Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Rundown - Semifinals

We started this weekend with four teams as Saskatchewan met Alberta and UBC met Manitoba, but we'll finish this week with only two teams still standing. Those two teams will not only meet for the Canada West championship banner next weekend, but they will also be the two representatives from the Canada West Conference who will travel to Charlottetown, PEI for the 2019 U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship! Let's break this down on this week's edition of The Rundown!

After surviving a scare for the Mount Royal Cougars, the Saskatchewan Huskies traveled to Edmonton to meet the top-seeded Alberta Pandas. Clare Drake Arena is where a lot of dreams die for road teams, so could Saskatchewan find a way to break through against Alberta?

It didn't take long for the home side to find the scoreboard as the top-scoring unit in the country went to work. Just 97 seconds into the game, Autumn MacDougall picked up a loose puck behind the Saskatchewan net, backhanded a pass out front that found Alex Poznikoff, and the Alberta sniper buried it past Jessica Vance to put the Pandas up 1-0!

It seemed that Alberta was going to allow Saskatchewan back into the game as Alex Gowie was whistled for a four-minute double-minor penalty for a check to the head, but the stout Pandas' penalty-killing units stood tall in front of Kirsten Chamberlin during the extended power-play time. A power-play for the Pandas also went unsuccessful after they killed off the Gowie infraction, so this game would move to the second period with the Pandas leading 1-0.

The second period saw the two teams trade chances, but both Vance and Chamberlin stand tall for their teams. There were no penalties called as five-on-five play filled the period, but we'd move to the third period with the 1-0 lead intact for Alberta and the Pandas leading in shots with a 21-15 advantage.

The third period seemed like more of the same as the two teams simply could not solve the netminders, but we would see one more goal. The second power-play unit for Alberta would make good on their opportunity as Amy Boucher on the backdoor picked up the rebound off the initial shot from Abby Krzyzaniak and deposited it into the yawning cage for the 2-0 lead with 4:45 to play. From there, the Pandas simply locked down their zone as they skated to the Game One victory with the 2-0 win! Kirsten Chamberlin pitched the 17-save shutout for the win while Jessica Vance suffered the loss after stopping 25 shots.

Highlights are below!

It was do-or-die for the Huskies in this game as Alberta was one win away from booking a berth in the Canada West Final. After being shutout the day before, could Saskatchewan find the offence it needed to secure a win?

Saskatchewan came out with the desperation that one would expect as they peppered Kirsten Chamberlin with shots early and often. Chamberlin, for her part, was ready for the barrage of shots, making key saves throughout the period. Jessica Vance withstood the Alberta attack in her own crease as well, but the Pandas would get to her with nearly no time left as Alex Gowie came around the net with seconds to play in the frame and found Regan Wright who buried it past Vance with 0.5 seconds remaining for the 1-0 lead!

The two teams would continue their furious battle in the second period, and it would take Saskatchewan until the latter portion of the stanza to find twine. Morgan Willoughby's shot from the point appeared to hit something in front of Chamberlin, and the redirection got past the netminder at 16:15 to even the game at 1-1! The Pandas would storm back, though, and Cayle Dillon's point shot found its way through the screen in front of Vance and past the netminder with 33 seconds to play as the Pandas restored the one-goal lead heading into the second intermission!

In the third period, Saskatchewan seemed to try to do everything and anything they could to tie the game short of running Chamberlin, but a late penalty for too many players killed any chance of having the extra attacker on the ice. Vance still went to the bench, but time would run out on the Huskies as the Pandas secured the 2-1 win victory to advance to the Canada West Final! Kirsten Chamberlin made 24 stops for the victory while Jessica Vance lost her third game of these playoffs in a 22-save effort.

It should also be noted that Pandas forward Autumn MacDougall went down with an apparent shoulder injury midway through this game and did not return. Her absence will hopefully only be temporary as she is a key piece of this Pandas team!

Highlights are below!

UBC came into Winnipeg having absolutely dismantled Regina, outscoring the Cougars 10-1 in their two games. The Bisons, having had the bye, needed to be ready to deal with the UBC skill, speed, and goaltending as Tory Micklash has been en fuego for the last month of hockey. Would the Bisons be able to slow down the high-flying Thunderbirds?

The Thunderbirds came out and had their skating legs under them early on as the Bisons found themselves plagued by another slow start. They were in the game, but generating chances from scoring areas seemed to elude them as UBC worked to carry the play. Midway through the period, they'd be rewarded after Mekaela Fisher and Lauryn Keen were sent off 43 seconds apart to give UBC an abbreviated five-on-three advantage. Manitoba killed off the first penalty, but Mathea Fischer's shot at 10:16 found the twine behind Lauren Taraschuk with traffic in front, and UBC claimed the 1-0 lead! Despite a power-play to either team in the second half of the period, that score would hold through the intermission.

The second period started with a bang as the Bisons tied the game before the water had frozen on the surface of the rink! Lauryn Keen broke in on the right wing and threw a shot on net that caught Tory Micklash by surprise as it snuck between her body and the post for a goal just 12 seconds into the frame! The Bisons weren't done there as Karissa Kirkup picked up a puck and went for a skate past two Thunderbirds before coming in 1-on-2 on the T-Birds' defenders, and her initial shot was stopped by Micklash but the goalie kicked the puck out back to Kirkup and she buried the second chance at 5:43 to give the Bisons the 2-1 lead!

The period settled down after the Bisons took the lead as both teams refocused on their defensive games while trying to find seams in the opponent's coverage. Late in the period, Hannah Koroll's long wrist shot for the point deflected off the skate of Jenai Buchanan in front of Taraschuk and past the netminder, and the unfortunate break of the Bisons meant that we were tied up at 2-2 at 14:35! That score would hold through the remaining time as Manitoba held a 24-12 advantage in shots through two periods.

Early in the third period, a scramble in front of the UBC net saw Madison Patrick fall on the puck in the blue paint, and the officials blew the play dead moments after she didn't move off of it to signal for a penalty shot! Alanna Sharman was sent over the boards, and she made a great fake to freeze Micklash before pulling it to the backhand to deke around the goalie and slide it into the open net as the Bisons took a 3-2 lead at 5:58 off the Sharman penalty shot goal!

Just seconds after the goal, Alexandra Anderson was called for roughing as she moved bodies out of the front of the net, and the UBC power-play went back to work as Ireland Perrott found room through traffic to tie the game in beating Taraschuk at 7:20! Manitoba thought it had the lead later in the period when Courtlyn Oswald's shot deflected up and over Micklash, but the UBC netminder was keenly aware to reach back and snag the fluttering puck in her glove before it crossed the goal line as the two teams remained deadlocked at 3-3!

It appeared we were in store for a little overtime on this night, but, with 40 seconds remaining in the game, this happened.
Lauren Warkentin's shot went off Micklash's glove and ended up in the vacant net behind her as the Bisons claimed the 4-3 lead! Micklash would head to the bench for the extra attacker after Erica Rieder was called for a penalty, but despite the 6-on-4 opportunity the UBC Thunderbirds could score no more as the Manitoba Bisons secured the Game One victory with the 4-3 win! Lauren Taraschuk made 19 stops for the win while Tory Micklash suffered the loss in this game after making 28 stops.

Highlights are below!

After the mistake the night before, there was a expectation that the Thunderbirds would respond with everything they had on Saturday as they looked to even the series with the Bisons. The Bisons knew what they were in for, so they'd have to elevate their game as well. This one looked like it might be the best game of the year with UBC playing for their season!

This one started off with both teams playing more cautiously than expected as the squads look to establish the forecheck and the pace in this one. However, Karissa Kirkup had other ideas as she slashed through the 1-2-2 utilized by the T-Birds, took a pass from Erin Kucheravy, and was off to the races as she used a similar move to the one Alanna Sharman used one night earlier on her penalty shot as Kirkup froze Micklash and went to the backhand for the opening goal at 2:52 and the 1-0 lead for the Bisons! The remainder of the period saw the netminders go save for save as the Bisons carried the 1-0 lead in the second period despite being outshot 6-4 in the frame.

The second period opened with an early goal as well as Ireland Perrott skated into the middle of the high slot and unleashed a leaser beam that found the twine under the bar as Taraschuk could not stop the shot with traffic in front, and the Thunderbirds had tied the game at 1:42!

However, Tiffany Chiu was called for hooking just 10 seconds later, and the Bisons' power-play took to the ice. After missing the far post with a shot earlier in the advantage, Lauryn Keen spotted Karissa Kirkup on the back post and threaded a perfect pass to to Kirkup who redirected it into the unprotected net at 2:12 as the Bisons restored their one-goal lead! The teams would exchange power-plays later in the period, but the Bisons carried the one-goal lead into the third period and tied 14-14 in shots!

The third period saw Manitoba exert its will on the game as they carried the play for most of the period. Late in the game, Micklash went to the bench for the extra attacker, but Hannah Clayton-Carroll was forced to take a tripping call with Karissa Kirkup heading towards the open net. When the final horn sounded, the Manitoba Bisons claimed the 2-1 victory to advance to the Canada West Final! Lauren Taraschuk made 15 stops for the win while Tory Micklash stopped 21 shots in the loss.

It should be noted that Manitoba defender Alexandra Anderson was injured in this game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, and she did not return. Here's hoping the senior defender isn't hurt seriously and can return this season for her final games.

Highlights of the game are below!

While technically not standings, here is the Canada West Final series. Game times have yet to be posted through the Canada West organization, but I'd assume that we'll see 7pm MT starts on Friday and Saturday.

The Last Word

Alberta was 4-0-0 against Manitoba this season including posting a pair of shutouts at home in 1-0 and 2-0 wins way back on October 12. Alberta won 3-2 and 1-0 in overtime against Manitoba in Winnipeg, so the Bisons showed a little more flair on home ice than they did in the early part of this season. That being said, here are the other numbers that these two teams posted in comparison to one another this season.

Manitoba has not had a good time in Edmonton, going 1-6-1-0 over the last five years in trips to Clare Drake Arena. On top of that Manitoba is 3-10-2-1 against Alberta in the last five years in total, so things have been in Alberta's favour in a big way. That is, until you get to the postseason.

In 2016, Manitoba eliminated Alberta in Edmonton in a three-game series, and did the same thing last season on Wayne Fleming Arena ice after falling behind in the series 1-0. If you recall, last season also featured the 1-0 quadruple-overtime game that ended 1-0 off a Jordy Zacharias goal, so Manitoba has held the edge in the playoffs when it comes to wins.

Alberta is 15-1-0 on home ice this season including the playoffs while Manitoba is 10-4-0-0 on the road. Manitoba scored six more goals than Alberta this year, but surrendered 20 more goals than the Pandas all season long. Alberta is 4/17 on the power-play against Manitoba this season while the Bisons are 2/9 with the advantage. The catch on those numbers is that both of Manitoba's power-play goals were the only goals the Bisons scored on the Pandas this season as they were outscored 7-2 by the Pandas in the four games they played.

Depending on how the injuries shake out, Alberta's loss of Autumn MacDougall could really affect the Pandas in a major way. She was the conference's second-leading scorer and second-leading goal scorer, and she's the straw that really stirs the drink for that Poznikoff-MacDougall-Ganser line. If she's forced to miss this series, that could be a significant blow to the Alberta offence that they simply can't replace with a player in the pressbox.

On the other side, Manitoba missing Alexandra Anderson is also a big hole in their lineup, but they do have a player who looks ready to contribute in Chloe Snaith who is waiting for her opportunity. Anderson plays such a big game that Snaith can't fully replace her impact, but the Manitoba rookie is smart with the puck, has great instincts, and will one day be a pillar on the blue line for Manitoba. If Anderson is out for the Alberta series, one can't expect Snaith to do everything that Anderson does on the ice, but she can hold her own and that might be the difference in this series when it comes to these two injury situations.

According to a rumour, it sounds like CJSR 88.5 FM in Edmonton will carry the series for those fans looking for a free way to hear the Canada West Final. While I can't say this is a guarantee for those hunting for a way to catch the game without shelling out some hard-earned cash, my sources say that the independent radio station run out of the University of Alberta will be broadcasting the Canada West TV broadcast for listeners. Make sure you tune in to hear the Bisons and Pandas as they'll decide which rink will have the 2018-19 Canada West Championship banner hanging in it next season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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