Sunday, 5 March 2017

Crooks breaks out for U of A in Canada West title clincher

Golden Bears third period surge does in Huskies

Jamie Crooks celebrates scoring his first of three goals for U of A.
    In what had been a forgettable run on a personal level through the U Sports playoffs, Jamie Crooks finally had a banner night for the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
    During U of A’s 28-game regular season, Crooks led the Golden Bears men’s hockey team with 15 goals and he equaled rookie teammate Tyson Baillie with a team-high 26 points. Through the Golden Bears first four games in the Canada West conference playoffs, Crooks had just one assist and was searching for his first goal.
    On Sunday at the ancient Rutherford Rink in a winner take all Game 3 of the Canada West championship series with the host U of Saskatchewan Huskies, Crooks came alive to deliver the Golden Bears a conference title.
    With the teams locked in a 2-2 draw entering the third period of Sunday’s clash, Crooks converted a nifty passing set up from linemates Stephane Legault and Tyson Baillie to put the Golden Bears up 3-2. That started a surge, where the Golden Bears scored three times in two minutes and 16 seconds to build a 5-2 edge.
Tyson Baillie looks to set up a play in the offensive zone for U of A.
    Taylor Cooper got the second goal in that surge and Crooks capped the outburst with his second of the night.
    After Huskies centre Jordan Tkatch scored to cut the gap to 5-3 with 8:04 remaining in the third, Crooks sealed the win potting his hat trick goal into an empty cage with 30 seconds to play in the frame. The 6-3 victory by the Golden Bears allowed them to take the best-of-three Canada West championship series 2-1 and disappoint most of a packed crowd of 845 spectators.
    The win marked the 14th time in the last 17 years the Golden Bears captured the Canada West championship.
    A year ago, U of S swept the conference final 2-0 held at Rutherford against U of A.
    “It feels good,” said Crooks. “I was a little bit frustrated before that not having any (goals) in the playoffs yet.
    “I trusted in (Golden Bears head coach) Serge (Lajoie). He told me to shoot the puck, and I trusted that. I just put it on net, and it went in.”
Huskies forward Josh Roach (#7) drives a shot on the U of A net.
    For a lengthy time on Sunday, it seemed like the Huskies were going to repeat as conference champs. At the 4:56 mark of the first period, Golden Bears netminder Brendan Burke lost track of the puck behind his net, and Huskies rookie forward Carson Stadnyk dumped the puck into an open right side of the U of A goal to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    The Huskies appeared to go ahead 2-0 a few minutes later, but a goal by captain Kendall McFaull was ruled to have been knocked home with a high stick. After 20 minutes, the Huskies were rolling and outshooting the Golden Bears 13-6.
    Just 90 seconds into the second, the Golden Bears tied things up at 1-1, when rookie centre Luke Philp scored on a short-handed breakaway chance to the blocker side of Huskies star goalie Jordon Cooke.
Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke turns away a wraparound chance.
    The Huskies went back in front 2-1 working on a power play just before the midway point of the frame, when rookie winger Connor Gay scored off a rebound.
    The hosts appeared they would head to the second intermission with a lead, but the Golden Bears had other ideas working on a power play of their own. With 1:49 to play in the second, a U of A point shot deflected off a Huskies player to Golden Bears winger Cole Sanford in the slot. Sanford buried a shot to force a 2-2 tie.
    That set the stage for the visitors to surge ahead in the third.
    Cooke turned away 29-of-34 shots to take the loss in goal for the Huskies, who were rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings. Burke made 32 stops to earn the win in net for the Golden Bears, who are rated fourth in the U Sports top 10 rankings.
Defenceman Dylan Bredo leads a rush up ice for U of A.
    “I think we knew coming in here it would be very difficult,” said Lajoie. “We have the utmost respect for the Huskies, the program, the tradition of excellence that they have here under (head coach) Dave Adolph.
    “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew this third game was going to be difficult. I thought both team played extremely hard.
    “Our compete level was exactly where it needed to be. We were just hopeful we would get rewarded for all the hard work.”
    The Huskies topped the Canada West standings in the regular season with a 21-5-2 mark. The Golden Bears finished second with an 18-8-2 record.
    “There is not a whole lot of difference between these two teams,” said Crooks. “I guess our shots went in, and theirs didn’t.
    “It was a tight fought series, one of the best series I have been a part of, and it was really good to play in.”
    Both the Golden Bears and Huskies qualified for the University Cup national championship tournament, which will be held March 16 to 19 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Crooks said any possible encounter with the Huskies in that event would be a hard match.
The Golden Bears enjoy the spoils of their Canada West title win.
    The 25-year-old Vermilion, Alta., product said his team is focused on capturing another national title. U of A captured the University Cup for the 14th and 15th time respectively in 2014 and 2015 but got knocked out in the quarter-final round last year.
    As a sense of superstition, Golden Bears captain Brennan Yadlowski wouldn’t touch the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy, which is given to the Canada West title winner, after Sunday’s game.
    “It feels good, but we are not done yet,” said Crooks. “It is not our ultimate goal.
    “We still want to go to Fredericton and win there. We have a ways to go yet, but it does feel pretty good.”

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