Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Ruthy will be a rockin'

Huskies and Golden Bears to battle in a take no prisoners Canada West final

Huskies captain Kendall McFaull, left, checks U of A's Brett Ferguson.
    Right now, nationals mean as much as manure produced by the USask Cows.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the University of Alberta Golden Bears have berths locked up for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey championship tournament, but the University Cup will seem far away for these “Forever Rivals” over the next two to three days. The Huskies and Golden Bears are set to lock horns for the 481st, 482nd and possibly the 483rd time, when they battle in a best-of-three Canada West championship series at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
    Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Game 2 follows on 7 p.m. Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday. These teams will not coast to save themselves for the CIS final-eight tournament, which runs March 17-20 in Halifax. Their series battle for the Dr. W. G. Hardy Trophy will resemble a battle for the Stanley Cup.
    Out all the rivalries that exist in Canadian university sports, Huskies versus Golden Bears in men’s hockey is arguably the granddaddy of them all, and it is definitely the granddaddy rivalry out of all leagues in Canada West. No other Canadian university teams have met more often and consistently since their first encounter in the 1910-11 campaign, when the Golden Bears dumped the Huskies 16-0 in Saskatoon on Feb. 27, 1911.
U of A's Kruise Reddick, left, battles Huskies centre Kohl Bauml for a draw.
    This is one of those rivalries that is still real, and all one has to do is look at the four regular season encounters between these two clubs in the 2015-16 campaign to see that is true.
    The Huskies topped the Canada West standings with a 22-6 mark, and their 22 victories matched a team record set in both 1987-88 and 1999-2000. They are rated third in the CIS top ten rankings.
    The Golden Bears finished second with a 19-7-2 record, are rated fourth in the CIS top ten and have won the last two straight University Cup titles. While they returned most of their roster from a season ago, the Golden Bears had some stumbles this season losing games to opponents they don’t usually drop game to.
    When it came to encounters with the Huskies, the Golden Bears peaked up their effort like they were about to take on the Soviet Union national team from 1972 that contained Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov. U of A’s best four efforts of the campaign came in games against the U of S.
    In the first battle on Oct. 30, 2015, the Huskies rode a 44 save performance by goaltender Jordon Cooke to a 3-2 victory at the Ruthy. The Huskies captured momentum near the end of the second period and controlled the third to erase a 2-1 deficit to pull out victory.
U of A's James Dobrowolski is stoned by Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke.
    One night later at the Rutherford Rink, the Golden Bears hit another gear to pull a 4-2 victory, while outshooting the Huskies 55-22. Cooke, who won Canada West’s most outstanding player and goaltender of the year awards on Wednesday, was spectacular in that setback.
    The rivalry went up another level when the two team met at the Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton on Feb. 5 and 6. The Huskies entered those matches with first place locked away in the Canada West standings, but the Golden Bears seemed to be out to send a message.
    They claimed the Feb. 5 contest 3-0, and the game featured 96 minutes in penalties. On Feb. 6, the Golden Bears skated away with a 5-2 win, while the chippy stuff continued as the clubs combined for 42 penalty minutes.
    There was also some gloating by some members of the Edmonton-based sports media on Twitter regarding the sweep by the underdog Golden Bears against the powerhouse Huskies. It seemed weird to consider a team like the Golden Bears, who have won 15 national titles, as underdogs.
    Going into the weekend, both teams can try and find ways to justify that they are somehow an underdog. The Golden Bears have to be given a slight edge due to the fact they have won the last two University Cups and have played their best when the Huskies have been the opposition. 
Huskies forward Michael Sofillas, left, tries to zip past U of A's Dylan Bredo.
    U of A’s roster is loaded with fifth-year players who have gotten it done in both the CIS and Western Hockey League in forwards Brett Ferguson, Kruise Reddick, Jordan Hickmott, James Dobrowolski and Levko Koper, as well as defencemen Thomas Carr and Jordan Rowley.
    The Huskies are a younger team as far as average age is concerned, but they have a group that is mentally tough and can get the job done. Cooke is a goaltender that should have an NHL contract, and the only reason that item didn’t come his way is because he stands 5-foot-10.
    Their defensive group of captain Kendall McFaull, Connor Cox, Jesse Forsberg, Jordan Fransoo, Zak Stebner, David Stumborg and Tyler Borstmayer match up well with the best the CIS has to offer. The forward group including Canada West rookie of the year Kohl Bauml, Levi Cable, Andrew Johnson, Logan McVeigh, Michael Sofillas, Jesse Ross and Cameron Blair are more than capable of providing enough offence to make it happen.
    You can also expect the crowd that will stuff into the Ruthy will be looking to explode the first time fifth year all-heart forward Matthew Spafford does something special.
Huskies forward Josh Roach slips past a couple of U of A checkers.
    The most vocal component of the home crowd will likely be the members of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, who will be looking to give their classmates another intangible edge.
    The 2016 Canada West championship series will likely mirror the 2007 WHL championship series, which was a seven game classic featuring the Medicine Hat Tigers and Vancouver Giants. The Tigers and Giants raged a war even though they both had berths secured for that year’s Memorial Cup tournament. 
    That WHL title series ended when the Tigers took Game 7 in double overtime at their long time storied home rink in The Arena on a winning goal from Brennan Bosch, who went on to become a Huskies captain and hero.
    The current Huskies don’t have Bosch in their lineup, but they would love it if the 2016 Canada West championship series had a similar finish to the one Bosch’s junior team had in the 2007 WHL final.

Blades fun in the Express

    I was back in Saskatoon Express this week with a fun story regarding the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
    On Saturday when the Blades host the Kootenay Ice at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre, they will hold their Home Grown Hockey Heroes night. The Blades hope this will be the first of an annual tradition, where they celebrate home-grown hockey heroes who could either be from Saskatchewan or former members of the Blades.
    For the first Home Grown Hockey Heroes night, the Blades are bringing in Hockey Hall of Fame member Bryan Trottier, who played for the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins from 1975 to 1994. Trottier, who is from Val Marie, has a special connection with Blades account executive/hockey advisor Dustin Kohn, who played in the WHL from 2003 to 2007 with the Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings.
    Anyone who has ever met Trottier knows Saturday will be a cool night to be at the SaskTel Centre. The story about Kohn and Trottier and the night’s events can be found here.

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