Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Rundown - Week 5

I'm not sure who scheduled the games this way, but half of Canada West had the weekend off while four teams looked to improve their standings within the conference. The scheduling quirk worked out that the teams bunched together in the middle of the standings all played one another, so there was a real opportunity for these teams to open up a bit of points gap on the others if they could earn six points against their opponents. Did that happen? Let's find out on a condensed episode featuring just four games of The Rundown!

The two teams who have been playing some impressive defensive hockey over the last few weeks finally met at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon as the UBC Thunderbirds met the Saskatchewan Huskies! UBC has shown all sorts of defensive savvy after getting bombed in the first week of the season, earning points in six-straight games, while Saskatchewan is playing their normal bend-don't-break defence. How much offence would we seen this weekend based on how these two came into this series? Let's find out as Tory Micklash got the start for UBC while Jessica Vance was in the nets for Saskatchewan!

The teams started this game by picking their spots as neither defence was really into giving up chances, but we'd see the offences kick into gear just before the midway mark of the period when the first penalties were handed out. While no goals were scored on the advantages, we wouldn't have to wait long for the first marker. Sydney Neustaeter hit Hannah Clayton-Carroll with a pass, and the veteran broke in on a partial breakaway where she went across the crease before flipping the puck back to the vacated side of the net only to hit the post! However, Emma Hall beat Holly Angus to the rebound, and she chipped the puck into the open side to give the T-Birds the 1-0 lead at 15:23!

The game would go into the intermission all squared up, though, as the Huskies scored on a power-play when Bailee Bourassa, firing a long shot into the crowd as time expired, had it bounce off a player in front and past Micklash! After some conferring, the officials determined that the goal would count as the teams were tied 1-1 after one period, but Saskatchewan held the edge in shots at 8-5.

The second period saw the two teams play as one would have expected, but it was Saskatchewan who hit the net with more shots. Both Micklash and Vance denied all chances, though, so there was little to report from the second period other than Saskatchewan outshot UBC 10-4.

The third period started as the second finished with neither particularly interested in giving up any additional goals, but it would be penalties that would lead to bigger numbers on the scoreboard in the latter half of the period. On the power-play, Kennesha Miswaggon would fire a puck from the right face-off circle past a partially-screened Vance to earn her first Canada West goal as UBC grabbed the 2-1 lead at 14:29. Saskatchewan, however, would respond on a power-play of their own when Bailee Bourassa's one-timer from the left circle found room past Micklash at 18:48 to tie the game at 2-2! We'd need a little overtime to settle this game!

This game wouldn't need much time in the extra frame to find a winner. Mathea Fischer and Brooklyn Haubrich battled in the right corner for the puck when Haubrich's stick was knocked away. As she went to recover it, Fischer pivoted and spotted Hannah Clayton-Carroll cutting down the middle, made a perfect pass, and Clayton-Carroll redirected it past Vance for the game-winner just 23 seconds into overtime as UBC claimed the 3-2 victory! Tory Micklash earned her fifth win of the season by stopping 22 shots while Vance suffered the loss after a 14-save night.

Highlights of this game are below!

SATURDAY: These two defensively-minded teams were back at it after needing a fourth period to determine a winner one night earlier. Would we see another extended game to find a winner? Could either team break the other's stifling defensive play? We were going to find out as UBC's Tory Micklash and Saskatchewan's Jessica Vance set up for a goaltending rematch from one night earlier.

Both teams showed a little more offensive creativity in solving the other's defensive zone play in the opening frame, but both goaltenders were equal to the task. Saskatchewan couldn't solve Micklash on a pair of power-plays in the period, so we'd move to the second period with the game tied 0-0 and Saskatchewan leading 8-7 in shots.

The second period was much like the first period where both teams looked to create breakdowns in the offensive zones, but neither side could breakthrough while playing five-on-five. However, a UBC power-play after the midpoint of the period would prove fortuitous. After Ryland MacKinnon clanged a puck off the post, the puck was cycled around to Hannah Koroll who slipped a puck past Vance at 13:37 for the 1-0 lead! The final six minutes of the period saw Saskatchewan hit a goalpost, but it provided no additional scoring as UBC took a 1-0 lead into the third period despite being outshot 12-11 through 40 minutes.

Both sides pressed for goals in the third period, and it seemed like Saskatchewan was poised for another late power-play comeback after UBC took a penalty with five minuets to play. However, a Saskatchewan penalty seconds later would wipe out the opportunity. In the end, the Thunderbirds simply wouldn't bend on this night as they skated to the 1-0 victory! Tory Micklash was stellar in posting her fourth shutout and sixth win after stopping all 18 shots fired at her while Jessica Vance fell just short in a 17-save effort.

For some reason, Saskatchewan didn't post highlights of this game, so I have nothing to add here.

With Calgary three points behind Alberta going into this weekend, the Dinos had a chance to really shock the world if they could overcome the Pandas. Alberta, meanwhile, has been chasing Lethbridge all season long, and was looking to re-establish themselves as the top team in the conference. The battle of Alberta was set to write a new chapter as the Dinos met the Pandas in Edmonton in the opener of this home-and-home series. Kelsey Roberts went to the crease for Calgary while Kirsten Chamberlin was in the nets for the Pandas.

As we normally see with Pandas games, Alberta was certainly the aggressor in the first period as they had chances early in this one to grab the lead. Roberts, however, denied chances and rebounds were cleared or smothered quickly. That early defensive awareness would prove important as the Dinos would score the game's opening goal later in the period. Elizabeth Lang's point shot was stopped by Chamberlin, but the rebound bounced back out into the slot where Sara Craven chipped the puck up and over Chamberlin at 14:47 to put the Dinos up 1-0! The last five minutes saw the Pandas go back to work, but they'd be denied a goal through the opening 20 minutes despite outshooting the Dinos 8-4.

The second period saw Alberta come out of the gates firing shots once again, but Roberts stood her ground in the early minutes. That goaltending allowed the Dinos to build on their lead as Trechelle Bunn hit Rebecca Clarke with a pass from the point, and Clarke sniped a shot inside the post before Chamberlin could close the gap as the Dinos went up 2-0 at 5:32! Just 1:35 later, Alberta would strike as Kennedy Ganser finally pushed the puck across the goal line after it caromed around the Dinos crease for a few moments, and Alberta was back within a goal at 2-1. The teams would trade chances through the remainder of the period, but that one-goal would hold through to the intermission with Alberta holding a 19-12 edge in shots.

The third period saw the Dinos start strong as they restored their two-goal lead when Sara Craven fed Delaney Frey out of the corner, and Frey zipped a low shot past Chamberlin just 1:54 into the frame to put the Dinos up 3-1! Alberta, sensing that time was now an enemy, went to work and peppered Roberts with shots. One of those shots found twine as Danielle Hardy's attempt went off the stick of Delaney Frey and under the arm of of Roberts at 8:33 to cut the deficit to one goal! The Pandas dug in as they pressed for the equalizer, but the final ten minutes belonged to Roberts and the Dinos' defence as they thwarted chance after chance until the horn sounded on a 3-2 Calgary victory! Kelsey Roberts was outstanding in earning her fifth win of the season on a 31-save night while Kirsten Chamberlin took the loss after stopping 15 shots.

Highlights of this game are below!

The series shifted south down the highway as the Pandas visited the Dinos for the second-half of this weekend series. After Calgary won on Friday night, they were looking for their first weekend series sweep of the Pandas since January 25 and 26, 2013! Could they pull off the feat and set Alberta's hopes of a conference championship back in a big way? Halle Oswald got the nod for the Pandas while Kelsey Roberts was back in the nets for the Dinos.

Calgary came out as the more aggressive team on this night as they had a couple of chances early, but the Pandas began to exert their will in gaining more chances as the period wore on. Just past the midway point, Calgary's Paige Michalenko put a shot on net from the point that deflected off a Pandas defender in front and got past Oswald to open the scoring at 12:25 as Calgary went up 1-0! Alberta would storm back 1:28 later, though, when Payton Laumbach was the recipient of a turnover in the Dinos zone, and she chipped a puck up and over Roberts' pad between the netminder and the post to square the game at 1-1! The remainder of the period saw the netminders hold their ends of the bargain as the teams went to the rooms tied 1-1 and with Alberta up 9-6 in shots!

The second period saw Alberta turn the heat up as they began peppering Roberts with shots, but the veteran Dinos netminder was having none of it. The lone power-play went to Canada West's best power-play unit as the Pandas looked to take the lead, but the Dinos penalty-killing units denied the opportunity. We would see a goal late in the period, however, as Annaliese Meier's shot was stopped by Oswald, but Brooke Dennett corralled the rebound and snapped home a quick shot with 1:45 remaining in the period to send the Dinos into the second intermission up 2-1 despite being outshot 20-11 through two periods.

Before fans had settled back into their seats, they were back on their feet as Elizabeth Lang blocked Taylor Anker's shot at the Calgary blue line, and Lang was off to the races. She broke in on Oswald, went forehand-backhand as the Pandas netminder sprawled, and roofed a backhander just 21 seconds into the period to put Calgary up 3-1! Again, Alberta sensed that time was not on their side, and they began throwing everything at the Calgary net. It would take a power-play in the latter half of the game for Alberta to close the gap to one goal when Autumn MacDougall was able to poke home a goal during a goalmouth scramble following a Cayle Dillon shot and a Kennedy Ganser rebound as the Pandas made it 3-2 with 5:48 to play! However, a Ganser double-minor for a hit to the head with four minutes to play put a serious dent into the comeback effort, and Calgary would ice the game when Rebecca Clarke fired a 120-foot shot down the ice into the yawning cage for the 4-2 Calgary Dinos victory! Kelsey Roberts was spectacular once again as she stopped 37 shots for her sixth win of the season while Halle Oswald made 16 stops in the loss.

Highlights of this game are below!

School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
British Columbia
19 17 22
17 18 17
16 20 15
vs MRU
16 15 15
Mount Royal
15 16 8
14 28 16
6 9 18
vs REG
5 12 24

The Last Word

The second-half of the conference bye kicks in this week as the four teams who played above will be off this week, leaving Mount Royal to grapple with Lethbridge while Regina visits Manitoba. To say this week was a little crazy would be an understatement as the two lower-ranked teams took 11 of 12 points off the teams above them. However, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised as there are significant trends emerging.

In ten games thus far, Saskatchewan has just 15 goals-for. They've scored three goals just once this season, and have played in eight games that have been decided by one goal. To make matters worse, they are 4-4 in those eight games. No one is ever going to question their commitment to defence, but it's becoming pretty evident that Saskatchewan needs to score more goals if they want to make a run at the Canada West championship. Averaging 1.5 goals-for-per-game isn't going to allow them to win many games unless the defence is perfect, and that's happened just twice in ten games. In other words, Saskatchewan needs to learn how to score.

On top of learning how to score, it seems that Saskatchewan has the same affliction as Alberta in that the Huskies simply don't score while playing five-on-five. Of the 15 goals they've scored, seven have been scored on the power-play. While Saskatchewan has the second-ranked power-play in the conference behind Alberta, they simply don't score when the teams have the same number of players on the ice. That's a recipe for disaster in the playoffs, so the Huskies either need to draw more penalties or learn how to score at even-strength. One option is certainly more preferable than the other despite both being good options.

Alberta, like Saskatchewan, is still struggling to score at five-on-five as I pointed out two weeks ago. They were 2-for-5 on the power-play against Calgary, but scored a total of four goals all weekend. Their shooting percentage a couple of weeks ago was sitting at 11.5% overall after six games, but it has since dropped to 8.8% after their last four games that saw them lose three of four games. They're still sitting with 50% of all their goals scored coming on the power-play, and if we remove the 14-1 results of the first weekend against UBC they have a goal-differential of -1. There's something not right with the Pandas this season, and it seems to be scoring depth.

Autumn MacDougall, Madison Willan, Kennedy Ganser, and Alex Poznikoff have 19 of the 28 goals scored by the Pandas thus far. They have just two goals from their blue line, and six players with goals who don't have one of the names above. Making matters worse, both MacDougall and Willan each have four of their five goals on the power-play while both of Danielle Hardy's have been on the power-play. If you're keeping track at home, that's ten of 14 power-play goals off the sticks of just three players. Depth scoring has not emerged this season for the Pandas after ten games, and that has to worry Howie Draper and the Pandas coaching staff.

Let's give full marks to Tory Micklash and the defence of the UBC Thunderbirds who went from a conference-worst 14 goals-against in Week 1 to surrendering just eight goals over the next eight games. Micklash has four shutouts in those eight games - including a weekend shutout of the Bisons one week ago - and UBC looks like a different team than the one who got pummeled by Alberta in Week 1. I don't say it often, but full marks to Graham Thomas, his staff, and the UBC players for turning their season around in a hurry!

Finally, they still have flaws and still need some additional depth scoring, but the Calgary Dinos sweeping the Alberta Pandas for the first time in over six seasons says something about the make-up of that squad. I'll admit that I wasn't convinced that the Dinos had in it them to be where they are right now after little changed from last season, but it's pretty clear that Danielle Goyette's squad is playing better defence, is a better possession team, and has the talent to rattle some cages and make some noise in the playoffs.

The battles this week will see Lethbridge and Mount Royal try to determine who wants to be in top spot in the conference, but these two teams could play some of the better hockey we'll see all season with how these squads are built.

At the other end of the spectrum, Regina and Manitoba meet in a series that likely could seal the fate of one of these teams if a sweep is in the cards. Both teams aren't out of the race, but two wins are nearly necessary at this point for these two teams to have a shot at a playoff spot.

I'll keep saying it: this is the hardest conference to win in U SPORTS. The evidence is above.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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