Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Rundown - Week 1

It feels good to be back, right? Welcome to another season of Canada West women's hockey and another season of edition of The Rundown! Each week, I'll run over the highlights of each two-game series in Canada West as the eight teams from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba battle to see who will ultimately represent the conference at the U SPORTS National Championship which will be hosted by UPEI in Charlottetown in March 2019! The opening of this season saw Manitoba add the 2017-18 Canada West Conference championship banner and the 2017-18 U SPORTS National Championship to their wall, keeping the national champions in Canada West after the Alberta Pandas won in 2016-17. Will we see a Canada West three-peat? Let's get into today's edition of The Rundown!

CALGARY at MANITOBA: Thanks to Manitoba being the easternmost team in Canada West, the Bisons kicked off the season at home as the first game of the new season. There was a short banner-raising ceremony that the team held to celebrate the achievements of the team prior to the game, and then it was onto the 2018-19 schedule for both the Bisons and visiting Calgary Dinos!

Whatever the banner-raising pregame event did, it seems to fire up the Dinos because they came out flying. The Dinos pressed the Bisons for the opening five minutes with multiple shots on Manitoba's Lauren Taraschuk before their hard work paid off. Elizabeth Lang's initial shot was stopped, but the puck popped loose from Taraschuk and she lost sight of it to her right. The scramble with multiple bodies saw Lang follow her shot, and she eventually tapped home the loose puck to put Calgary up 1-0 at the 5:02 mark!

That goal seemed to awaken the sleeping giant as the Bisons began to shift momentum in their favour with sustained pressure in the Calgary zone following an early power-play. Coincidentally, Manitoba would use a power-play late in the period to draw even! After some good puck movement, Lauren Warkentin found a seam and wired a wrister high towards Kelsey Roberts, but it was deflected by Sheridan Oswald en route to Roberts, and the redirection was enough to find the back of the net as Manitoba pulled even at 1-1 at 15:04!
Both teams traded chances late in the period, but the two netminders, who sported two of the top-four save percentages last season, kept this game knotted up at one goal apiece after twenty minutes.

The second period was vastly different than the first period as Manitoba dominated in offensive zone time and time of possession through the middle frame as they played nearly the entire period in the Dinos' zone. With the advantage heavily in their favour, Manitoba grabbed the lead when Madison Cole won a puck battle and got the puck to Jordyn Zacharias in the corner. Zacharias skated unchecked out of the corner to the slot where she zipped a shot through Roberts' five-hole as Manitoba went up 2-1 at 8:38.

Later in the period, Jenai Buchanan made a great read in jumping into a passing lane and intercepting a Dinos breakout pass at center ice. Buchanan turned the puck up ice on a three-on-two, and her low shot from the left wing to the far post forced Roberts to kick out the left pad, leaving the rebound in the slot area. Lauryn Keen, playing the trailer on the three-on-two, went to the net, and, before Roberts could react, Keen had chipped the rebound up and over Roberts' outstretched pad for the 3-1 lead at 15:32!
The Bisons would continue their pressure, but the horn would sound to send the teams to the dressing rooms with the Bisons leading by a pair.

The third period saw chances for both sides, but both Roberts and Taraschuk were equal to the tasks. Roberts made a number of key saves, including robbing Emilie Massé twice in the period while Taraschuk was solid in turning aside chances by Annaliese Meier, Delaney Frey, and Sara Craven. Despite pulling their goaltender with 4:30 to play, the Dinos could not generate another goal while Manitoba missed the open net with longer-distance shots on several chances. When the final horn sounded, the Bisons had captured victory with the 3-1 win! Taraschuk made 13 saves in the victory while Roberts stopped 19 shots in the loss.

CALGARY at MANITOBA: The second half of the opening weekend's series went in the afternoon between the Bisons and Dinos, and it appeared that one Manitoba line came fired up on this Saturday. After missing Friday night's game, Natasha Kostenko got into the Saturday game early as she was in her normal spot on the ice in front of the net where she whacked a rebound off a Sheridan Oswald shot past Kelsey Roberts just 3:46 into this game for the early 1-0 Manitoba lead! That line would double the lead exactly fifteen minutes later when Lauryn Keen found Sheridan Oswald in stride, and Oswald's initial shot was stopped but no Calgary defender could corral the rebound before Oswald got to it and fired it past Roberts for the 2-0 lead at 18:46!

Manitoba continued to forecheck with determination in the second period, but were denied repeatedly by Roberts on good chances. While it seemed as though Manitoba had the advantage in both possession and zone time once again, a power-play for the Dinos saw them cut the lead in half. The top of the box for the Manitoba penalty killers got caught lower than where the coaching staff would like, and this allowed Paige Michalenko, who received a pass at the top of the right face-off circle, enough time to look over the zone and make a great cross-ice pass to Elizabeth Lang. Lang caught Lauren Taraschuk moving as she went high on the glove side with her shot, and the Dinos rookie had her second goal of the weekend at 13:11 to make it a 2-1 game! The two teams had chances late in the period, but we'd go to the third period with the 2-1 Manitoba lead holding.

Manitoba would continue their pressure in the final frame, and that pressure saw them force Calgary into taking a penalty midway through the period. On the ensuing power-play, the Bisons used some good puck movement to get the puck to the middle of the ice and on Lauren Warkentin's stick with traffic in front of Roberts, and Warkentin zipped the puck past the screened netminder to put Manitoba up 3-1 at 8:13! Moments later, a wild scramble in front of the Manitoba net saw Chelsea Court stopped in tight by Taraschuk, but it seemed that she had her bell rung as the Manitoba netminder stayed down on the ice for an extended period of time following the stoppage of play. As a result, Bisons fans got their first chance to see rookie goaltender Erin Fargey in the Manitoba crease, and the Alberta-born netminder didn't disappoint as she showed off an outstanding glove save in her 10:46 of work.

Even with an extended period of play with an extra attacker late in the game couldn't give Calgary the boost to find another goal, but Madison Cole won a puck battle along the half-boards in the Bisons' zone late in the game and fired the puck at the yawning cage for her first U SPORTS goal! When the horn sounded, the Bisons had posted the 4-1 victory to take both games over the visiting Calgary Dinos. Lauren Taraschuk was credited with the win with a 15-save effort in 49:14 of work while Kelsey Roberts suffered a second-straight loss despite making 34 saves. Just for the record, Erin Fargey did make the one recorded save in her 10:46 in the crease.

ALBERTA at SASKATCHEWAN: It was a big Friday night for the Saskatchewan Huskies as they had their own celebration in opening and christening the brand-new Merlis Belsher Place! With the men's squad on the road last week against Alberta, the women's team was the first to play in the new arena that replaced the ancient Rutherford Arena, and the hosts had a great crowd on-hand to help them as a recorded 1046 fans came out for the game!

The first goal wasn't your normal first-goal-of-the-season as the Huskies scored shorthanded! After being assessed a too-many-player bench minor late in the period after some good back-and-forth play by the two teams, Leah Bohlken picked up a loose puck in her own zone as she broke out all sorts of wheels, chipped the puck off the boards past the Alberta defender, and decided to take the shot on the two-on-one before zipping a shot past Dayna Owen high glove side at 18:12 for the first goal of the year for the Huskies, the first shorthanded goal of the season, and the first-ever goal at Merlis Belsher Place!
Saskatchewan took that 1-0 lead into the intermission after the two teams played a fairly even period.

Owen was outstanding in the second period, robbing several Huskies who had prime scoring chances, while her counterpart in the Saskatchewan crease Jessica Vance had her own moments of brilliance in stopping the Pandas at all points including stopping Amy Boucher on a breakaway. With neither goalie surrendering a goal in the middle frame, we'll jump to the third period!

It looked like there might be an equalizer scored early in the third period, but Autumn MacDougall's effort resulted in a swollen goalpost behind Vance as she rang her shot off the bar. Both teams traded chances, but neither team could find the back of the net. With one minute to play, Owen went to the bench for the extra attacker, but it made no difference as last season's Canada West Goalie of the Year pitched another shutout as the Huskies won 1-0! Vance stopped all 24 shots she saw for her first shutout of the season while Dayna Owen deserved a better fate after stopping 16 of 17 shots she faced.

As an aside, major kudos to Saskatchewan for their player videos this season. Here's Leah Bohlken's player video, and I truly believe that more Canada West teams should be doing these kinds of videos to highlight their players on social media.

ALBERTA at SASKATCHEWAN: Last year's fourth-place finisher at the U SPORTS National Championship already had one win under their belts over the Pandas, so the only question was whether they could sweep the weekend series away from UofA. It was a markedly different game from the drop of the puck as the Pandas played with some serious ferocity in the opening minutes, peppering Jessica Vance with shots, but the Saskatchewan netminder would let nothing by. The Pandas were thwarted time and time again by Vance as the 2017-18 Canada West Goaltender of the Year appeared to be in midseason form just four periods into this season after stopping all 13 attempts by the Pandas. Not to be outdone, Alberta's Kirsten Chamberlin was perfect on eight shots as the two teams went into the intermission tied at zeroes.

The two teams continued the battle into the second period, and it would Saskatchewan who broke the stalemate early. Leah Bohlken's wrist shot from the point eluded traffic and Chamberlin to dent the twine behind the Alberta netminder at 3:42 of the second period, and the Huskies claimed the 1-0 lead. That lead, however, would be short-lived as the Pandas stormed back 34 seconds later! Kennedy Ganser notched her first of the season from a very sharp angle that Vance couldn't cover after making an initial save, and we were knotted up at 1-1. Midway through the period, Ganser put a shot on Vance that the netminder stopped and looked to cover with her pad, but the always-dangerous Autumn MacDougall was in the right spot to poke it under Vance's pad before she could smother it at 9:20 to put the Pandas up 2-1! The Huskies pressed for an equalizer later in the middle frame, but Chamberlin was on her game in robbing Bailee Bourassa's one-timer on the power-play with less than a minute to go in the period to keep the Pandas' lead intact.

The third period saw the two goaltenders tested again, but both Vance and Chamberlin was stellar in their respective creases. Saskatchewan pulled Vance with 58 seconds to play and had some intense pressure in the Pandas' zone, but they simply could not solve Chamberlin. The Alberta Pandas held their 2-1 lead to the final horn, evening their record to 1-1-0-0 on the season with the victory! Chamberlin stopped 25 shots for the win while Vance absorbed the loss in a 32-save effort.

LETHBRIDGE at UBC: In case you had forgotten about last year, Lethbridge's netminder Alicia Anderson was a one-woman show when it came to seeing the Lethbridge Pronghorns women's hockey team play. I lamented on occasion that if Lethbridge had any sort of transition game to go from their defensive shell to offence, they could win games simply by letting Anderson make saves. In saying that, welcome to the 2018-19 season where the Lethbridge Pronghorns may have found a solution to not having some sort of transition game.

Power-play goals by Tricia Van Vaerenbergh at 8:31 and Kyra Greig at 14:00 of the first period was more than enough for Anderson to earn the win as she was a wall against the UBC Thunderbirds on this night. The T-Birds weren't passive participants, though, as they poured 19 shots on Anderson in the first period only to be denied each and every time. The same happened in the second period when UBC threw another 17 shots at Anderson only to come up empty on the scoreboard once more. Despite pounding Lethbridge with 41 shots, Anderson was unbeatable on this night as she pitched the shutout for the Pronghorns in helping Lethbridge down UBC by that 2-0 score.

Yes, that transition game by the Pronghorns is still a concern - they only had 26 shots on this night with the majority coming on their seven power-play opportunties - but if the special teams show up and can find goals for the Pronghorns, that might be enough for them to get past some of the better teams in Canada West. It's not a perfect solution by any means, but a win is a win is a win and no one is asking how when how many is the only thing that matters and the Pronghorns already have one on the season! Anderson was spectacular in stopping all 41 pucks sent her way while Amelia Boughn took the loss after making 24 saves.

LETHBRIDGE at UBC: After seeing how well Alicia Anderson played on Friday, you can understand if she requested Saturday off for a little rest and relaxation. However, I was under the impression that playing Anderson in every game for every minute the Pronghorns are on the ice was the Lethbridge strategy for every game. Nevertheless, we got an early appearance from Jessica Lohues in this season, and it's nice to see the Pronghorns giving their underused backup netminder a chance to shine. The only problem? UBC was a little more focused in Saturday's game after being shutout in their home opener.

Lethbridge was the first to hit the scoreboard in this game after UBC's initial pressure was stifled. Tricia Van Vaerenbergh wired a shot while in full flight from the left side that got past Tory Micklash over her shoulder for the early 1-0 Lethbridge lead just 7:21 into this game. 2:19 later, the Thunderbirds found their first goal of the season from a player who led the team in goals last season.
Hannah Clayton-Carroll stripped the puck from the Lethbridge defender breaking out of the zone, and she made no mistake going high on the glove side on Lohues to even the game at 1-1 at the 9:40 mark! The teams would trade chances through the remaining ten minutes, but they would retire to the dressing rooms with the game still in question at 1-1.

The second period saw both teams mount some offence as they looked to take the lead. Lethbridge put 12 shots, including two power-play opportunities, on UBC, but Micklash stood tall. At the other end, UBC had 13 shots, including a pair of power-plays, and it seems that extra shot may have been the key to this period. UBC grabbed a lead late in the frame when Shay-Lee McConnell got in on the scoring action.
McConnell picked up the puck in the neutral zone and went high from the right side on Lohues to make it 2-1 for the T-Birds with 2:54 to play in the period. After forty minutes of play, UBC looked to close out a 2-1 game.

Indeed, it seemed as though the T-Birds were intent on not letting Lethbridge up off the mat as they came out with pressure and firing on all cylinders once more. It paid off after six minutes when a familiar name scored her second goal of the game as Hannah Clayton-Carroll found the back of the net with an insurance marker at 5:57 to help the UBC Thunderbirds claim their first win of the season with the 3-1 victory. Tori Micklash made 21 saves in the win while Jessica Lohues stopped 33 shots in the loss.

MOUNT ROYAL at REGINA: It was the battle of the Cougars to open the season for these two schools as the Mount Royal Cougars travelled east to Saskatchewan to meet the Regina Cougars. The opening period saw the home side pepper Mount Royal's Zoe De Beauville with 13 shots, but none of those shots were elusive enough to get by the netminder. Mount Royal, while less prolific with their offence, was more efficient on their seven shots as Kate Scidmore used some nice moves to get around a Regina defender before snapping a quick wrister past Jane Kish at 17:03 to put MRU up a goal through the intermission.

The Regina Cougars would get that goal back midway through the second period on the power-play when Jaycee Magwood fed a cross-ice pass to Shaelyn Vallotton, and she ripped a slapshot past De Beauville at the 10:39 mark as Regina continued to hammer shots on the Mount Royal defence and netminder. After two periods, Regina held a 21-10 advantage in shots, but the game was tied 1-1.

The Mount Royal Cougars jumped ahead on the scoreboard early in the third period on a power-play of their own when Tatum Amy tapped a puck home from the top of the crease in front of Jane Kish at 4:55 to put MRU up 2-1. Just under seven minutes later, Emma Waldenberger found a loose puck on the power-play that De Beauville couldn't smother off an Ireland South shot, and the big forward deposited the puck in the yawning cage to make it 2-2 with 8:12 to play.

This game appeared to be destined for overtime as time wound down, but the Regina Cougars had other plans. With less than a minute to play, Jordan Kulbina picked up the pick with a head of steam and tore down the right wing where she got a shot away on De Beauville. De Beauville made the initial save, but Jaycee Magwood went to the net and found the rebound, banging it past De Beauville at 19:12 for the 3-2 victory! Kish made 16 saves for the win while De Beauville took the loss after stopping 27 shots on this night.

MOUNT ROYAL at REGINA: Regina looked to keep the momentum rolling early in the season while Mount Royal wanted to split the weekend games as the two teams entered Saturday's action. Things got off to a good start for the Regina Cougars when rookie Jenna Merk grabbed a puck mishandled by the Mount Royal defenders, broke in on Zoe De Beauville, and went high on the netminder for her first U SPORTS goal while shorthanded no less at the 4:22 mark to put Regina up 1-0!

Mount Royal wouldn't be down for long as Anna Purschke used some keen hand-eye coordination to bat a puck out of midair past Morgan Baker off a Breanna Trotter shot, and the Alberta-based Cougars squared the score at 1-1. The shots were also even at seven apiece through the first twenty minutes so neither team had any sort of advantage going into the middle frame.

That second period saw no entries on the score sheet regarding goals and assists as the two teams again recorded seven shots apiece, but none of those 14 combined shots got behind Baker or De Beauville. Just as they had done one night earlier, the two Cougars teams in Canada West went to the third period tied 1-1.

Regarding first goal celebrations, Mount Royal wanted in on the fun, so they had one of their prominent rookies tally her first U SPORTS goal early in the third period!
Breanne Trotter picked up the puck out of the corner, makes a nice move to sidestep the Regina defender before denting the twine on the far side with Morgan Baker down on the ice to make it 2-1 for Mount Royal just 1:02 into the period, and the celebration for the rookie was on! After the excitement died down, Mount Royal extended their lead midway through the period when Anna Purschke scored her second of the night while shorthanded when she beat a Regina defender to get into the open before going high glove side on Baker to make it a 3-1 advantage for Mount Royal at 9:25!

1:01 later, Emma Waldenberger decided to show everyone her definition of "power forward" as she came down the ice, overpowered a Mount Royal defender to get position, and made a nice move in dragging the puck along the crease to beat De Beauville to make it 3-2 in favour of Mount Royal. With 1:52 to play, Morgan Baker went to the bench for the extra attacker as Regina looked to even the game, but the Mount Royal Cougars did everything they needed to do in order to win this game 3-2 despite a furious push over the final two minutes from Regina. De Beauville stopped 17 shots for the victory while Baker stopped 17 shots in the loss.

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
6 7 2
3 5 5
Mount Royal
3 5 5
vs UBC
3 3 3
vs REG
British Columbia
3 3 3
3 2 2
3 2 2
vs MAN
0 2 7
vs SAS

The Last Word

There's not much to be said after one week of play. With six of the eight teams sporting 1-1-0-0 records and goal differentials of zero, we probably won't see much separation until November as teams figure out systems and what works best for them against their opposition. It is nice to see, however, a number of rookies getting in on the scoring early in this season as that shows the solid talent bring recruited by these teams and it bodes well for the future of Canada West women's hockey. The first U SPORTS Top Ten should be out later this week, and I expect the 2-0-0-0 reigning U SPORTS National Champions to open the season at #1 as Manitoba continued their strong play in the first weekend.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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