Friday, 4 March 2016

Huskies nail it down in Game 1

Dogs dump Golden Bears 4-0 in Canada West final opener

Captain Kendall McFaull celebrates his goal with Logan McVeigh.
    You can bet fans likely forgot about their wait to get into the ancient Rutherford Rink on Friday night.
    Before the puck dropped for Game 1 of the Canada West men’s hockey championship series between the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the University of Alberta Golden Bears, fans were lined up over a lengthy stretch outside the Huskies home rink looking to get a ticket to see the action. When they finally found a place to view the contest, the host side did not disappoint.
    The Huskies played one of their best games of the season and blanked their “Forever Rivals” 4-0 before a crammed gathering of 1,066 spectators. U of S will try to lock up the best-of-three series in Game 2 Saturday at 7 p.m. before what should be another raucous crowd at the Ruthy.
    During the regular season, the Golden Bears, who have won the last two University Cups, claimed three of four head-to-head meetings with the Huskies. In those four outings, the Golden Bears played their best hockey of the 2015-16 campaign, and the lone U of S victory came by a 3-2 score back on Oct. 30, 2015 thanks to a 44-save performance from netminder Jordon Cooke.
    On Friday night, the Dogs, who topped the Canada West standings with a 22-6 mark, showed they can take their game up to another level.
Parker Thomas scored a key insurance goal for the Huskies.
    In the opening 20 minutes, the Huskies, who are rated third in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport top ten rankings, went toe-to-toe with the Golden Bears, who are rated fourth in the CIS top ten, trading scoring chances, hits and end-to-end rushes. The best collision came near the end of the frame, when Golden Bears forward Brett Ferguson and Huskies defenceman Zak Stebner smashed into each other. It was hard to tell who initiated the hit.
    The strong play of Cooke and Golden Bears netminder Luke Siemens ensured the two clubs entered the first intermission locked in a 0-0 draw. Fans were treated to intense playoff hockey at its best.
    The Dogs started assert control in the second. Working on a power play, they broke through on the scoreboard at the 5:57 mark, when “Captain Clutch” Kendall McFaull wired home a shot from the slot to the top corner of the U of A goal to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    U of S came at U of A in waves, and after the second period ended, the Huskies held a 24-18 edge in shots on goal.
    The Golden Bears, who finished second in Canada West with a 19-7-2 mark, didn’t go away. They mounted a big push back at the start of the third displaying the effort that allowed them to win the past two Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles.
Goalie Jordon Cooke and the Huskies defence fend of the Golden Bears.
    Cooke answered the bell for the Huskies showing why he was named the most outstanding player and goaltender of the year for Canada West on Wednesday. The Leduc product wowed fans with his glove saves.
    He set the tone early in the third robbing Ferguson at point blank range right in front of the U of S goal. It was a sign that this wasn’t going to be the visitors’ night.
    Backed by Cooke throwing up a wall in goal, the Huskies started to turn the game’s momentum back in their favour.
    With 6:30 to play in the third, Huskies forward Jaimen Yakubowski picked off a bad Golden Bears pass, slipped a nifty pass of his own to linemate Parker Thomas and watched Thomas tuck home his first of the post-season to give the Huskies a 2-0 edge.
    Just 44 seconds after that goal, Huskies forward Levi Cable was hacked down on a breakaway by Golden Bears defenceman Dylan Bredo. Cable actually slipped the puck into the net, but the officials said the goal became dislodged before the puck went in.
    That temporary disappointment was erased, when Cable was awarded a penalty shot on the play. The standout rookie and graduate of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice totally undressed Siemens on a deke and popped home a tally that put the hosts up 3-0.
The Huskies celebrate Levi Cable's penalty shot goal.
    The Golden Bears pulled Siemens in the final minutes to get something going offensively, but third-year Huskies forward John Lawrence rounded out the contest’s scoring with an empty netter.
Cooke made 28 saves to earn his first career post-season CIS shutout. Siemens turned away 30 of 33 shots sent his way.
    While Friday’s game pleased the hometown crowd, this series could still go to a deciding Game 3, which is set for 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Rutherford Rink.
    Both teams are loaded with WHL grads, who know how to bounce back and make adjustments.
    With that said, Friday’s win was by far the best game the Huskies have had against the Golden Bears this season. If the Huskies can duplicate their effort in Game 2 on Saturday, they will give themselves a good chance to celebrate their 17th conference championship and first since 2012.

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