Thursday, 21 January 2016

Totally unpredictable

Parity at an all-time high in Canada West women’s hockey

U of R Cougars forward Stephanie Sawchuk turns to drive to the goal.
    There are no guarantees in Canada West Conference’s women’s hockey league.
    How competitive has the eight-team circuit been this year?
    Only 12 points in the standings separates last place from first place. With each team have about seven to eight games remaining on their respective regular season schedules, every club is looking at scenarios where they can finish from first to last, especially considering three points are awarded for regulation wins.
    Every team has experienced ups and downs, and the players and coaches on each squad can list times where they let points in the standings slip through their fingers. At the moment, the University of Regina Cougars have the best showing in the past 10 games posting a 7-3 mark over that stretch.
    The University of Calgary Dinos, who have the conference’s top two scorers in Iya Gavrilova and Sasha Vafina, had sat alone in the league’s cellar for most of the season. With their 3-2 regulation win over the Mount Royal University Cougars at the Crowchild Classic on Thursday night, the Dinos pulled to within five points of the Cougars for sixth place and the conference’s final playoff berth.
    U of C has also won four in a row and is starting to look like a squad worthy of hosting the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship tournament. The Dinos (7-10-4) actually now sit in a tie for seventh in the league standings with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns (8-11-1) at 23 points.
    U of C compiled its 23 points off on five regulation wins, two extra wins and four extra time losses. U of L has 23 points thanks to six regulation wins, two extra time wins and one extra time setback.
Huskies forward Elizabeth Salyn battles two Dinos for the puck on the boards.
    The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (12-6-2) and the University of Alberta Pandas (11-7-2) sit tied for first in the standings with 35 points. UBC collected its 35 points on nine regulation wins, three extra time wins and two extra time setbacks. All 11 of U of A’s victory have come in regulation time to help the Pandas grab a share of first.
    In another interesting twist, the Pandas do not have a single player sitting in the top ten of the conference’s scoring race. Rookie Alex Poznikoff tops the Pandas in scoring with eight goals and four assists, but she sits 13th overall in the conference’s scoring race.
    The U of R Cougars (12-7-1, nine regulation wins) are a point back of both UBC and U of A for top spot, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies (11-6-3, eight regulation wins) are two points out of first place and the University of Manitoba Bisons (10-8-2, 10 regulations wins) are three points back of first.
    Mount Royal (10-10-1, seven regulation wins) holds sixth place with 28 points.
    Down the stretch you can be certain there will be a lot of scoreboard watching. No team has been able to go through a lengthy consistent winning stretch.
    If a club can post a lengthy winning stretch, that team might have home ice advantage for the entire Canada West playoffs.
    In reality, it seems the deck will keep getting reshuffled after each of the last four regular season weekends plays out.

Random observations – picture worth 1,000 words

Matthew Spafford celebrates scoring for the Huskies.
    This picture of Matthew Spafford’s goal celebration for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team is piling up the views on Twitter and Facebook. Spafford was celebrating after scoring against the U of C Dinos in last Friday’s 4-3 double overtime win at the ancient Rutherford Rink. In the right corner of the picture, it looks like Spafford is about to high-five Rod Alm, who was named the Huskies fan of the year in 2013. It is safe to say most of the Huskies athletes know who Alm is. The shot show great emotion of the moment. When it comes to snapping a photo like this, it is really only 20 per cent skill and 80 per cent luck.    
·             Feisty forward Marley Ervine will hit a milestone, when her Huskies women’s hockey team hosts the Thunderbirds at 7 p.m. Friday at the Rutherford Rink. Ervine will suit up for her 129th career regular season game, which will tie her for second all-time in the history of the Huskies women’s hockey program with Chelsey Sundby. Kandace Cook tops the Huskies career regular season games played list at 131. Ervine sits third in the Canada West scoring race with a career high eight goals and 12 assists.
·             It seemed Mike Gibson wasn’t in the good books of a number of the alumni of the University of Regina Rams football team. Gibson resigned as Rams head coach on Sunday after just one season having guided the club to an 0-8 mark. Gibson joined the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos on Monday as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator. A number of Rams alumni voiced their displeasure with Gibson over social media after he resigned his U of R post.
·            On Thursday, the U of R Rams named Mark McConkey as acting head coach. McConkey was the team’s offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and academic coach. That move was a head scratcher considering McConkey’s last season as a Rams player was 2012. You would think the U of R would name Paul Dawson, who is the Rams long time defensive coordinator, as acting head coach. McConkey doesn’t have a lot of coaching experience and only joined the CIS ranks in April of last year.
·         On the WHL front, how about those Lethbridge Hurricanes? After missing the playoffs for the last six straight seasons, the Hurricanes sit first in the entire WHL with a 34-12 record and are riding an eight game winning streak. They have to be considered the top story in major junior hockey.
·             Brock Hirsche, who is the captain of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey team, revealed on Tuesday he is battling testicular cancer. Last year, Pronghorns goaltender Dylan Tait and team athletic therapist Brennan Mahon both beat that same disease. Hirsche is well known in hockey circles in Western Canada, and he will undoubtedly have a lot of people pulling for him.
·            On Thursday, the Saskatoon Blades revealed dressing room attendant Bobby Kirkness suffered a heart attack, while on vacation last week. Kirkness was later diagnosed with leukemia. Well loved by the Blades players, the news of Kirkness’s health woes have to be tough to take in the dressing room of “the Bridge City Bunch.” The Blades host the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
·             By now, most in the general public know the massive cuts Postmedia made to its operations on Tuesday. The media company owns a large concentration of Canada’s newspapers including the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. A number of good people saw their jobs and careers on a lot of fronts come to an end. On the sports front, expect anything that is not the NHL, UFC, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors to receive less coverage. All around, it is a sad situation.
·             The Saskatchewan Rush’s home opener was a hit. A crowd of 9,147 went to the SaskTel Centre last Friday to see the Rush fall 13-11 to the Vancouver Stealth. There as a lot of talk after that contest about how fun it was to watch the high-tempo National Lacrosse League. The Rush return to action on Jan. 29, when they host the Colorado Mammoth at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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