Cougars' first offensive zone chance just 24 seconds into the period to make it 2-2! She wasn't done, though, as she netted her hat trick two-and-a-half minutes later. Kylee Kupper wired a shot on net that Lohues stopped, but the rebound landed in the mass of humanity in front of her as a scramble ensued. Emma Waldenberger showed off some solid soccer skills by kicking it over to Carpenter-Boesch who dented twine behind Lohues for the power-play goal at 3:02 to put Regina up 3-2! The Cougars weathered a few offensive sequences by the Pronghorns as they were outshot 10-3, but Jane Kish and the Cougars put themselves in a good spot with a 3-2 victory! Kish made 18 stops for the win while Lohues stopped 31 shots in the loss.

SASKATCHEWAN at MOUNT ROYAL: With the Cougars locking up a playoff spot, it came down to who else could claim the final playoff spot between Mount Royal and Calgary. The Cougars were hosting the Saskatchewan Huskies who were pushing Manitoba for top-spot and looking to claim one of the top-two spots for a bye in the quarterfinal round of Canada West playoffs. The game started like most do for Saskatchewan, and that's with speed and tenacity at both ends of the ice. The Cougars seemed unfazed, though, as they didn't allow Saskatchewan to find the back of the net with some strong play in front of Zoe DeBeauville. We'd go scoreless into the intermission despite Saskatchewan holding an 11-4 advantage in shots.

With no scoring in the second period, we'd move to the third period where a penalty midway through the period was costly. Mount royal's Kate Hufnagel was sent off for holding a Huskies' stick, and the Saskatchewan power-play went to work. Kira Bannatyne showed some great wheels as she burst down the line past a Cougars defender, cut to the front of the net, and slipped the puck through DeBeauville's five-hole as she moved laterally with Bannatyne at 10:19 to put Saskatchewan up 1-0. And since Vance has a sub-1.00 GAA, Mount Royal suddenly found themselves in a deep hole. With the Cougars doing all the could, including a late goal-mouth scramble with six attackers where it appeared Mount Royal may tie the game, Vance simply wouldn't allow the puck to find the netting behind her. At the final horn, the Huskies survived the late push and took the 1-0 victory! Vance was perfect on 15 shots for her eighth shutout of the season while Zoe DeBeauville deserved a better fate on her 25-save performance.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Jessica Vance here because the Huskies netminder has been lights-out this season when it comes to tending the nets. Vance was putting on a show in Calgary on Friday night once again as she turned away several good chances for the Cougars throughout the night. Vance really has been the story for the Cougars this season as she has turned in quality starts each and every time she has taken the ice. With all due respect to Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk, Jessica Vance is Canada West's best netminder this season in my view as she officially earned the most wins in Canada West with tonight's win, and has nearly identical statistics to Taraschuk. Of course, there's one more game to play, so we'll see if she can improve on these stats on Saturday!

SASKATCHEWAN at MOUNT ROYAL: Saskatchewan's win saw them move up the standings, and we'll see how UBC, Alberta, and Manitoba made out shortly when it comes to knowing where they stand, but Mount Royal was also scoreboard-watching when it came to Regina and Calgary. We know Regina was in the driver's seat after they won both games and picked up five points, so Mount Royal really needed to win or get some help from Manitoba if they wanted to remain in the playoff hunt! The only problem? Jessica Vance.

Saskatchewan saw Kori Herner score at 9:11 of the first period while Kori Herner added a second goal at 13:25 of the third period. Brooklyn Haubrich punched in an empty-net goal with 25 seconds to play while Jessica Vance continually turned away Mount Royal scoring chances. All twenty shots were handled by Vance, and some of those chances included a glove save on an Anna Purschke breakaway, a couple of bang-bang passing plays, and several shots through traffic. In the end, the Cougars couldn't solve Vance in sixty minutes as the Huskies skated to the 3-0 win. Vance, as stated above, made 20 saves for her ninth shutout of the season while Emily Severson had a solid game in making 21 saves in the loss.

CALGARY at MANITOBA: The Bisons simply needed two points on the weekend to guarantee themselves first-overall in the conference while Calgary was playing for their playoff lives. They had to pick up at least three points to tie Mount Royal and claim a playoff spot via tie-breaker scenario, but they had a gargantuan task in front of them as the lowest-scoring team in the conference. Let's just say this went as one might expect.

The opening period saw Kelsey Roberts stonewall the Bisons on a number of great chances as the Bisons looked a step faster all night. It wasn't until the dying seconds of the period that the Bisons would be rewarded for their hard work. The cycle game was working behind the net when Natasha Kostenko centered a pass with seconds remaining. The pass went all the back to the point, and Caitlin Fyten's shot eluded a number of legs and Roberts in the net as she barely beat the horn to give Manitoba a 1-0 lead at 19:59!

From there, the top team in the conference simply poured on the pressure and the shots in the second period, and that led to this game getting away from the Dinos. Jenai Buchanan fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that went high past two defenders and Roberts, and we had a 2-0 lead at 6:18. Three minutes later, Lauryn Keen banked one in off the post at 9:55, and Manitoba was off and running with a 3-0 lead. While the remainder of the second period offered no additional goals, it was more of the same as Manitoba kept heavy pressure on the Dinos, and they went into the second break up three goals.

The third period was more Manitoba. Nicole Carswell scored at 3:24 from a scramble in front of Roberts, Alana Serhan jammed home a loose puck at 7:45, and Natasha Kostenko cashed in Manitoba's sixth goal at 17:19. Needless to say, this was not the Dinos' night as Manitoba skated to the 6-0 win. Lauren Taraschuk had a very quiet night in stopping all eight shots for her fifth shutout of the season while Roberts stopped 24 shots in the drubbing.

CALGARY at MANITOBA: With the Bisons clinching home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs on Friday, the Dinos had everything to play for on Saturday. Knowing that Mount Royal had lost to Saskatchewan meant that Calgary could really put the pressure on their crosstown rivals if they could grab a regulation win. Would they pull off the upset?

It appeared that Manitoba would take the lead early on, but the referees determined that Natasha Kostenko had interfered with Roberts as Kostenko was knocked over in the crease and the goal was disallowed. That seemed to spark goaltender Kelsey Roberts who really deserves a pile credit for the score on Saturday because she was simply incredible in tending the net. She denied a number of scoring chances throughout the opening frame to keep the Bisons off the board, but her team couldn't solve Rachel Dyck in the Manitoba end. At the end of one period, it was 0-0.

The second period saw more dominance from the home team as Manitoba applied more pressure for the majority of the period. Late in the frame, though, the Dinos had their best scoring chance off a one-timer in the high slot, but Dyck was equal to the task as she kept this game deadlocked in a stalemate.

The longer this game went on as a scoreless the draw, the better the chances were for the Dinos to emerge victorious. However, they'd find themselves on the wrong side of a 1-0 score midway through the period. Alanna Sharman burst through the neutral zone to catch the Dinos flat-footed, and she drew the defenders towards her on the right side before she slid a gorgeous pass over to Jordy Zacharias who broke in alone on Roberts from the left side. Her shot beat Roberts high, and the Bisons grabbed the 1-0 lead at the 7:37 mark!

While there was hope that the Dinos could find the equalizer, it's tough to score goals when a team registers no shots in the final period of play. That's the reality that the Dinos faced, and even with six attackers they were stymied over and over by the Manitoba defence. At the final horn, Manitoba gutted out the 1-0 win. Rachel Dyck didn't have a lot to do in a six-save shutout while Roberts was spectacular in defeat with a 37-save performance.

UBC at ALBERTA: With a one-point lead over the Pandas and Huskies, the Thunderbirds went to Edmonton with second-place and a first-round bye on their minds. The Pandas, however, were looking to claim second-place themselves, so this series had all sorts of ramifications on the standings in terms of places two through four.

The two teams came out flying, and neither side was willing to give an inch. The tight-checking affair was disrupted when Lindsay Weech launched a shot from the point on Tory Micklash that the netminder couldn't corral, and the Pandas jumped out in front at 7:14. The two teams would continue their clash after resetting, and it seemed as though Alberta would escape the period with the lead. Unfortunately, UBC's Kenzie Robinson found just enough room past Dayna Owen with her deflection of Celine Tardif's point shot with three seconds to play, and we went to the intermission tied 1-1!

The second period was more of the same action where both sides kept the other at bay, but eventually UBC would find a break. While shorthanded, Robinson skated the puck in on the left wing, double-pumped the slap shot, and then ripped it through Owen's wickets for her second of the night and the 2-1 UBC lead! The period would end with this game feeling more like a playoff game between these two rivals, but it would be UBC holding the one-goal lead.

The third period started with a bang as the forechecking Autumn MacDougall caused a turnover behind the UBC net, and she threw the puck out in front where Lisa Lloyd jammed home the puck past Micklash just 19 seconds into the frame, and we were tied 2-2! Alberta, sensing the momentum shift, played extremely good hockey over the final 19:41, but Tory Micklash was just as good as these two teams went to overtime!

In the overtime period, UBC won a puck battle along the boards as Mathea Fischer found Celine Tardif at the point. Her shot towards Owen was deflected by Kathleen Cahoon and that deflection was enough to end the game as Cahoon's redirection found the back of the net at 3:42 of the extra period! UBC picks up the extra point in the 3-2 overtime win! Micklash made 20 stops in the overtime victory while Owen made twelve saves in the extra time loss.

Full highlights from Friday's clash can be found here!

UBC at ALBERTA: With Alberta now trailing UBC by two points, only a regulation win would propel the Pandas ahead of the Thunderbirds in the standings. You had to know that the Pandas would come roaring out of the gates on this one, but UBC did a good job at blocking shots and getting in passing lanes to prevent a lot of chances as they thwarted the Pandas' offensive chances. Alberta led in shots 6-2 after one period, but the score remained 0-0.

The second period saw more of the same play between these two teams as the playoff-like atmosphere continued, but UBC would find a break. Celine Tardif fed Katheleen Cahoon on the right-wing half-boards, and she circled with the puck up to the middle of the point where she let a long wrist shot go that somehow eluded traffic and the glove of Kirsten Chamberlin to put the T-Birds up 1-0 at 7:50! The Pandas kept pressing for the remainder of the stanza, but the intermission would see the Thunderbirds with that one-goal lead.

The Pandas continued to be thwarted by a smothering T-Birds defensive system in the third period, but Amy Boucher decided to put the Pandas on her shoulders. She hopped off the boards and went one-on-five against the Thunderbirds who did very little in trying to check her, and Boucher skated all the way into the slot and finished off her individual effort by going low on the blocker side on Amelia Boughn to make it a 1-1 game at 10:04! Neither team would give an inch as they sacrificed bodies to make plays through the remainder of the period, and the horn at the end of sixty minutes would see these two teams still deadlocked so we'd get more overtime!

Obviously, Alberta couldn't catch UBC at this point, but no team wants to go into the playoffs on the loss or a two-game losing streak. The first overtime saw few chances, and it would lead to a second overtime period. UBC had an early opportunity in the three-on-three, but Chamberlin shut the door. And in hockey, usually a big save at one leads to a chance at the other end, and this game was no different.

Alex Poznikoff did a good job in controlling the puck in the UBC zone despite having a check draped all over her, and she finally broke loose from the check in the right face-off circle, spotted Autumn MacDougall, and MacDougall easily tapped the puck past Boughn to give the Pandas the 2-1 double-overtime win! Chamberlin was good when called upon as she made 12 saves in the double-overtime win while Amelia Boughn stopped 21 shots in the extra time loss.

Highlight of this game are below!

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
64 66 39
58 49 31
British Columbia
56 60 41
vs MRU
55 67 43
vs REG
32 44 64
Mount Royal
28 35 50
25 22 51
18 32 56
Teams in yellow have clinched a playoff spot.

The Graduating Class

With Lethbridge having no graduating seniors on the team, they'll return in full-force next season with some solid recruits to bolster their line-up. I have more Lethbridge talk in The Final Word, but this team is poised to take steps forward next season with a full squad returning with another year of experience under their belts.

The graduating seniors from Regina include Kylee Kupper, Nikki Watters-Matthes, and Bailey Braden. These three Cougars have been amazing players throughout their Canada West careers, and it was a pleasure to watch them and be in awe of their skills and talents. Cougar Nation found three of the best that this nation has to offer! Before we skip to the next set of games, here's a pretty solid marketing video featuring Miss Braden about her time with the Cougars.

The graduating Mount Royal Cougars include Reanna Arnold, Jordan Finnie, Erin McLean, assistant captain Rachel Piitz, and captain Devonie Deschamps, and all were honoured for their commitment and performances on the ice with the Mount Royal program. These five women were outstanding ambassadors for the school and the game, and they will be missed next season. Congratulations to these five women on incredible careers and for their achievements which included Mount Royal's first Canada West playoff appearance last season!

On the Saskatchewan side, the graduating seniors include captain Kaitlyn Willoughby, Kori Herner, Kira Bannatyne, and Kennedy Harris. Those four are an impressive group in terms of the hockey talent they bring to the ice each and every day, and their presence in Canada West will be missed. All four women have had exemplary careers and have been outstanding leaders on the ice, in the classrooms, and in the community for the Huskies. It won't be the same without them next season, and that's why they're a special group of players. Congratulations, ladies, on fantastic careers with the Huskies!

Calgary only has one senior, but she's a heckuva player as Kate Lumley is the graduating senior for the Dinos. She won't wow you with her stats, but she reads the play extremely well. She jumps in from the point in helping pick up three goals this season, she's sound in her own end, and she became a fixture on the blue line for head coach Danielle Goyette this season. Congratulations to Kate Lumley on a great career with the Dinos!

Manitoba featured five seniors who are graduating this year, and those players are captain Caitlin Fyten, Charity Price, Alana Serhan, Olympian Venla Hovi, and goaltender Rachel Dyck. There simply aren't enough words for these five players, but they were key in the success of the Bisons over the last few years. Dyck was the backbone of this team in the net, Fyten has quietly become one of the best defenders in the conference at both ends of the ice while leading this team by example, Serhan is a force on the ice and one of the vocal leaders off of it, Price is the Swiss Army Knife of the Bisons as she played on every line and in most situations this season, and Hovi was outstanding as a leader and a dynamo at both ends as she played in all situations. Congratulations to the Bisons' five graduating seniors on their incredible careers!

UBC will see four players graduate, and these four women have been integral parts of this Thunderbirds era. Kathleen Cahoon, Alexa Ranahan, Kirsten Toth, and Cassandra Vilgrain will graduate this season, and it's hard to imagine this program without these players. Ranahan only spent two years at UBC after transferring in from Ohio State University, but she was a stand-out defender in her own zone and certainly was well-known to opponents. Toth was a reliable and oft-called-upon player by head coach Graham Thomas for her versatility and skill. Vilgrain transferred in from the University of New Hampshire, and her offensive abilities were on display the moment she donned the jersey. Cahoon was always an imposing player whose height and reach made her a dangerous threat, but she always seemed to score clutch goals at key times for this squad. All four players have been a pleasure to watch over their careers. Congratulations on earning a degree while being outstanding members of the campus, community, and Thunderbirds team!

Last but not least, Alberta will see four players graduate as Morgan Kelly, Ashley Morin, Deanna Morin, and Jacky Normandeau all have filled their eligibility. Morgan Kelly was one of those reliable defenders whose name was never heard because she was always making the right play, and head coach Howie Draper certainly trusted the veteran. It will be odd not seeing twins Ashley and Deanna Morin on the ice next season as those two sisters were all about hustle, effort, and determination as they often were thorns in the sides of their opponents with their relentless forechecking. Jacky Normandeau transferred in from Wilfred Laurier University, but she only saw one game of action. Regardless, Normandeau was an effective defender at WLU where she also played soccer! Congratulations to these four women on their university careers with the Pandas!

The Final Word

The playoff brackets are set as Manitoba and Saskatchewan will await the winners of the Alberta-Regina and the UBC-Mount Royal series. There is no more math and no more games to determine who will play whom. If you're one of the four teams in the quarterfinals, you know you need six wins in nine games maximum as each series is a best-of-three to claim the Canada West championship banner. If you're Manitoba or Saskatchewan, it's four wins in six games. Everything starts next weekend, so get ready for some intense playoff action!

In saying that, Calgary and Lethbridge will miss the playoffs for the second-straight season. Calgary's missing of the playoffs is fairly easy to explain - they averaged less than a goal per game this season. You won't win many games with that little offence, and yet the Dinos found themselves nearly in a playoff spot when all was said and done! Goaltending is the team's forte as Kelsey Roberts had to be perfect most nights, and she delivered over and over again in giving her team a chance to win. If they can find some goal-scoring next season, we could be talking about the playoff-bound Calgary Dinos.

Lethbridge, on the other hand, had outstanding goaltending and decent offence, so what went wrong? Perhaps it was their 3-16 record in one-goal games this season? If they had won five of those 16 losses, that's potentially 15 additional points on their total and that would put them in fifth-place, one point ahead of Regina. You have to wonder what could have been as they were in most games all season long, but just couldn't find that higher gear to get the win. In my view, it seems that Lethbridge is on the precipice of being a playoff team, and I like what Michelle Janus is building at the Lethbridge campus. Let's hope they can bring in a few recruits to help the team, and we could be talking about Lethbridge bumping teams out of the playoffs.

It's that magical time of year, and this blog will have all the details from the Canada West Quarterfinal Series next weekend as we look to crown the 2017-18 Canada West champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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