Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Rundown - Week 8

As we entered the final weekend of 2018's Canada West hockey action, we'd see some great match-ups to close out the calendar year. Saskatchewan was in Edmonton to battle the Alberta Pandas, Regina would tangle with Mount Royal in Calgary, the Dinos hosted the Manitoba Bisons in Calgary, and UBC would travel east to Lethbridge for a two-game set against the Pronghorns. The all-Alberta weekend was on as the four Alberta-based teams hosted games, including the make-up game between the Pandas and Dinos in Edmonton postponed from a week earlier, as Canada West closed out the first-half of the season!

SASKATCHEWAN at ALBERTA: Just as it has happened to all teams that have ventured into Clare Drake Arena this season, the Alberta Pandas seemed to get the early jump on the Saskatchewan Huskies. Goaltender Jessica Vance was strong early on, though, as she kept the Pandas at bay. At the other end, Halle Oswald wasn't tested as often, but she made a couple of timely saves to keep this game deadlocked at 0-0 despite the Pandas holding the 9-4 lead in shots through the opening 20 minutes of play.

The second period would see Alberta continue its strong play, and they'd finally get one past Vance prior to the midway point of the period.
Alex Poznikoff fed Kennedy Ganser from the half-boards while under pressure as Ganser came to the front of the net out of the corner, and Ganser made no mistake in backhanding the puck past the Saskatchewan netminder at 8:31 for the 1-0 Alberta lead! There were chances through the remaining 11 minutes of the period, but Alberta would carry that single-goal lead into the second intermission despite outshooting the Huskies 15-7.

In the third period, Saskatchewan came out stronger looking for the equalizer, but Oswald continued to deny all chances. Instead, it would be Alberta who doubled their lead just past the halfway point of the period.
Alex Gowie's shot was blocked in front by Leah Bohlken before getting to Vance, and that allowed Autumn MacDougall to get a couple of whacks at the puck before it got by Vance for a power-play goal at 11:17 to make it a 2-0 lead for the Pandas. From there, it was the Halle Oswald show as she turned away all Huskies on this night, including a glorious chance from Bailee Bourassa.
When all was said and done, the Pandas earned themselves the 2-0 victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies. Halle Oswald stopped all 12 shots she faced for her fourth win and fourth shutout of the season while Jessica Vance took the loss in a 16-save effort.

SASKATCHEWAN at ALBERTA: The rematch went Saturday afternoon between the Huskies and Pandas, but it was more of the same from Friday night as the Pandas exploded out of the gates with shots and pressure on the Huskies. Netminder Camryn Drever was brilliant early on as she made a number of key saves to keep the Pandas off the scoreboard, but it was only a matter of time before they'd finally get one.
Abby Benning's cut to the middle resulted in a shot that was blocked by a Saskatchewan defender, but Amy Boucher picked up the loose puck and fired a low shot past Drever at 14:57 to put the Pandas up 1-0. With the horn bringing an end to the opening period, that one-goal lead held firm while the Pandas had an 11-6 edge in shots.

The second period brought more of the same barrage that Alberta threw at Saskatchewan in the first period. Drever stood on her head and was outstanding in denying all 14 shots in this period from the Pandas while Kirsten Chamberlin had a relatively light load with just three shots to stop. No goals would be found, though, as Alberta clung to the 1-0 lead despite leading 25-9 in shots.

Saskatchewan was stifled again by a very good Alberta defence in the third period, and the Pandas would ice the game when Kennedy Ganser would get a stick on an Alex Poznikoff shot from the circle, deflecting the puck under Drever's glove and into the net at 12:28 to make it 2-0 for Alberta. That would be more than enough goal scoring for Chamberlin as she shut down the Huskies for a second-straight night in helping Alberta to the 2-0 win. Kirsten Chamberlin stopped all 12 shots she faced for her fifth win and third shutout of the season while Camryn Drever stopped 29 shots in a game where she likely deserved a better fate.

UBC at LETHBRIDGE: The Thunderbirds came into this game already having split the opening series of the season with the Pronghorns, so there was hope that UBC could take all six points on the road to erase the opening night loss. Lethbridge, however, seems to have an answer for the Thunderbirds when it comes to having a game plan for them, so this series has some intrigue! Both teams seemed to know this as they came out in a spirited first period as the action when north-south for nearly the entire stanza with chances at both ends. However, we'd be deadlocked at 0-0 after one period with Alicia Anderson doing incredible work in holding off the T-Birds' 16 shots while Tory Micklash turned away five Lethbridge opportunities.

We'd find some scoring in the second period, and it would be UBC who struck first. Emily Costales' wrap-around at attempt would be stopped by Anderson, but Hannah Clayton-Carroll was on the doorstep for the tap-in as she netted the goal at 7:32 to put the T-Birds up 1-0! Lethbridge wouldn't be down for long, though.
It appears that Micklash may have whiffed on the glove save, but Jodi Gentile's rising shot dented twine at 9:34, and we were all tied up at 1-1! The teams continued the torrid pace in the second half of the period, but they'd head into the intermission knotted up at 1-1 despite UBC leading 23-10 in shots!

In the third period, this see-saw battled continued as both teams look to take the lead. Power-plays would go unfulfilled until late in the game when UBC's Celine Tardif was sent off for holding at 18:56. That led to a Pronghorns power-play where the following took place.
Brett Campbell's deflection on the Alli Borrow shot gets past Micklash at 19:18 of the third period, and the Pronghorns grabbed the 2-1 lead! The final 42 seconds saw UBC not even get a chance to pull Micklash as Lethbridge's late power-play goal gave them all sorts of energy, and the final horn sounded as the Pronghorns picked up the 2-1 victory! Alicia Anderson notched her fourth win of the season with a spectacular 37-save effort while Tory Micklash made 20 stops in the loss.

As a note, Alicia Anderson hit another milestone in this game as she became just the seventh netminder in Canada West women's hockey history to play 5000 minutes of time in her career! She officially rolled over that mark just 45 seconds into today's game, so congratulations to Anderson breaking that mark! She still trails all-time leader and former Saskatchewan Huskies goaltender Cassidy Hendricks by just over 1900 minutes so she needs a few more games to have a shot at Hendricks, but she could legitimately be fourth all-time in minutes played by season's end as she looks up at fifth-place Lindsey Post of Alberta who played 5536:45 minutes and fourth-place Stacey Corfield of Manitoba who logged 5589:38 in the paint. Massive kudos go out to Anderson for her incredible work in her career thus far!

UBC at LETHBRIDGE: With Lethbridge's inspired performance one night earlier, would we see them take three of four games against UBC this season? Similar to the game less than 24 hours earlier, this game started out with some incredible pace as both teams looked to break the goose eggs early. However, UBC's Amelia Boughn withstood some early pressure to help build momentum for the T-Birds that they, in turn, used to pepper Lethbridge's Alicia Anderson with a number of good shots only to be denied as well. Through one period, we were stuck at 0-0 with UBC holding a 12-5 lead in shots.

The second period was all about UBC's domination as they controlled the play virtually from puck-drop until the horn. They had several Grade-A scoring chances early on, and continued with pressure throughout the period. They would finally be rewarded as Kenzie Robinson would be stopped as she crashed the crease, but Ashley McFadden's follow-up was on the money as she beat Anderson at 12:24 to put the Thunderbirds up 1-0. 1:44 after that goal, Hannah Clayton-Carroll would break into the Pronghorns' zone only to leave a nice drop-pass for Rylind MacKinnon who potted the wrist shot past Anderson's glove at 14:08 to put UBC up by a pair! As the final five minutes ticked off the clock with most of it played in Lethbridge's zone, the Thunderbirds returned to their dressing room up 2-0 and holding a 24-9 advantage in shots.

The third period saw more of the UBC blitz as they continued to forecheck hard against the Pronghorns. Just five minutes in, Mathea Fischer stripped a Lethbridge defender of the puck behind the net and fed Hannah Clayton-Carroll out front who made no mistake in beating Anderson to make it 3-0 for the T-Birds at 5:46. While the three-goal outburst for UBC would be good enough for the win, Amelia Boughn only needed one on the night as she stood tall in the UBC crease as the Thunderbirds secured the 3-0 win. Boughn stopped all 25 she faced, including 16 in the third period, for her third win of the season while Alicia Anderson was on the losing end in this one after making 30 stops in the game.

REGINA at MOUNT ROYAL: The Cougars met the Cougars at Flames Community Arena on Friday as Regina and Mount Royal began their two-game set. Both teams had chances early on as Regina's Jane Kish made good saves early on and was offset by saves made by Zoe De Beauville for Mount Royal. However, it would be Regina that got on the board midway through the period when Tamara McVannel's shot from the high slot beat a screened De Beauville at 11:27 for the 1-0 lead. The period would slant towards the Mount Royal net for the remaining eight minutes, and the teams would go to the intermission with that 1-0 Regina lead intact and Regina leading 8-4 in shots.

The second period would start with a bang as Emma Waldenberger wrapped a puck around the net and inside the post before De Beauville could cover, and Regina was up 2-0 just 36 seconds into the middle frame. Mount Royal would respond two minutes later when Tatum Amy was sent in on a partial breakaway by Tianna Ko, and she snapped a shot past Jane Kish at 2:43 to cut Regina's lead to 2-1. Three minutes after that, Breanne Trotter fed Nicolette Seper from the corner, and Seper's shot from the right hash marks beat Kish at 6:10 to even the game at 2-2! The period would settle slightly before Emma Waldenberger scored her second of the frame when she deflected home Emily Middagh's shot in front of De Beauville at 13:54 to make it 3-2 for Regina! When the dust finally settled on the period, the Regina Cougars held the one-goal lead, but Mount Royal held the one-shot lead at 15-14!

The third period started slower as both teams played somewhat more conservative, but the Mount Royal Cougars would find their way onto the scoresheet once more. Daria O'Neill's blast from the point got through a screened Kish, and the game was tied 3-3 at 7:56! The conservative play continued after that as neither team worked to give up another goal, and the horn would sound at the end of the period with the 3-3 score still in place. It was off to overtime!

Four-on-four overtime saw Regina mount a few offensive chances, but the five-minute period solved nothing. The three-on-three double-overtime period was all sorts of crazy as a Regina breakaway was thwarted only to give way to a Mount Royal two-on-one where Breanna Trotter outwaited the defender and fired a wrist shot high over the Kish's glove on the far side to give Mount Royal the 4-3 double-overtime victory! De Beauville made 24 stops for her seventh win of the season while Kish stopped 19 shots in the double-overtime loss.

Highlights of the game can be seen below!

REGINA at MOUNT ROYAL: Saturday's game between Regina and Mount Royal had less goals for one set of Cougars as the two teams came out and established their offensive games thanks to a few early penalties. It would be Regina who opened the scoring when Chelsea Hallson found twine past Zoe De Beauville on the power-play at 6:12 to put Regina up 1-0. They would double their lead four minutes later when Emily Middagh found the puck in a scramble in front of De Beauville and snapped it past the netminder at 10:40 to make it a 2-0 Regina lead. At the other end, Morgan Baker was just as busy as she made ten saves, but Regina took the 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

The second period settled down a little as both sides looked to control the game more, but neither De Beauville nor Baker would surrender any goals as Regina held the 2-0 lead and the edge in shots at 19-15.

The third period was even quieteras Regina slowed the game down considerably as they looked to close out the weekend with a solid win, but they'd increase their lead. A long pass to Tianna Ko was intercepted by Ireland South, and she skated the opposite direction while on the power-play before zipping a shot past De Beauville at 11:20 to make it a 3-0 Regina lead. Morgan Baker handled the remaining time and the few shots that Mount Royal sent towards the Regina net as Regina skated to the 3-0 victory. Baker was perfect on 19 shots to claim her second win and second shutout of the season while De Beauville dropped this game despite making 22 saves.

MANITOBA at CALGARY: With Manitoba aiming for one of the top-two spots in Canada West as the first-half schedule closed, they'd need all six points from this weekend set with Calgary. The Dinos were looking to follow up with their win over Alberta a week earlier with another massive win over the Bisons. Manitoba came out in the first period with some fire in their skates as they peppered Kelsey Roberts with shots. Calgary would find chances against Lauren Taraschuk, but it would be the visitors who opened the scoring when Karissa Kirkup's shot to the far post would be kicked out by Roberts but Lauryn Keen would fire home the rebound in the slot at 15:12 to make it 1-0 for the Bisons. Moments later, though, the Dinos would respond.
Annaliese Meier's blind pass off the half-boards found Priya Sidhu, and she went high on the glove side past Taraschuk at 16:57 for her first U SPORTS goal to tie the game at 1-1! Despite Manitoba holding a 12-6 advantage in shots, it was 1-1 at the intermission.

The second period was all about Lauryn Keen on the power-play. With Merissa Dawson in the sin bin at 3:02 for bodychecking, Keen deflected home a Jenai Buchanan shot on the power-play at 3:55 to give Manitoba the 2-1 lead. Delaney Frey would put Manitoba back on the power-play at 4:33 after she was whistled for a bodycheck, and Keen would complete the hat trick after she potted the rebound off a Lauren Warkentin shot at 5:22 to make it a 3-1 game. The remainder of the period would be less exciting, but the Bisons held the two-goal lead after doubling up the Dinos in shots again to hold a 22-11 edge.

The third period was back and forth once more, but most of the shots came from the outside. Roberts would be summoned to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:37 to play, but it would be Erica Rieder icing the game with an empty-netter with 18 seconds to play as Manitoba claimed victory with the 4-1 win! Taraschuk earned her ninth win in a 19-save effort while Roberts made 29 saves in the loss.

MANITOBA at CALGARY: With the loss on Friday, Calgary could not move out of the cellar in Canada West while Manitoba's win on Friday combined with UBC's loss meant the Bisons would be in one of the top-two spots in Canada West to close out 2018. Saturday's game saw both teams start their backup netminders as Erin Fargey got the call for Manitoba while Kira Wasylak got the nod for Calgary. Things started well for the home side as they got on the board just four minutes into this one!
Chelsea Court uses a defender as a screen, and she wires home the shot past Fargey to make it 1-0 for Calgary just 3:58 into the game. Despite the early deficit, Manitoba began to push back as penalties against the Dinos helped the Manitoba offence get on-track. A slashing call against Kira Makuk would be the advantage Manitoba needed as Jordyn Zacharias found herself wide-open in front of Wasylak, and the Manitoba sniper buried her shot at 13:25 to even the game at 1-1! The game would head into the intermission tied at that score and with Manitoba leading 7-5 in shots.

The second period was payed more defensively, especially for the Bisons who gave up just two shots on net despite also giving up two power-plays. The latter power-play would be important because Lauryn Keen, who continued her exceptional specials teams play this weekend, was sprung for a breakaway and she ripped a shot over the glove of Wasylak at 10:04 for the shorthanded goal as Manitoba jumped ahead 2-1! Aside from that excitement, there wasn't much more to extol as the Bisons took that one-goal lead to the third period with a 12-7 advantage in shots.

Manitoba looked to continue to lock down their defensive zone as Calgary began to up the pressure. Both Wasylak and Fargey made good saves early on, but a Katie Chartyrbok breakaway saw the Bisons freshman go stick-side on Wasylak for her first U SPORTS goal at 12:53 to extend the Manitoba lead to 3-1! Calgary regrouped quickly and pushed back, though, as they responded just two minutes later!
Carley Wlad took the pass down the seam of the Manitoba defence, went in on Fargey untouched, and zipped a shot high on the glove side on Fargey at 15:01 to pull Calgary within one goal at 3-2! With 56 seconds to play, Wasylak went to the bench for the extra attacker, but the Manitoba defence would withstand the Calgary attack as they held on to preserve the 3-2 victory! Erin Fargey had a solid start in her home province as she stopped 13 shots for her second win of the season while Kira Wasylak stopped 14 shots in her second game of the season.

CALGARY at ALBERTA: This game was being made up as part of last week's series between the Dinos and Pandas when their game was postponed due to the traffic incident with the Pandas. With both teams having played already this weekend, what kind of game would we see from each squad in the Sunday matinee? Well, like the Huskies on Friday and Saturday before them, the Dinos walked into an onslaught of shots. Alberta controlled the game from the moment the puck hit the ice, but Calgary certainly did their part to make this interesting. It would be the Pandas who struck first, though, as I'm fairly certain that Kelsey Roberts wants this one back.
Amy Boucher stripped a Calgary defender of the puck and put a good, low shot on Roberts that squeaked through her five-hole at 13:20 to put the Pandas up 1-0! That score would remain in place through to the intermission with Alberta holding a distinct lead in shots at 13-4.

The second period was more of the same, but Dayna Owen did get a few more shots in the Alberta net. One of those shots would find the back of the net as well as Sara Craven committed to the "if at first you don't succeed" adage.
After having her first shot blocked and Alberta was unable to clear, Craven's second shot found its way through traffic and past Dayna Owen while on the power-play at 14:32 to pull the Dinos even at 1-1! Even with the tying goal, Alberta's relentless attack didn't stop, but they would go to the third period still tied at 1-1 and with Alberta holding a lofty 27-11 advantage in shots.

If the first two period were any indication of the pressure the Pandas could bring, the third period of Sunday's game was the pinnacle of that pressure. Alberta launched 18 shots at Kelsey Roberts who was simply incredible, but the Pandas would get another goal.
Alex Gowie's initial shot in front was stopped, but the rebound popped out to Boucher who elevated the puck above the sprawled Roberts at 8:46 to put the Pandas back up by a goal at 2-1! With Calgary only managing four shots in the final frame, that wouldn't be enough offence to tally another goal as Alberta splits last weekend's games with a 2-1 win on home ice! Dayna Owen made 14 saves for her fourth win of the campaign while Kelsey Roberts deserved a better fate after turning aside 43 of 45 shots she faced.

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
37 41 11
35 47 23
British Columbia
30 36 22
24 23 23
23 29 38
Mount Royal
21 24 37
14 17 37
8 16 42

The Last Word

If we're trying to predict outcomes for this season, it might be harder than we think after we saw Saskatchewan rise through the ranks last season before dispatching UBC in the Canada West Semi-Final. However, it's probably a good idea to look at trends to see where each team may be for this season when compared to the last couple of seasons. I'll work my way through this in terms of this year's standings, so let's get at it.

2018-19: 11-3-2-0 - 37 points (1st) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 7-3-3-3 - 30 points (3rd); finished 13-5-6-4 - 55 pts (4th).
2016-17: 7-3-3-3 - 30 points (3rd); finished 17-4-4-3 - 62 pts (2nd).
2015-16: 9-6-0-1 - 28 points (1st); finished 15-9-1-3 - 50 pts (1st).

2018-19: 10-3-2-1 - 35 points (2nd) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 10-4-2-0 - 34 points (1st); finished 19-5-3-1 - 64 pts (1st).
2016-17: 8-4-3-1 - 31 points (2nd); finished 16-7-3-2 - 56 pts (3rd).
2015-16: 9-6-0-1 - 28 points (2nd); finished 13-13-0-2 - 41 pts (5th).

2018-19: 7-3-3-3 - 30 points (3rd) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 9-4-1-2 - 31 points (2nd); finished 14-5-5-4 - 56 pts (3rd).
2016-17: 13-1-2-0 - 43 points (1st); finished 20-4-3-1 - 67 pts (1st).
2015-16: 7-5-2-2 - 27 points (3rd); finished 13-9-3-3 - 48 pts (2nd).

2018-19: 5-6-4-1 - 24 points (4th) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 9-6-0-1 - 28 points (4th); finished 18-7-2-1 - 58 pts (2nd).
2016-17: 7-5-2-2 - 27 points (5th); finished 11-10-4-3 - 44 pts (4th).
2015-16: 6-5-3-2 - 26 points (4th); finished 11-9-3-5 - 44 pts (4th).

2018-19: 6-6-1-3 - 23 points (5th) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 6-8-1-1 - 21 points (5th); finished 8-14-2-4 - 32 pts (5th).
2016-17: 9-6-1-0 - 29 points (4th); finished 10-13-4-1 - 39 pts (5th).
2015-16: 6-6-3-1 - 25 points (5th); finished 12-10-5-1 - 47 pts (3rd).

2018-19: 6-8-1-1 - 21 points (6th) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 3-11-2-0 - 13 points (8th); finished 7-17-3-1 - 28 pts (6th).
2016-17: 5-9-0-2 - 17 points (6th); finished 10-13-1-4 - 36 pts (6th).
2015-16: 6-7-2-1 - 23 points (6th); finished 8-12-3-3 - 33 pts (8th).

2018-19: 4-10-0-2 - 14 points (7th) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 3-9-2-2 - 15 points (7th); finished 3-18-2-5 - 18 pts (8th).
2016-17: 2-11-1-2 - 10 points (7th); finished 3-21-1-3 - 14 pts (8th).
2015-16: 6-7-2-1 - 23 points (7th); finished 9-14-4-1 - 36 pts (7th).

2018-19: 2-12-0-2 - 8 points (8th) with playoff spots TBD.
2017-18: 6-8-0-2 - 20 points (6th); finished 7-18-1-2 - 25 pts (7th).
2016-17: 0-12-1-3 - 5 points (8th); finished 4-19-1-4 - 18 pts (7th).
2015-16: 2-9-1-4 - 12 points (8th); finished 9-12-3-4 - 37 pts (6th).

So what can we learn? We'll start with the obvious in that the second-half of the season for Lethbridge has been a nightmare over the last three seasons. The Pronghorns have amassed a 4-26-2-4 record in three seasons of second-half schedules, and they're 1-19-0-4 over the last two seasons - yes, that is correct in that they're 1-23 in 24 second-half games over the last two seasons. Not ironically, that lone win came on January 7, 2017 at home against the Calgary Dinos. There's a very good chance that they don't finish with more than 20 points this season, and that is a deeply worrying trend.

Calgary has had the most obvious drop-off in the second halves of the previous seasons, going 7-3-2-0 in 2015-16 to 4-7-0-1 in 2016-17 to 1-10-1-0 in 2017-18 over their final 12 games. While they've shown some life recently against both Alberta and Manitoba, the battle for the bottom of the standings will most certainly come down to Lethbridge and Calgary once more with the second-half games between them likely being the biggest factor in who finishes in seventh-place and who finishes in eighth-place.

If we look for consistency, we can find it in the middle of the pack as Saskatchewan, Regina, and Mount Royal have shown that their first-half results will likely be duplicated in the second-half of the schedule. If Saskatchewan had not gone on that crazy run last season to vault them ahead of both Alberta and UBC and had Manitoba not gone ice-cold in 2015-16 to drop three places down the standings, these three teams might be the most consistent teams from year to year in terms of finishes in the standings. At the break over the last four seasons, Saskatchewan has averaged 26 points, Regina with 24 points, and Mount Royal with 18 points. None of them are far off that average this season.

What should worry Regina Cougars fans is that Regina has been the third-worst second-half team over the last two seasons, earning a record of just 3-13-4-4 in 24 games for a points percentage of .292. If we apply that to the 12 games in the second-half this season, Regina may only see an increase of 11 points from their current 23 points. Considering that Mount Royal's second-half points percentage over the last two seasons is .472, that would translate to a possible 17 points in the last 12 games. That would be more than enough to overtake Regina to give Mount Royal the fifth-place final standing in the conference for their best finish ever and a possible first-round date with Saskatchewan while Regina would likely meet UBC. With no games between these two for the remainder of the season, their fates will all depend on how they perform against the other six teams.

Oh, and just because I can, you may want to note that Regina is 2-1-1-0 against Mount Royal this season, meaning they're 4-5-0-3 against everyone else. Mount Royal, meanwhile is 4-6-1-1 against everyone else. If you're doing the math, both Regina and Mount Royal have 15 points against the rest of the conference. In other words, the second-half results for both teams will mean a lot of scoreboard watching for their fans.

UBC is likely your consistent third-place team. The 2016-17 season was a special one as they rattled off a 14-game winning streak to jump way out in front before they settled back into a rather pedestrian 7-3-1-1 second-half record for a .667 points percentage. Coincidentally, their record over the second-halves of the last three seasons are 18-8-6-4 or a .648 points percentage. And that's not far off their first-half winning percentage - with the anomaly season taken out - of .611. UBC played consistent hockey throughout the last three seasons. They simply need someone else to go cold or they need to get hot if they hope to leap-frog a team or two.

We come to the final two teams as Manitoba and Alberta will likely battle it out for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The entire second-half for these two squads could be determined by the first week of January when Alberta travels to Manitoba for a two-game set. If the previous games this season were an indication, Alberta could wrap up home-ice with two more wins, putting a nearly-insurmountable eight points between them and Manitoba.

In the last two seasons, Alberta has a second-half points percentage of .792 compared to Manitoba's percentage at .764. If Manitoba has any hope of playing at home throughout the playoffs like they did last season, they have to win that January series against Alberta.

A split won't be the end of the world, but if Alberta wins both games in Winnipeg there is virtually zero chance of Manitoba overtaking Alberta based on stats without some sort of collapse by the Pandas. According to the second-half records, no team in the top-four has moved up a spot in the standings with more than one regulation loss and one overtime loss unless there was a major collapse from one of the teams above it.

The last team to do it? Alberta in 2016-17 when they overtook Manitoba. Alberta posted a 10-1-1-0 record in the second-half for 32 points while Manitoba posted an 8-3-0-1 record for 25 points. Manitoba had a one-point lead at the December break, and found themselves back of Alberta by six points at the end of the season. Where did the major change happen? The final week of the season when Alberta won both games at home against Manitoba. Like that season, this year's head-to-head match-up in the second-half of the season will likely determine these two teams' fates when it comes to the final standings.

You also have to wonder if Manitoba will be able to maintain their second-place standing after posting a 1-3-1-1 record against Alberta, UBC, and Saskatchewan in the first-half of the season. Having a points percentage of .333 against opponents who make up six of the final 12 games on the schedule would likely mean that UBC has a shot at catching Manitoba, but there is a catch to this stat: four of those six games were played on the road (Alberta and UBC) and Manitoba went 0-3-1-0 in those four games. Manitoba is 7-0-0-1 at home this season - the only blemish is Saskatchewan's overtime victory - and they've been very good at Wayne Fleming Arena, scoring 28 goals-for and only allowing eight against. While UBC poses a challenge with their 5-0-0-1 road record, Alberta is 5-2-1-0 on the road with losses coming at the hands of Calgary and Mount Royal. If Manitoba can bring their A-games for January's games against Alberta and February's games against UBC, Manitoba could, theoretically, lock up first-place with a week to go in the season.

There are still a few trends that stand out more than any points total or points percentage can predict.
  • Any team that reached the December break in first-place finished the season in first-place as well.
  • Any team that reached the December break in second-place finished the season in a lower-ranked placing in the standings with none remaining in second-place.
  • No team has moved up more than two places in the final standings from their December placement.
CONCLUSIONS: So what does this all mean? Well, Alberta will likely be in first-place when the season concludes, UBC seems like they may jump ahead of Manitoba, and Manitoba will likely have dropped to third-place. Saskatchewan will likely be fourth-place, Mount Royal seems destined for fifth-place, and Regina will fall to sixth-place. Calgary will likely overtake Lethbridge for seventh-place, but that race for the last two spots will be very close.

Based on current statistics and trends, it seems the point total needed to make the playoffs would be around 35 points as a safe number. That would put Alberta and Manitoba virtually in the playoffs already, but we're putting the cart before the horse here as we don't know what may happen with the second-half of the season.

And that's the thing with trends: one upset or one weekend sweep can change the entire standings in the second-half. It's why we play the games rather than letting math determine who finishes where in Canada West.

Until January, keep your sticks on the ice!

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