Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Rundown - Week 16

Playoffs spots were locked in and loaded this week as Manitoba and Saskatchewan awaited the winners of the series featuring UBC hosting Mount Royal and Alberta hosting Regina. For these four teams, it comes down to simple math: six wins against three teams over the next three weeks to claim the Canada West championship banner. The first test for each of these four teams would be this weekend, and two losses would send two of the four teams home for a summer of wondering "what if". Let's see who advanced and who gets the summer to reflect in this week's edition of The Rundown!

(6)MOUNT ROYAL at (3)UBC - Game One: Friday saw third-seeded Thunderbirds host the sixth-seeded Cougars in what appeared to be a bit of a mismatch on paper as UBC won all four games played this season, but Mount Royal could point to the fact that three of the four games were only one-goal victories with one of those games being a shootout win. With 28 points separating the two teams in the standings - the same amount amassed by Mount Royal all season - would this series be as tight as the regular season results indicated?

This game started slow for some reason as neither side put up much of a fight in their respective offensive ends. It seemed to take forever for either team to mount some offensive pressure, so perhaps both teams were subscribing to the theory that defence wins championships. In any case, things began to pick up around the midway point of the period, aand it would be the home side who capitalized. UBC's Cassandra Vilgrain walked out of the corned and spotted Brielle Bellerive in front, and Bellerive redirected the Vilgrain pass past Zoe DeBeauville.
Bellerive's goal at 12:24 put the UBC Thunderbirds up 1-0. In what was a very quiet period for both netminders, the horn would sound with UBC holding onto their lead and a 4-3 edge in shots after 20 minutes of play.

UBC showed a little more life in the second period as they began to find seams in the Mount Royal defence, but DeBeauville would surrender nothing. Bellerive, however, was whistled for a cross-check at 14:13, and the Cougars would go to work. Or, more specifically, Reanna Arnold. Nicolette Seper hit Arnold with a pass, and she cut towards the net where her initial shot was denied by UBC's Tory Micklash. However, Arnold followed up on the rebound as she cut across the crease, and she tapped home the uncovered puck past Micklash for the power-play goal at 15:31 to pull Mount Royal even at 1-1! After 40 minutes of play, these teams were deadlocked once more despite UBC holding a 13-8 advantage in shots.

I wanted to report that there was a flurry of goals in the third period, and it looked as though UBC found a lead when they beat DeBeauville at with eight minutes to play, but it was determined that DeBeauville had been interfered with as there was a Thunderbird in the crease. With that goal waved off and no flurry of goals materializing, we'd play through to the final horn with nothing resolved and it was off to overtime!

The first overtime period saw UBC carry the play, but neither side found the back of the net as both defences kept high-quality scoring chances to a minimum. Both DeBeauville and Micklash looked sharp through their eightieth minute in their respective nets, so it was off to a second overtime period to find a winner.

The second overtime period saw better chances with Mount Royal carrying more of the play, but Micklash continued to add bricks to her wall as she didn't allow anything by. There was a Rachel Piitz opportunity that looked like it might end the game, but the veteran Cougar ripped a shot wide with Micklash somewhat out of position. With nothing happening through five periods, we'd move to a sixth period! Would we see another Manitoba-Saskatchewan game where it took eight periods to find a winner?

The two teams skated out for the third overtime period with noticeably less vigor than they did when their legs were still fresh, but the women still battled hard. Both goaltenders withstood the chances thrown at them by their opposition, and the respective defensive units did all they could to recover. However, it would be a loose puck that was the catalyst to the finality of this game.

Tiffany Chiu claimed the aforementioned loose puck in behind DeBeauville's net and threw a backhanded pass into the slot that found Kathleen Cahoon for the one-timer, but she rang it off the post. The rebound, however, ricocheted right back to the big forward, and she made no mistake on the second chance as she found the back of the net at 15:55 of overtime on UBC's sixth shot of the extra frame for the 2-1 triple-overtime victory! Micklash was great in her 115:55 of work in stopping 24 of 25 shots while Zoe DeBeauville did all she could in stopping 33 shots in the loss.

UBC now leads the series 1-0 in the best-of-three contest.

As a note, this game moved into third-place on the longest contest list for Canada West. The only games that saw more overtime than Friday's final was the five-overtime game between Manitoba and Saskatchewan on February 21, 2016 that featured 79:02 of extra time and was ended on a Venla Hovi goal to give Manitoba the win, and the game between Regina and Saskatchewan on March 1, 2014 that saw 62:30 of extra time needed before Alexis Larson scored for Regina to end that game.

(6)MOUNT ROYAL at (3)UBC - Game Two: After playing nearly two full games on Friday night, would either team make it to the rink for the 3pm PT start on Saturday? The Cougars were up early to get a jump on stretching and hydration as per their Twitter feed, and I assume that the T-Birds were executing similar plans of their own. When the puck was dropped, everyone seemed ready to go for Game Two.

Well, it should be stated that the T-Birds looked ready to go because they found the lead just 5:35 into this game when Hannah Clayton-Carroll picked up a puck chopped off of Mathea Fischer's stick, and she wired a shot past Zoe DeBeauville for the early 1-0 lead.
Victoria Byer took a roughing penalty just over a minute later, and the UBC power-play decided to extend the lead. After moving the puck around the top of the umbrella, Brielle Bellerive's perfect tip in front on Madison Patrick's shot found room between the wickets on DeBeauville, and the power-play goal at 6:53 put UBC up 2-0!
These two quick goals seemed to light a fire under the Cougars. Two-and-a-half minutes later, Tatum Amy took a pass from Erin McLean, went to the backhand, and flipped the puck past Amelia Boughn at 9:21 to make it a 2-1 game! The Cougars continued to press through the remaining half of the first period, but Boughn would not be beaten before the horn sounded. Despite leading 7-6 in shots, the Cougars trailed 2-1 to the Thunderbirds after one period of play.

The second period seemed a lot like the first two overtime periods where the two teams had chances, but both goalies wouldn't be beat and the defences continually found ways to clear dangerous second chances. With Mount Royal playing for their playoff lives at this point, it would come down to one more period of play unless the Cougars could find a way to tie this game up.

Mount Royal pushed the play in the third period with the looming blade of the guillotine hanging over them, but vhances were few and far between. UBC had better chances, but DeBeauville stood tall. That proved important because Nicolette Seper found Anna Purschke with a pass, and Purschke found the back of the net past Boughn at 15:58 to tie this game up at 2-2! The final four minutes were exciting, but they resulted in no goals being scored so we went to overtime for the second-straight game!

The good news? This game only needed sixteen minutes of extra time. The bad news? It didn't go well for the Cougars.
Celine Tardif's shot from the half-boards at 15:57 found its way past DeBeauville and into the back of the net for the 3-2 UBC overtime victory as they sweep the Mount Royal Cougars out of the playoffs! Amelia Boughn stopped 15 shots in the overtime win while DeBeauville made 23 stops in this loss.

UBC wins the series 2-0 and advances to play the Saskatchewan Huskies. The reigning two-time Canada West champions and the reigning U SPORTS bronze medalists will go on the road for the next series.

(5)REGINA at (4)ALBERTA - Game One: The season series between these two teams was definitely in the Pandas' favor. Alberta went 3-0-0-1 against Regina with 13 goals-for in the four games played, but Regina lost in overtime and won in the shootout on Clare Drake Arena ice in October, so the Cougars have had success in Edmonton. Could they find a way to upset the Pandas?

In a rather surprising start, it was Regina that dominated the play in the early going as they seemed to catch the Pandas off-guard. Luckily, Kirsten Chamberlin was ready to play as she thwarted a couple of two-on-ones, shut down some chances in close, and generally stonewalled the Cougars. And as it happens in hockey, big saves at one end usually lead to goals at the other.

Amy Boucher does a good job un evading some defenders before springing Hannah Olenyk on a partial breakaway, and Olenyk finds room between Jane Kish's pads for the 1-0 lead at the 18:00 mark!
They may have been outplayed for most of the period, but the Pandas went into the intermission with the 1-0 lead!

Whatever fire Regina started this game with was extinguished in the second period. The transformation was very noticeable as the Pandas carried the play for the majority of the period in all zones. Turnovers also plagued the Cougars as the Pandas' forecheck was relentless. Those efforts paid off for the home squad as Alex Poznikoff's shot from the high slot area somehow got past Kish at 17:16, and the Pandas had a 2-0 lead after two periods.

The third period started the same way the second ended as it seemed the Cougars were sleepwalking through the opening minutes. However, someone set the alarm clock off on the bench as they began to play with more immediacy as the period progressed. As the minutes ticked by, the clock became the Cougars' main opposition, but it looked like they may have solved that opponent. Lilla Carpenter-Boesch's shot was stopped by Chamberlin, but Jaycee Magwood tapped home the rebound in the crease at 18:41, and the Cougars cut the deficit in half with 1:19 to play!

Kish started on the bench with the face-off at center ice, and the six attacking Cougars went to work. They moved the puck well and chances were had, but Kirsten Chamberlin made stop after stop in the closing seconds to ensure that Alberta secured the 2-1 victory! Chamberlin made 14 saves in the win while Kish stopped 19 shots in the loss.

Alberta leads 1-0 in the best-of-three series.

(5)REGINA at (4)ALBERTA - Game Two: With their backs against the wall, the Cougars needed a win on Saturday to extend this series to a third game. The Pandas, knowing they have to travel next weekend, were looking to wrap this series up as fast as possible. What would happen on Saturday? Let's find out.

Just as they did one night earlier, the Cougars came out guns a-blazing as they looked to get the jump on the Pandas. However, that aggressiveness led to a Chelsea Hallson interference penalty midway through the period, and out came the Pandas power-play unit. After the Coygars failed to clear the zone, Amy Boucher picked up the puck and fired a shot on net from a sharp angle that found space between Morgan Baker and the post at 11:01 for the 1-0 Alberta lead!
That goal seemed to deflate the Cougars' attack as the Pandas began to stake control of the period from that point as they controlled the play through to the horn. After one period, Alberta held the one-goal lead.

Alberta used that momentum from the first period to double their lead early in the second period. Off a face-off win by Regina, Hannah Olenyk poked the puck off a Regina defender's stick into the slot, and Deanna Morin got a couple of whacks at it before it ended up behind Baker at 2:37 for the 2-0 lead!
Alberta's dominance continued throughout the period, but they wouldn't be able to solve Baker outside of their one goal on eleven shots. That being said, the Pandas did hold a 2-0 lead going into the third period just as they did one night before, so could they hold on again?

Sensing elimination, the Cougars turned their game up several notches in the third period to try and eliminate the deficit on the scoreboard. Chance after chance early on was turned aside by Kirsten Chamberlin, but the Cougars would finally break through midway through the period. Sam Geekie's long point shot found its way through traffic in front of Chamberlin and eluded the netminder to find the back of the net at 12:15, and the Pandas' lead was cut to 2-1.

The Cougars continued to press the Pandas throughout the final eight minutes of this game, but Chamberlin and the Pandas weathered every storm the Cougars brought. With the Cougars unable to solve Chamberlin a second time, time ran out on their playoffs as the Pandas wrapped up another 2-1 victory on home ice. Chamberlin stopped 23 shots she saw for the win while Morgan Baker took the loss in a 16-save effort.

Alberta wins the series 2-0 and advances to play the Manitoba Bisons. The reigning U SPORTS gold medalists will go on the road for the next series.

The Final Word

Because we don't need the standings, we'll skip right to The Final Word where the top-four teams in Canada West will battle for supremacy. Nine points separated first-place Manitoba from fourth-place Alberta in the standings, so I expect both series to be tight-checking and low-scoring.

The underrated and vastly overlooked Saskatchewan Huskies, who posted a four-and-oh record against UBC this season, will host the U SPORTS' fifth-ranked UBC Thunderbirds, and this series features Canada West's best defensive team and least penalized team - Saskatchewan - against the conference's third-best defensive team and second-most penalized team - UBC. In contrast, UBC had the third-best power-play and fifth-best penalty kill this season while Saskatchewan's power-play was dead-last and their penalty kill was second-best. In other words, if UBC continues their parade to the sin bin, it may not help Saskatchewan since they scored just seven times in 99 opportunities this season.

Where this series may be won and lost is in the blue paint. If Jessica Vance is as dominant as she was in the regular season, the Thunderbirds will need Micklash and Boughn to match her. Her rate of one shutout every two games has to worry the T-Birds a little in a three-game series, and her sub-1.00 means there won't be a lot of goals celebrated unless UBC can unlock the secret to Vance's success.

In the other series, long-time foes Alberta and Manitoba will meet in Winnipeg for another chapter to their recent playoff history. Alberta ousted Manitoba last season in the semi-final in two straight games while Manitoba eliminated Alberta in 2016 in three games in the semi-final. The rubber match, if you will, happens on Manitoba ice for the first time in these last three years, and it features the top-ranked U SPORTS team in Manitoba against the second-ranked U SPORTS team in Alberta. We may be talking about this clash of the titans for some time.

Manitoba was 2-1-1 against Alberta this season, but history has clearly favored the Alberta squad in the matchups. That being said, Alberta was the best offensive team and had the second-best goal differential while Manitoba was the second-best offensive team and had the best goal differential. Both teams can score and both teams can defend, so there aren't a lot of difference between the two teams. Manitoba had the top power-play; Alberta was second-best. Manitoba had the third-worst penalty kill; Alberta had the worst.

The difference in this series might be how the teams play in one-goal games. Yes, Alberta has won two games already, but they looked like the more passive team doing so. During the season, Manitoba was 14-2-1-0 in one-goal games while Alberta was 9-2-2-2. If this series comes down to goaltending, Manitoba's Rachel Dyck and Alberta's Dayna Owen - the two veteran keepers - have virtually identical stats. If Chamberlin continues to start under Howie Draper, Jon Rempel's rookie in Lauren Taraschuk had better stats across the board in all major categories. There's no Lindsey Post this season, so this series could be won and lost in the blue paint based on the personnel decisions Howie Draper and Jon Rempel use.

There will be some amazing hockey played at Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon and Wayne Fleming Arena in Winnipeg this weekend, and it would be a shame for you to miss it. Get down to one of those two rinks if you can and cheer on the teams as they battle for a right to represent one of the two Canada West berths in the U SPORTS National Championship!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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