Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Huskies will be underdogs at this year’s University Cup

Levi Cable, left, Taran Kozun and the Huskies are playing with house money.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team has nothing to lose and everything to gain at this year’s University Cup.
    The Huskies are usually viewed as one of the contenders at the U Sports national men’s hockey championship tournament when they get there. Last year, the Huskies advanced to the tournament’s championship game, where they fell 5-3 to the host University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
    This year is a little bit of a different story as the University Cup tournament returns to Fredericton, N.B., for a second consecutive time. The Dogs limp into the University Cup as a beat up team on the injury front.
    They will be without star netminder Jordon Cooke, who suffered a knee injury in a 6-4 playoff win over the University of Calgary Dinos on Feb. 22. Cooke went down after being crashed into in the Huskies goal.
    Cooke had been named the goalie-of-the-year for Canada West this season for a third straight year. He was the U Sports goaltender-of-the-year and a first team U Sports all-Canadian in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns.
Jesse Forsberg has been key in controlling the back end for the Huskies.
    The absence of the Leduc, Alta., product is a huge one without even adding in the fact he is the Huskies second all-time career leader in regular season wins (59) and saves (2,358).
    Sophomore forward Wyatt Johnson is battling a concussion. First line forwards Michael Sofillas and Josh Roach have also been battling injuries, but there is a chance they could be in the lineup for the Huskies. Roach has a higher likelihood of returning than Sofillas.
    Centre Logan McVeigh returned to the Huskies for the Canada West championships series after missing three games with a broken jaw, which is an injury he is playing with.
    Besides the injuries, the Huskies head to nationals after being swept in the best-of-three Canada West title series by the University of Alberta Golden Bears 2-0 in Edmonton.
    The Huskies had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in Game 1 of that series played on March 2, before the Golden Bears rolled to a 5-2 victory. One night later in Game 2, the Golden Bears jumped out to a 5-0 lead before coasting to a 5-1 victory.
    Both of those emotionally charged contests attracted respective crowds of 2,896 and 2,963 to the Clare Drake Arena who likely wanted to see the Huskies lose as much as see the Golden Bears win on both of those nights.
Taran Kozun (#31) carries the load in goal for the Huskies.
    However, the “Madness of March” brings opportunity. In elite-eight single elimination tournaments like the University Cup, odds increase for underdog squads like the Huskies to produce upsets. The tournament kicks off with two quarter-final games on Thursday.
    The Huskies, who are seeded sixth, play in Friday’s second quarter-final game against the third seeded McGill University Redmen, who are the champions of the Ontario University Athletics conference.
    The Redmen posted a 22-4-2 record in the regular season and a 7-2 mark in the OUA playoffs. Centre Jerome Verrier topped the Redmen in regular season scoring with 12 goals and 29 assists. Second-year forward Christophe Lalonde topped the Redmen with 13 goals in the regular season, while also posting eight assists in 25 appearances.
    Defenceman Dominic Talbot-Tassi quarterbacked the Redmen’s offence on the back end topping all of the team’s rearguards in scoring with eight goals and 17 assists in the regular season.
Josh Roach has a good chance of returning from injury at nationals.
    Netminder Louis-Philip Guindon carries the load in goal as the start for the Redmen posting an 18-4-2 record, a 2.22 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts.
    The Huskies posted a 20-7-1 record during the regular season and 2-3 mark in the Canada West playoffs.
    Roach led the Huskies in regular season scoring with 13 goals and 24 assists in 27 appearances. McVeigh was second in team scoring with seven goals and 22 assists in 27 appearances.
    Rookie Alex Forsberg had a strong season recording 11 goals and 12 assists in 24 regular season games. Older brother Jesse Forsberg was stellar on the back end leads all Huskies defencemen in scoring with five goals and 15 assists in 24 appearances.
    Alex Forsberg plays left wing on the Huskies grittiest line - which should likely be the team’s most noticeable line - with fifth-year veteran John Lawrence at centre and fourth-year veteran Parker Thomas at right wing.
    Taran Kozun will carry the load in goal for the Huskies in the absence of Cooke. In five regular season starts, Kozun posted a 4-0-1 record, a 2.00 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and one shutout. He was the WHL goaltender of the year in the 2014-15 campaign while playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    The team is guided a stellar coaching staff led by longtime veteran head coach Dave Adolph who have pretty much seen everything.
The Huskies hope to celebrate a few magical goal moments at nationals.
    While the Huskies are beat up, they have enough depth to be a problem for any team they face. They still have the potential to be in one of the two semifinal games on Saturday playing the winner of quarter-final contest between the Golden Bears and the Acadia University Axemen and in Sunday’s gold medal game.
    The Huskies are playing with house money in this trip to nationals. It provides an opportunity to write a unique chapter in their storied history.

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