Thursday, 29 October 2015

Huskies versus Golden Bears – A classic rivalry

Huskies forward Michael Sofillas battles two Golden Bears for the puck.
    You might not even know the whole background story, but games between the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and University of Alberta Golden Bears in men’s hockey can still get the blood running.
    Their first clash came back on February 27, 1911 and longevity alone is enough to make this rivalry interesting. No one really knows how many times these two teams have met at the ancient Rutherford Rink, which has been the Huskies home for the last 85 years.
    Going into this weekend, they have faced off 476 times including the non-conference, regular season and post-season encounters. The Golden Bears hold a 312-140-24 edge in those meetings.
    These “forever rivals” go at it again at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night at the Ruthy. The Huskies are off to a 6-0 start, while the Golden Bears, who have won the last two Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles, are 4-1-1.
    Throughout the years, both these teams have usually hovered together around the top of the Canada West standings. That fact is one of the things that instantly draws people to their clashes.
Every year, it seems a new generation of fans heads out to the see the battles between the Huskies and Golden Bears expecting to see an epic encounter. They would expect the generation of fans that saw the two clubs play in previous years and decades saw the same thing.
    One of the more unfortunate truths in Canada is that Canadians are bad at tracking the history of sports in their country, with the NHL being the lone exception. For that reason, it is hard to remember the battles of the past. On the university campus, the continuity of the story gets lost as each generation changes.
    The two clubs had a couple of memorable encounters in the University Cup championship game over the past 11 years, and the Golden Bears claimed victory on both occasions. Those triumphs included a 4-3 overtime decision in 2005 at now Rexall Place in Edmonton, and a 3-1 win in 2014 at now the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
Huskies rearguard Zak Stebner battles a Golden Bear in front of the net.
    If you are lucky, you might hear an urban legend story of a past encounter. One of the more humourous ones involved Dave King and Clare Drake. King is recognized as the greatest head coach in the history of the Huskies program, and Drake holds the distinction of being the best head coach the Golden Bears have seen.
    Apparently after a period one night at the Ruthy, King wasn’t pleased with the decisions his players were making offensively, when it came to shooting puck. He walked out on to the ice and spray painted a circle in the slot of the offensive zone to show where he wanted his players to shoot from.
    Drake immediately protested saying King couldn’t do that and asked that the Zamboni be brought on the ice to scrape off the spray painted circle.
    Current Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, who was the captain of King’s 1982-83 national championship Huskies team, confirmed that the spray paint story was true. All Desjardins could do was smile and chuckle when that story was brought up.
    The most heartwarming moment of the rivalry came back on Jan. 30 involving the late Cody Smuk, who was the Huskie heart and soul glue guy forward. Smuk was battling cancer, and that contest was a fundraising game for him as well as the night the 85th birthday of the Rutherford Rink was celebrated.
    Smuk dropped the puck for a ceremonial faceoff after undergoing five straight days of chemotherapy treatment. Both teams lined up to shake hands with him.
    The fact the Golden Bears skated away with a 4-2 win was mostly forgotten.
Cody Smuk shakes hands with the Golden Bears on Jan. 30.
    Everyone remembers that Smuk was incredibly upbeat that night, and he was energized to be at the rink. No one suspected that would be the last Huskies hockey home game he would see as he passed away just under five months later in late June. Smuk’s number 24 was retired by the Huskies last Saturday in a 6-2 home ice win over the U of Regina Cougars and a huge banner of his adorns the wall of one of the rink’s buildings.
    When the Huskies, who are ranked second in the CIS top ten rankings, and Golden Bears, who are rated third in the CIS top ten, clash on Friday and Saturday, it will be interesting to see if the new recruits the Huskies have added who have increased their pace of play can knock off an older and established Golden Bears side. The Golden Bears will be hoping to show they are still the top university team in the country.
    For great early season hockey, the Ruthy will be the place to be this weekend.

Huskies vault to ninth

Julia Flinton, left, has played at an all-world level for the Huskies.
    The Huskies women’s hockey team vaulted to ninth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport top ten ranks this week with their 6-1-1 start.
    They head to Edmonton for road clashes against the University of Alberta Pandas on Friday and Saturday night. The Pandas (4-4) are 10th in the CIS top ten ratings. Last week, the Pandas were ranked ninth and the Huskies were rated 10th.
    Marley Ervine and Julia Flinton, who are both fifth year veterans, lead the Huskies in scoring with eight points. Ervine has three goals and five assists, while Flinton, who is one of the best offensive defender in the country, has a goal and seven assists.
    Alex Poznikoff and Janelle Froehler both lead the Pandas with six points. Poznikoff has five goals and one assist, while Froehler has three goals and three assists.
    Both clubs have won their last three straight.
    The Huskies are in the middle of a stretch, where they play five straight road games. Their next home date is Nov. 20, when they host the University of Manitoba Bisons at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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