Wednesday 28 February 2018

Sports Leader?

It's always nice to see the major sports radio station in Winnipeg giving the Bisons women's hockey team some love, but it's a little pathetic that said attention has to come at this point in the season when they have been ranked as the top-ranked team in the nation for the better part of 2018 thus far. I guess it's better late than never, right? Right?

As you know, UMFM is the home for Bisons Sports all season long, and we'll have the coverage of everything Bisons on The Hockey Show tomorrow as we welcome captain Caitlyn Fyten and alternate captain Erica Rieder to the studio. Following that, we'll have the live broadcasts of the entire series on the weekend as the Saskatchewan Huskies visit Wayne Fleming Arena for the Canada West Championship.

As proud supporters and partners of Bisons Sports, UMFM cannot be prouder of these exceptional women int he job they have done all season long. Rally the troops this weekend, and bring the entire family and any and all friends to Wayne Fleming Arena this weekend for some of the best women's hockey action you'll see not involving Canada and the USA!

Looking good, ladies! You just upped the level of class at that station infinitely with your appearance today!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 27 February 2018

UBC Closes The Gap

While there's a general dislike that we, as broadcasters have, towards UBC women's hockey thanks to their excellent recruiting and development of players, the fact of the matter remains that there is less money when it comes to total scholarship money for women's sports than there is in men's sports. Today, though, the University of British Columbia announced that they are going to close the scholarship money gap in a big way as they announced new money specifically for women's athletics!

The new money going to fund women's athletics is appropriately called the Blue and Gold Women's Varsity Endowment Fund, and it extends from a $30,000 anonymous donation to the institution. President Santa Ono spoke at the 2018 ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast today in front of coaches, athletes, and supporters, telling the crowd that there was a need to close the gap that exists at UBC between the funding of male athlete scholarships and female athlete scholarships.

"Although UBC and its partners like the Twenty-8 group have increased financial support for our varsity Thunderbird women, there is unfortunately still a disparity that exists between scholarships for female and male athletes, one that occurs all too often throughout our world in every sector," Ono told the crowd as reported by The Ubyssey's Lucy Fox. "Let us commit today to start to change that and to make it just as possible to succeed as a female athlete, as a male athlete."

On top of that, "UBC has guaranteed it will match up to $100,000 worth of donations to grow the Women's Varsity Endowment Fund, with the possibility to expand that dollar-for-dollar plan should the current strategy 'do very very well,' as Ono stated."

That is an outstanding commitment by UBC, and Preisdent Ono should be commended on his efforts to help close the scholarship gap that currently exists. As Miss Fox points out in her article, "men's teams received almost $200,000 more in scholarship funding from donors and endowments than women's teams" at UBC. The institution has been appropriating more money towards female athletic scholarships in an effort to balance out the monies for each, but the gap still exists. This new endowment will help bridge that gap a little more, and that's excellent news for female athletes!

Having witnessed the excellent women's hockey program at UBC over the last few years, this will further help the program achieve excellence. Granted, they won't see all the money, but every penny helps when recruiting elite talent. UBC won a silver medal at the 2016 U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship and then followed that up with a bronze medal at last year's National Championship. Before falling to Saskatchewan this past weekend, they were the two-time defending Canada West Champions as well. Needless to say, they already have a solid women's hockey program that may only get better with additional scholarship money to spend.

I think this initiative is an amazing step in the right direction for UBC. They're proving not only that they are leaders in academia and research, but they're proving progressive in their quest for equal opportunities for both male and female students. The commitments made today to close the scholarship money gap that exists is an exciting step for women's athletes and women's sports in this country, and I'm hoping that this strategy not only does "very very well" at UBC, but can possibly be the basis for improved sports scholarship funding for women across this country.

As we've seen first-hand over the last few weeks just in women's hockey, there are some exceptional athletes doing incredible things at Canadian universities. They deserve to have their academic pursuits paid for as handsomely as the men are.

Well done, UBC and President Ono. This is university spending that I fully and completely support.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 26 February 2018

Good Deeds Noticed

I am still pretty exhausted after that epic four-overtime win by the Manitoba Bisons tonight, so I'm going to be upfront with you: I'm mailing this one in. It's not going to be just a placeholder article, though, as there is a ton of news to report from Trade Deadline Day that you can find on a whole bunch of sites. Instead, HBIC is going to talk about a Manitoba team that got my vote, but I really didn't pay attention to how incredible this team is.

The Good Deeds Cup contest has been running for a while, and they finally picked a winner. Before we get to said winning team, you might be asking what this Good Deeds Cup is. From Hockey Canada's website, "Chevrolet and Hockey Canada have launched the second season of the program, which searches for the Peewee team that makes the biggest impact in its community." Honestly, this is something HBIC should have been talking about as it really shows the character of the teams who are nominated based on their work within their communities.

There were ten teams that got the nomination, and of those ten teams the list was narrowed to three finalists: the Bonn Law Quinte AAA Peewee Red Devils, the Smiths Falls Peewee Bears, and The Pas Huskies. Clearly, I should have been trumpeting the efforts of the Huskies since they're a Manitoba team, but I completely missed the boat on this. I apologize for that, Huskies, as you deserved better coverage from me.

While I can't turn back time, I can announce that The Pas Huskies are the 2018 winners of the Good Deeds Cup! Their story started when the Huskies decided to film their efforts in serving meals at Oscar's Place, the only homeless shelter in The Pas. When the team as announced as one of the semi-finalists in the contest for their efforts, they earned $5000 for the shelter which the shelter desperately needed as the staff and management are currently fighting for the shelter's very existence.

Here is the video of the Huskies working at Oscar's Place that earned them the semi-final nomination.
I, for one, am impressed with these young men who have found compassion, empathy, and charity within themselves to help people who certainly can use a warm meal and some compassion. This is precisely what the Good Deeds Cup is about, and their efforts earned them qualification as finalists in the contest after all the votes were counted!

Well, they were named the Good Deeds Cup winners yesterday, and the Huskies Peewee team has now earned an additional $15,000 for Oscar's Place in The Pas thanks to their selflessness! CBC's Elisha Dacey spoke with The Pas Huskies' assistant coach Jerome Conaty today about the team's win.
"The morning's been pretty hectic," Conaty said. "Chevrolet set it up so the kids would be surprised. They redid all our rink and one of the dressing rooms."

When the team came to practice Monday morning, they found the Good Deeds Cup sitting at centre ice.

"You could tell the kids were like, 'Is this a dream? Is this really happening?' It was awesome."
As part of their prize for doing some outstanding work within their community, the Huskies will also be featured on an upcoming television broadcast and they'll skate with the Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner and women's hockey Olympic gold medalist and Les Canadiennes de Montreal forward Caroline Ouellette this summer! How cool is that?

What makes this story even more impressive is that The Pas Huskies are composed mostly of Indigenous players. After watching Brigitte Lacquette in the PyeongChang Olympics, I believe these young men should be viewed as heroes themselves and an inspiration for other Indigenous youth. The Huskies are doing incredible work in The Pas, and I hope this spreads.

As Coach Conaty told Miss Dacey, "Good deeds don't stop. Good deeds are things that get done every day by every person."

These young men are living proof of that belief, and I commend them for lending their time and efforts in making their community better. You are heroes to me, gentlemen, and I hope your efforts will not only inspire others to action, but will inspire generations of people and players to get involved in their communities across this great land!

Until next time, keep up the great work, Huskies!

Sunday 25 February 2018

The Rundown - Week 17

Just four teams remain in the hunt for the Canada West Championship banner and the two berths at the U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championships. The top-four teams in Canada West were ready to battle it out as Alberta, UBC, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all took to the ice this weekend to determine who would advance and who would simply call it a season. We're not going to spend much time on the build-up because you know what's at stake. Let's get this thing going here on The Rundown!

(3)UBC at (2)SASKATCHEWAN - Game One: The Thunderbirds, after sending Mount Royal home last week, traveled to Saskatoon to meet the Huskies in a battle of third-place versus second-place. Saskatchewan had won all four games in the season series, so could UBC put a stop to the bleeding at the hands of the Huskies? Secondly, how would both teams handle a 1:30pm start on a Friday afternoon?

The Huskies treated the home crowd to an incredible first period where they seemed to out-skate and out-hustle the T-Birds all over the ice. UBC's Tory Micklash stood on her head at times to keep this a scoreless game, but she could only do so much. Emily Upgang hit Brooklyn Haubrich wide-open in the slot with a pass, and Haubrich ripped a shot over Micklash's glove for game's opening goal at 14:38. Saskatchewan took that 1-0 lead into the dressing room after outshooting the Thunderbirds 15-5 in the opening frame.

The second period saw the Thunderbirds pick up their play as they outshot the Huskies 11-9, but neither side would dent twine. We'd move to the third period where the Huskies found another goal. Kira Bannatyne grabbed a puck that Bailee Bourassa had knocked off a T-Birds' stick to the blue line, and Bannatyne skated it into the UBC zone before firing a wrist shot that got under Micklash's right pad and settled in the net at 10:06 to make it a 2-0 Saskatchewan lead! With a two-goal lead and only ten minutes remaining, you probably are already aware that's more than enough for netminder Jessica Vance to secure the win, but would she keep the T-Birds off the scoreboard?

Absolutely. Vance recorded her tenth shutout of the season and first win and shutout in the Canada West playoffs in the 2-0 Saskatchewan win. As just mentioned, Vance made 22 saves on the night for the blank sheet while Micklash stopped 30 shots in the loss.

With the victory, Saskatchewan claimed the 1-0 series lead.

(3)UBC at (2)SASKATCHEWAN - Game Two: It was do-or-die time for last year's U SPORTS bronze medalists as UBC had their backs against the wall on the road. Saskatchewan was trying to close out this series and advance to the Canada West Final the U SPORTS National Championship. This one was another early afternoon game thanks to the Saskatchewan men's team playing the night games against Calgary. UBC head coach Graham Thomas continued to swap his goalies just as he did in the previous series as Amelia Boughn got the call in this game for the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds came out much better than they did on the previous afternoon, and they were rewarded for the jump in their step midway through the period. With traffic in front of Jessica Vance, Alex Ranahan's point shot found its way through the maze of players and settled in the bottom left corner of the net, putting UBC up 1-0 at 10:38! Did UBC finally solve Jessica Vance and the stingy Saskatchewan defence? All that goal did, however, was spark the Huskies' attack, but they were unable to solve Boughn as the period ended. Despite trailing 11-9 in shots, UBC had the 1-0 lead after twenty minutes.

Saskatchewan came out more aggressive in the second period as they found ways to get the puck on Boughn. Ranahan, who gave the T-Birds the lead, would be sent to the sin bin for a bodychecking call just before the midpoint of the period, and the Huskies' power-play went to work. Kira Bannatyne found Kaitlin Willoughby with a pass, and Willoughby teed the puck up, lasering it through the five-hole of Boughn at 11:20 to even the game at 1-1! 3:16 after Willoughby's goal, Chloe Smith made her presence felt.
Smith's goal at 14:36 put the Huskies up 2-1 as UBC found themselves facing elimination if they couldn't solve Vance again. The final five minutes would tick off the clock with Saskatchewan still holding the one-goal lead, so it was twenty minutes or bust for the reigning U SPORTS bronze medalists.

UBC played desperation hockey through the final period. They had opportunities, but blocked shots and Jessica Vance were the story as they sacrificed bodies all over the ice to hold that slim lead. Despite getting ten chances through, UBC wouldn't find the back of the net past Vance, and the time expired on UBC's hopes of returning for a third-straight U SPORTS National Championship as Saskatchewan took Game Two by a 2-1 score. Vance was solid once again as she stopped 27 shots to help Saskatchewan advance while Boughn made 25 saves in the loss.

Saskatchewan wins the series 2-0 and advances to both the Canada West Championship Final and the U SPORTS National Championship.

(4)ALBERTA at (1)MANITOBA - Game One: The top-two ranked programs in the nation met in Winnipeg for their best-of-three series, and this one had all the makings of a memorable matchup at first glance. The statistics the teams posted throughout the year were near mirror images of each other, so how would this one play out?

The two teams came out and established a physical, tight-checking, up-tempo game. Not an inch was given on the ice until midway through the period. Courtlyn Oswald danced along the goal line out of the corner, beating a couple of Pandas, and got a shot on net that Kirsten Chamberlin stopped. The rebound she gave up, however, came out front where Mekaela Fisher was in perfect position, and she buried the rebound in the back of the net for her first Canada West playoff goal and, more importantly, the 1-0 Manitoba lead at 12:17!

That lead lasted all of 3:32 as the Pandas struck on a power-play. Deanna Morin fed Autumn MacDougall below the goal line to the left of Rachel Dyck, and MacDougall's centering pass missed its intended target. Instead, it was corralled by Taylor Kezama at the point, and she wristed a high shot on Rachel Dyck's left side past the screened goalie to even the game at 1-1 at 15:49! That score would hold through the remaining four minutes of the first period.

The second period saw chances at both ends, but Chamberlin and Dyck held their respective ground so we'd move to the third period. In what had been a physical chess match all game, a very late roughing call on Erica Rieder on what appeared to be nothing more than an accidental collision sent Alberta back to the power-play with 3:34 to play. And the Pandas would make the Bisons pay for this indiscretion. Abby Benning hit a wide-open Amy Boucher in the slot with a pass, and her low shot to the left corner had enough to get past Dyck for the 2-1 lead at 16:42! Add in a couple of empty-net goals by Regan Wright and Boucher with her second of the night, and Alberta takes Game One by a 4-1 score! Kirsten Chamberlin was spectacular in the Alberta net as she made 18 saves in the win while Rachel Dyck did everything should could for the Bisons in making 12 stops in the loss.

Alberta claims the 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

(4)ALBERTA at (1)MANITOBA - Game Two: A familiar face for Bisons fans returned for Saturday's game as Venla Hovi was in uniform and on the ice after a 20-hour voyage from PyeongChang back to Winnipeg. Would her presence help the Bisons even the series in a do-or-die game for them?

Kirsten Chamberlin got her fourth-straight start of the playoffs while the Bisons sent Lauren Taraschuk to the blue paint as Jon Rempel was pulling out all the stops by starting his statistically-superior netminder. Both goaltenders were good early on as they denied chances in another extremely physical game, but Manitoba would find a goal late in the opening period despite there being some confusion as to who scored the goal!
It was eventually ruled that Sheridan Oswald's initial shot on net went in and out of the net off the inside crossbar past Chamberlin, and Manitoba owned a 1-0 lead with twenty seconds to play in the first period.

The second period was another chess match as the teams matched one another's moves. However, it took a special effort from one of the Pandas to even this game up. Alex Poznikoff exploded down the left wing and had a step on defender Erica Rieder. Despite giving up size to Rieder, Poznikoff fought the Manitoba rearguard off, shifted her weight to use her body to protect the puck, and jammed a backhand shot under Taraschuk with Rieder still all over her. The incredible individual effort at 10:48 pulled the Pandas even at 1-1! The two teams played a chippy second-half of the second period, but that 1-1 score would hold through to the third period with Alberta holding an 18-13 advantage in shots.

Manitoba tried to finish this game by being the more aggressive team in the third period, but Chamberlin was outstanding between the pipes to deny all the Manitoba chances. Taraschuk wasn't as busy, but she made key saves when called upon, so this game needed some extra time to find a winner. With next-goal-wins rules in play, this happened 11:42 into the extra time.
Courtlyn Oswald won the draw cleanly back to Alexandra Anderson, and the Manitoba defender wired a high shot past Chamberlin on the blocker side to give Manitoba the 2-1 overtime victory! Taraschuk stopped 21 shots and continued her streak of one-goal-or-less in the Manitoba win while Chamberlin suffered her first loss of the postseason despite making 22 saves.

With the win, Manitoba evens the series at 1-1 and forces a Game Three. Full highlights of this game can be seen below!

(4)ALBERTA at (1)MANITOBA - Game Three: Do or die. Win or go home. There would be no tomorrow for one of these two teams - the top-two teams in the nation - as Game Three got underway. Just like in Game Two, the Pandas would send Kirsten Chamberlin to the net while Manitoba went back to Lauren Taraschuk after she recorded the overtime win the night before. Only one can advance. Who would it be?

Alberta absolutely dominated the opening period, outshooting the Bisons 12-2, and they seemed to be a step faster than the Bisons. Their domination was met head-on by Lauren Taraschuk who surrendered nothing, but it had a few people in the pressbox concerned about how this game was progressing. Nevertheless, it was 0-0 after one period.

The tables were turned in the second period as Manitoba controlled the play for large portions of time and re-established their offensive game in outshooting Alberta 9-2. Chamberlin showed no fear, however, as she denied all Manitoba chances, and this game would move to the third period as a scoreless draw.

Both teams played slightly more cautious in the third period, but each side had chances. Alberta's Amy Boucher ripped a shot off the crossbar on a power-play while Lauryn Keen rang a puck off the post for Manitoba. However, neither team would light the lamp in the third period, so we'd need extra time to find this game's first and, ultimately, game-winning goal.

Manitoba seemed to be gaining strength as the first overtime period wore on, but they still could not put a puck by Chamberlin. The game would move to a second overtime period where Amy Boucher poke-checked a Bisons player while on the penalty kill, and she had a clear-cut breakaway from center ice. She broke in on Taraschuk, went forehand-backhand to get the Bisons netminder to go down, but she ran out of real estate as her backhanded shot hit the outside of the post and stayed out! We'd press on!

It appeared Manitoba scored on a wild scramble in front of the Alberta net late in double-overtime, but the referee behind the net ruled that her whistle had gone in losing sight of the puck despite the puck sitting under a Panda defender inside the net! With the goal waved off, we'd go to a third overtime period still tied 0-0!

Manitoba looked like the stronger team in the third overtime period as they seemed to have more gas in the tank when it came to their skating legs, but Chamberlin rejected the Bisons' chances once again. As we began discussing the possibility of another five-overtime game like Manitoba and Saskatchewan played just two years ago, we'd move to the fourth overtime period with the horn sounding the end of the third extra frame.

Manitoba once again turned up the intensity in this overtime period, peppering Chamberlin with shots at every chance they got. I'm not sure if Coach Rempel had informed his team that anything towards the net has a chance to be a game-winner, but Manitoba was certainly testing that theory. And then at 13:30 of the fourth extra frame, this happened.
Cassidy Dankochik with one of the more epic calls in his broadcasting career as Venla Hovi picked up a loose puck on the half-boards, skated it into the middle of the ice, spotted a wide-open Jordyn Zacharias with a hard pass, and Zacharias deflected the puck up and over Chamberlin's left pad and into the net for the 1-0 win in the fourth overtime period!

Here's another view from, and you can see that Kiara MacHry cheated up on the Venla Hovi shot, leaving Jody Zacharias wide-open to the left of Chamberlin where Hovi would spot her.
Zacharias' goal at 13:30 was the game- and series-winning goal as Manitoba eliminates the Alberta Pandas! Taraschuk picks up the longest shutout in her career as she stopped all 31 shots she faced while Chamberlin suffers a second-straight overtime loss despite stopping 35 shots.

With the win, Manitoba wins the series and advances to both the Canada West Championship Final and the U SPORTS National Championship. Manitoba will host the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West Final starting on March 2 in a best-of-three series that will determined the Canada West Champion!

The Final Word

For the first time since that epic five-overtime game, Manitoba and Saskatchewan will meet in the Canada West playoffs. Saskatchewan's win over UBC not only eliminated the fifth-ranked team in the nation, but also eliminated the reigning bronze medalist and the 2016 silver medalist from advancing to the U SPORTS National Championship once again. Manitoba's win over Alberta eliminated the reigning gold medalist and the second-ranked team in the nation. In other words, some giants fell this past weekend when it comes to Canada's best teams.

Saskatchewan will bring Canada West's best team defence and quite possibly the nation's best goaltender to Winnipeg for a battle with Canada West's best team goal differential and quite possibly the nation's top rookie. Jessica Vance, once a Bison, returns with the Huskies where she has posted ten shutouts in twenty games while posting the conference's best save percentage. Lauren Taraschuk owns the conference's best goals-against average for both the regular season and the playoffs and has the best save percentage in the playoffs by .001 over Vance. This series may very well be decided on which goaltender flinches first!

However, let's take a moment of reflection before we start predicting the future. The fact that the top-two teams in the nation faced one another in the Canada West Semi-Final seemed a little unfair. Not only was Alberta every bit as good as Manitoba, but they literally fell one goal short of advancing if you take away the two empty-net goals that they scored. Manitoba and Alberta battled to a 3-3 series over 14 periods before Manitoba won the series on the Zacharias goal. The fact that Alberta is forced to go home after this war of a series is the most unfair part of having four dominant teams in Canada West, any of which would have been an exemplary representative of just how hard it is to advance out of the conference.

We were treated to incredible hockey over the weekend with Alberta in town, and there is nothing that they should hang their heads over. Alberta and Manitoba wrote another chapter into their histories with this epic series, and I suspect both teams will write more chapters in the future. Be proud, Alberta Pandas, for you didn't lose this series as much as only one team was able to win this series. You may have fallen short, but your efforts won't be forgotten. If one is required to beat the best to be the best, you should be honoured to know that we, in Manitoba, considered you to be the best when it came to beating you.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan will play for the Canada West Championship this weekend. Be prepared for another war at Wayne Fleming Arena. We may have to rename Wayne Fleming Arena as the "Flavian Amphitheatre" after this weekend if the gladiatorial battles we witnessed last weekend continue this weekend. As hockey fans, how lucky can we be in getting another series like the one we just witnessed?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 24 February 2018

Serious News Invades Small Town

It has been a while since we've spoken about the success of Jared Keeso, Nathan Dales, and the Letterkenny series on CraveTV, but it might be time to revisit the town of 5000 people and hear about their problems again. More appropriately, one Canadian news program decided to go into the Ontario city of Sudbury to investigate the Canadian comedy phenomenon. CTV's W5 and Kevin Newman ventured into the world that is Letterkenny, and they did an outstanding job at getting all the details of the town!

The clip is just over twenty minutes long, so settle in with a beverage and be prepared for some laughs, some details, and the good ol' boys of Letterkenny!
How great is that? Kudos to CTV and W5's Kevin Newman for diving into Letterkenny. In knowing Jared and Nathan, I have to say that their success is amazing, but it was hard not to see that this was going to explode after their YouTube shorts exploded virally. With their live shows starting up next week, there will undoubtedly be an infusion of Wayne and Daryl across the country very shortly.

I can't say enough good things about the success of Jared and Nathan and the entire cast and crew of Letterkenny. The success of the show is only a testament to how smart and how in tune with Canadian culture the show is, and it follows Jared's success on 19-2 which saw him win a number of awards for his work on that dramatic series.

Well done, gentlemen, and may the success continue until you decide to hang the skates and the costumes up!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 23 February 2018

We're Better Than This

We lost. Germany beat Canada this morning by a 4-3 score in men's ice hockey at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, and we'll return home with no gold medals in either hockey event. Combine this with no medals in the men's and women's curling events, and there are people calling for reviews of all sporting programs in this country from tykes to professionals. While it's disappointing to see our athletes fall short of their intended goals, are we really a country that needs to examine our sporting roots when we've enjoyed a ton of success while other countries tried to make up ground on us? Have we become so entitled to thinking the gold medal is ours without having to compete with the world's best that we now question the very making of our elite athletes?

I know that most of these comments are said in the heat of the moment while people are emotional, but we're better than this, Canada. Yes, it sucks for the Canadian men's hockey team who will still compete for medal. Yes, it sucked for the Canadian women's ice hockey team who still won a medal. Yes, it sucks for Kevin Koe whose men's curling squad fell short in the bronze medal game. And yes, it sucks for Rachel Homan and her women's curling squad as they missed the medal round altogether. Those unquestionably are surprising results in sports we usually do extremely well in, but to call for referendums on these sports is about as un-Canadian as anything I can conceive.

Our success in the early-1990s in women's hockey where we were heads and shoulders above the United States led to their program investing good money into their game. With the announcement that women's hockey would be a medal event at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, USA Hockey really focused on developing elite athletes to compete with Canada. Canada had defeated the United States in four straight World Championships leading up to the 1998 Olympics with scores of 5-2 in 1990, 8-0 in 1992, 6-3 in 1994, and a 4-3 overtime win in 1997. Note that last score as it was the best showing of any team against Canada in a World Championship to that date.

By having a country invest in its top-level program, USA Hockey proved that they could close the gap when that money was invested in coaching and athletes. The 1997 IIHF Women's World Championship served as the qualifying tournament for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, so the investment into USA Hockey's women's program would benefit USA's already-elite players such as Cammi Granato, Shelley Looney, Karen Bye, and Erin Whitten. Instead of having a handful of elite players, USA Hockey would begin churning out more and more elite players for future international events.

Yes, the Americans won a game in 1998 when they were arguably not the best team on paper. That, however, is why they play the games, and USA Hockey's investment into the women's program would be bolstered by a gold medal victory over Canada in Nagano. Thousands of girls and young women sat up and took notice of that exceptional team who defeated a giant in the sport, and this upset really laid the groundwork for a number of initiatives, programs, and teams to be started in the United States.

In other words, upsets are great for the respective sport in which they are seen.

It may have taken the United States another twenty years to duplicate the success of that 1998 team, but not one person on the planet can say that the US didn't close the gap on Hockey Canada over the last two decades. Some may even say that Hockey USA may have surpassed Hockey Canada's women's program with the success they've had over the last decade at various IIHF events, but no one can deny that Hockey USA is Canada's biggest rival.

Had 1998 not happened, would names like Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Maddie Rooney, and Cayla Barnes be household names today? I don't have a crystal ball to say yes or no, but I'd lean towards the latter.

Upsets inspire programs and people. Everyone cheers for the underdog when they meet with a juggernaut. There's a reason why people talk about upsets in mythical terms in sports, and it's because upsets advance programs, inspire people, and give hope that those results can be reproduced again if resources are invested in those inspired people and programs. Belarus, who has invested little in their programs, has seen virtually no growth since their upset win over Sweden at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and it has shown as they did not qualify for these Olympics and they were beaten by Hungary - a team that failed to qualify for the previous six top-level World Championships - at the 2016 IIHF World Championships.

There is no referendum needed in any of these sports. Canadians were prominently featured as the coaches of a number of non-Canadian Olympic curling teams, so our influence on these countries' efforts is very apparent. These countries recognized that there was a gap between themselves and some of the better curling countries from Canada and Europe, so they invested the money in a Canadian coach, flew their squads to as many tournaments as they could squeeze in across the globe to acquire much-needed experience, and they closed the gap on the elite countries.

Again, investment in coaching and players is working for countries like South Korea, Japan, China, and the US as they closed the gap very quickly on curling's best. With only five players per curling team, it's easier to close the gap faster as there are less moving parts than a hockey team, but the proof is there on both the world curling circuit and at the Olympics that these countries are coming to these events ready to play with the world's best.

While the men's hockey event might be completely thrown back into a "Big Six" event if the NHL jumps into the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the fact that there was parity and upsets in this year's Olympiad will have an impact on programs in Germany and possibly in Slovenia. The results won't be seen overnight, but if the German squad's performance this year inspires a couple of generations of kids, we might see a number of Draisaitl-like players emerge from Germany over the next two decades. Investment in the programs, coaching, and the players inside Germany will be paramount to getting more elite players coming out of Germany, and it's very possible that Germany could be one of those teams to keep an eye on if that investment is made.

Make no mistake in thinking I wouldn't have loved to have seen gold medals hanging around the necks of all our athletes. The losses hurt, and I'm sure that these athletes will come home and regroup for another run at Olympic gold in four years. But just showing up with a Canadian flag at the hockey and curling events is no longer a free pass into the gold medal match of these events. Canada, once a leader in these sports, has to put forth a solid effort now to get by a number of teams as they have closed the gap by using Canada as the pinnacle of the sport. They want to play like Canada and, eventually, beat Canada to show their fans that they have reached Canada's level in these sports.

Demanding referendums in these sports shows a disgusting level of entitlement on our part, and it's an insult to the rest of the world that we believe we deserve a gold medal over the investment and hard work that other countries have put forth to match our skill level.

We're better than this, Canada, and we know it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 22 February 2018

Then Hockey Show - Episode 283

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight, but I'm afraid it'll just be me on the microphone unless I can come up with a co-host scenario pretty quickly. Beans, it seems, has turned his home into ground zero for the ebola virus or the bubonic plague or some incurable disease that has encompassed his entire family including himself. In knowing Beans, I didn't think biochemistry was his specialty, but apparently the high-grade medical laboratory garage he owns is a good place for storing such stuff. As a result, I'm the one-man gang tonight on The Hockey Show, so buckle up because we've got a lot to discuss!

Did you stay up and watch the Canada-USA gold medal game in women's hockey? Did you make it to the end? If you did, you may be feeling a little sleepy too since everything wrapped up around 2am. Tonight, I will go over the Canada-USA women's game in terms of what happened, where things went well and went wrong, and vent a little about how shootouts to determine medal winners is anti-sports. We'll look at Finland's bronze medal victory over the Olympic Athletes from Russia where Venla Hovi claimed her second Olympic medal, and we'll go over the men's tournament which resumes tomorrow. In the second-half of the show, we'll talk about the Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba Moose having some fun on the ice, the Manitoba Bisons men's and women's teams and what their statuses are, the Jets finishing off their ten-game homestand before heading out on the road, and whatever else may come up in the hour I get to broadcast tonight for as long as I can stay awake!

So how do I tune in to the world's greatest radio show about hockey, you ask? We suggest that you download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet. It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows! Of course, you can do the radio thing at 101.5 on the FM dial and you can always listen online via the UMFM website!

If you prefer social media, we try to remain up-to-speed there as well! Email all show questions and comments to! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, Teebz and possibly a co-host will go over the results of the Olympic tournament, talk Bisons, chat Moose, discuss the Jets winning and losing, and more on The Hockey Show found only on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: February 22, 2018: Episode 283

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Bronzed Hovi Blog In Canada

That, folks, is what a bronze medal hug looks like. Venla Hovi and Team Finland earned the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic bronze medal in women's ice hockey today with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Olympic Athletes from Russia, and this writer's favorite Finn played a part in that victory today! Before we get to playing said part, I have to admit that the Finns played one helluva tournament. They may have fallen short on their goal of bumping one of Canada or the US out of the gold medal, but they still come home with hardware - an incredible achievement for all the players and staff at the games and for the entire country of Finland!

Finland got things started early when Minnamari Tuominen backhanded the puck from the top of the point and Petra Nieminen redirected her shot past Nadezhda Morozova while on the power-play for the 1-0 just 2:21 into the game!
The 19 year-old Petra Nieminen has been outstanding for the Finns all tournament long, and she gave her side the early lead with that deflection. As a selfish aside, how good would Nieminen look in Manitoba Bisons colours? I'm not sure what her intentions are next season or in the future, but Nieminen as a Bison sounds like a great idea. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Finland leads 1-0.

Ten seconds into the second period, Finland made it 2-0 when Michelle Karvinen looked like she was going to circle the net, but fed a pass to Susanna Tapani in the slot who dented twine behind Morozova!
Karvinen, who had an outstanding NCAA career with The School Who Cut Her Program, has always performed well on the big stage. Tapani's goal, however, set a new Olympic women's hockey record as her goal at the ten-second mark is now the fastest goal to be scored after the start of a period! The old record was 19 seconds, and it was set on February 17, 2010 by Slovakia's Janka Culikova in the third period of a 5-2 loss to Switzerland. Congratulations, Susanna on adding your name to a little Olympic lore!

Russia would reply two-and-a-half minutes later when Olga Sosina made it a 2-1 game as she found room past Noora Raty, but a couple of successful penalty kills following the Russian goal seem to re-energize the Finns. At 12:18 of the second period, they would restore that two-goal lead as Venla Hovi and Linda Valimaki got in on the action!
Hovi spotted a streaking Valimaki down the left wing and her with a beautiful pass in stride, and Valimaki drove the net on the backhand and beat Morozova to make it 3-1 for the Finns! Honestly, that's the play-making ability of Venla Hovi we've come to know and love in Manitoba, and her and Valimaki made that play look seamless!

Lyudmila Belyakova would cut the lead to 3-2 on a power-play at the 6:03 mark, and it was some nervous times for both teams as the game progressed. Isa Rahunen was called for an illegal hit with five minutes to play, and it appeared that this would be the break that Russia needed to even this game. However, Anna Shohkina committed a high-sticking infraction just 18 seconds later, and that killed the advantage for Russia. As time ticked away, the clock became Russia's enemy, and it was one they could not defeat!
Congratulations to Team Finland on returning to the podium with an inspired, determined win today! Four years of hard work following a disappointing fifth-place finish in Sochi has paid off with the bronze medal today. While they may not have beaten Canada or the US to get into that gold medal game, there is nothing to regret for these women who laid their hearts on the line, sacrificed for four long years, and came together like true champions. That's what the Olympic spirit is about, and I cannot be happier for Venla Hovi and her teammates!

Venla finished the tournament with a goal and two assists in six games, but she certainly did us proud here in Manitoba. The University of Manitoba Bisons forward still has another major tournament to look forward to as her teammates in Winnipeg are playing in the Canada West semi-final this weekend against Alberta with a berth to the Canada West championship game against either UBC or Sasakatchewan on the line as well as a U SPORTS National Championship invitation on the line! We hope to see Venla back soon after her success in Pyeongchang to not only help the Bisons win, but to celebrate her achievement at the Olympics!

Congratulations, Team Finland, on your bronze medal and your outstanding tournament!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Just Gonna Leave This Here

This spreadsheet-like image was posted to Twitter by Dimitri Filipovic yesterday, and I found myself studying it pretty hard. As you can probably deduce, I added the overall NHL rankings as of last night to the chart to make it a little easier to see, but aside from a few outliers, the percentage of time leading a game almost correlates directly to placement overall in the league's standings. To be fair to all teams, there isn't a margin of error that I can deduce between the percentage of time leading, percentage of time trailing, and the overall placement in the standings, but it seems pretty clear that top fifteen teams in terms of percentage of time leading are also the top fifteen teams in the NHL standings. The exceptions are Colorado (10th in time leading vs 18th overall), so they're actually worse as a higher-ranked team with the lead while Philadelphia (16th in time leading vs 11th overall) and Los Angeles (21st with the lead vs 14th overall) seem to play better when trailing.

In any case, it's something you can look over and see if you can find some numbers that jump out at you. For you analytical types, it would be interesting to see these numbers versus time of possession numbers or PDO numbers to see how much those two scenarios have on time leading versus time trailing. As we've always been told, if you have the puck more, the other team doesn't with possession, and teams that get on hot streaks will certainly see their PDO go up, but does that have a significant swing on the time leading versus the time trailing?

If you feel like it, have at it. I give you these numbers that Dimitri published as a starting point!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 19 February 2018

Ten In 2022

Might Germany and Austria fill out the field at the 2022 Beijing Olympics? It was announced and made official today that the Olympic field for the women's ice hockey tournament in 2022 would follow the same path as the 2019 Women's World Championship going forward with ten teams rather than the eight seen at this year's Olympiad. Having more teams appear at the most prestigious tournament in the women's game is both good for the sport and for those teams who are striving to meet the level of play shown by the current eight Olympic teams. There are usually committees and consultations and meetings and reviews that last for years before a decision like this is made, so seeing the IOC and IIHF come to their senses without years of deliberation to feature a larger women's tournament shows real progress on their parts.

Perhaps nowhere has greater progress been seen, though, than in women's hockey when it comes to gaps closing between countries. IIHF council chairwoman Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer told The Associated Press' Teresa M. Walker and Stephen Whyno  that "the quality of women's hockey around the world is good enough for this step. She pointed to Japan beating Sweden 2-1 in overtime Sunday in the classification round and no team scoring more than eight goals in a game as signs of progress.

"'In Sochi, the first result was 9-0, and we now have here 8-0 both for the Korean team, so we can say that women's hockey developed a lot in the last eight and four years compared to Vancouver and Sochi,' Kolbenheyer said."

That true statement means that the women playing at the Olympic level are not only getting better at a rapid pace, but that the idea of a "Big Four" has now been reduced to a "Big Three" with Sweden falling off the pace, leaving just Canada, the US, and Finland as teams that regularly medal. Individually, we're seeing outstanding performances from players on Switzerland, Russia, Japan, and even Korea who was thought to be a write-off at this tournament, and that has to bode well for the development of other players within those countries who strive to be more than the fifth-place team.

Korea, who sits 17th in the IIHF World Rankings, is officially nine spots lower than Japan, yet there should be real optimism for this Korean team as they move forward. With the expansion to ten teams, Korea could find themselves as a mainstay on the Olympic stage if they continue to improve over the next four years. The seventh-ranked Germans will certainly want to grab one of those ten spots after missing out this year, and there should be a good battle between them, the Czech Republic, Austria, France, and Denmark over the next four years to see who can claim those two new spots. With China entering the running as the 19th-ranked team this year, they'll have some work to do if they hope to find success as the host team, but the expansion of the Canadian Professional Female League into that country is providing hope that they can accelerate that development.

The one thing that should be noted is that all of these countries aren't guaranteed anything when it comes to Olympic spots. Everyone will need to play for the next four years and jockey their positions with wins and losses at major IIHF tournaments to see who qualifies and who doesn't. If there are upsets, perhaps we could see a Great Britain or an Italy or a Mexico making their first appearances in women's ice hockey. By expanding the field and allowing more teams in, the chances of seeing an upstart team make the Olympics is now greater, and that provides better growth for the game as more people from that country and around the world tune in to watch these athletes who did the unthinkable.

With IIHF President Rene Fasel confirming the change on Monday after the Beijing Olympics organizers had requested the change, the IOC is also showing more commitment to inviting more female athletes than ever before. That, too, is something that should be celebrated as the Olympics really seem to be striving for equity between the men and women competing at their Games. We've heard the talk of the IOC trying to be more equitable in these when it came to female representation in all sports, but adding two more teams to arguably one of their marquee events shows some dedication to that decree. Yes, you can point to the fact that the Beijing Olympics organizers had made the request, but the IOC's quick approval on that request makes it seem like their trying to put their money where their mouths are.

Looking at this announcement and knowing the above, one has to be excited to see more elite female athletes on the world stage. Yes, it benefits the athletes who play and those of us who appreciate women's hockey immensely, but the end result is that more women will be invited to the 2022 Olympics than ever before. The growth and benefits to women's hockey should be felt throughout the women's hockey world as teams now are competing for an increased number of Olympic berths, and that may keep some of these amazing players in the game longer. More women, women playing longer into their careers, and more teams competing at the highest level? That sounds like a win-win-win to me.

Well done, IOC and IIHF. This is the best news out of this Olympiad yet.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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!

Saturday 17 February 2018

Morning Hovi Blog In Canada

As you can from the smiles on the faces of the Finnish women in the image to the left, things went pretty well for the Scandinavian nation against their arch-rivals. Finland and Sweden seem to encounter one another in most tournaments, and normally we see Finland and Sweden have pretty close battles. It's becoming more and more clear that the gap is widening between these two nations as Finland flexed their muscles in a 7-2 trouncing of the Swedish women at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

I'm not here to break down the game, though. Hovi Blog In Canada returns today because our favorite Finnish Olympian, Miss Venla Hovi, played a part in the Finnish victory last night. Venla's offensive skills have never been in question after witnessing her play in the Canada West Conference with the Manitoba Bisons, but she has really grown into a great international player with her home country.

Very early this morning, Venla got things started for the Finns with what has been reported as a gorgeous assist on Petra Nieminen's goal to make the game 1-0 in Finland's favor.
I'd like to post the highlight of her assist, but I haven't been able to find one. In fact, I haven't even been able to see the goal myself as every single video highlight package of this game online seems to not include Nieminen's goal. Yes, I'm a little disappointed with that, but we do know that Venla's efforts were rewarded with her assist today.

UPDATE: I now have the highlight as Venla causes the turnover that Nieminen puts in the back of the net!

As it stands, Venla has recorded one goal and one assist in four games with Team Finland, and their victory today sets them up for a rematch with the Americans who they fell to in the preliminary round 3-1 in the opening game of the tournament for both teams. Not to be too much of a homer, but I'm hoping for a Finland-Canada gold medal final, so you know who I'm pulling for in that game.

Without looking to the future too much, though, congratulations to Venla Hovi! Your adopted home is cheering for you and we're proud of the success you're having and Team Finland is having!

Until next time, pitää tikkuja jäällä!

Friday 16 February 2018

Let's Get Tropical!

I'll be honest in telling you that I don't follow basketball outside of the top stories that dominate the sports broadcasts. I know about the game as I did play basketball in my high school days, but I just can't get into the NBA for some reason. However, I am a fan of the movie Semi-Pro due to the antics of Will Ferrell, and the somewhat-fictional story of the Flint Tropics is makes me chuckle. It may not be his best work, but the ensemble cast that Will Ferrell is a part of in this movie hits all their lay-ups in a successful effort.

So why am I talking basketball on a hockey blog?

On Saturday night, the OHL's Flint Firebirds are playing in the Flint Mega Bowl wearing these uniforms as the Firebirds get tropical!
Those uniforms are outstanding, and I'm pretty sure Jackie Moon would approve! If they have a player wrestle a bear during an intermission, the Firebirds officially are the greatest junior hockey team in the country without doubt. While the orange wasn't a uniform colour used by the Tropics, it actually doesn't look bad as a hockey uniform colour!

If you notice to the right, the Firebirds replicated the stripe that runs off the shoulder and across the chest, but they added the stripe down the right side for some reason. They also changed the font of the number, and they were forced to re-imagine the location of the palm tree and the word mark on their chests. In a rather solid addition in my view, they threw the palm tree on the breezers which I absolutely love. Overall, it's not an exact replica of what the Tropics wore on the court, but it seems the Firebirds will certainly keep the tropical spirit alive with these uniforms. The only question is whether they'll be giving out free corndogs if the Firebirds hit 125 points against the Saginaw Spirit tomorrow night. My guess is there won't be any free corndogs handed out.

It should be a fun time in Flint, Michigan tomorrow with the Firebirds getting tropical, and I think there should be annual Tropics/Semi-Pro game held by the Firebirds. They could have a lot of fun with this as a key game on their schedule, and it may just draw in a pile of fans who may otherwise opt out of watching OHL hockey. As along as Flint remembers the one rule that the Tropics lived by, they should be ok! Because this isn't just a hockey team, it's a lifestyle!

Until next time, everybody love everybody!