Thursday, 28 February 2019

Will fate finally fall way of Huskies men’s hockey team?

U of S faces “forever rivals” in Canada West final again

Parker Thomas (#23) jets down the wing for the Huskies.
    Will the 2018-19 campaign finally be the year of the Dog?
    Or more accurately, will the 2018-19 campaign finally be a dream season for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team where they go all the way.
    Formed in 1910, the Huskies are one of the most storied programs in the history of U Sports. Year in and year out, they are one of the powerhouse squads in Canadian university hockey.
    The Huskies, who have won 17 Canada West titles, are backed by a sizable fanbase and a very large and loyal group of alumni. For the alums, being part of the Huskies holds a special meaning they take to their souls from the fact the program has had such a positive impact on their lives.
    For coaches, staffers and supporters, they hold the Huskies dear to their hearts.
Golden Bears F Stephane Legault battles Huskie D Tanner Lishchynsky.
    Despite the special history the Huskies have, fate has only allowed U of S to win the University Cup, what is now known as the David Johnston University Cup, just once as U Sports national champions in 1983. The Huskies have appeared in the David Johnston University Cup national championship tournament 19 times and advanced to the event’s title game on seven occasions.
    Since winning the their only national title in 1983, the Huskies have make the U Sports final four times in 1987, 2005, 2014 and 2017 and come up on the short end of the scoreboard on each of those occasions.
    Part of both excitement and cruelty in university sports is one loss can do you in at a national championship tournament. With U Sports switching to a final-eight format that is played through single elimination for both the men’s and women’s national hockey championship tournaments, Canadian university hockey teams began to experience the pure form of “March Madness.”
Huskies G Taran Kozun was named Canada West’s goaltender of the year.
    Ultimately, one loss at a national championship tournament doesn’t take away from the fact a team that appeared there had a strong season. It is hard to get to nationals.
    When you look at the Huskies “forever rivals,” the University of Alberta Golden Bears, it really feels like the Huskies have be short changed by the hand of fate.
    The Huskies and Golden Bears are the first two university men’s hockey teams to be formed in Western Canada, and they first met head-to-head on February 27, 1911.
    The Golden Bears have won the David Johnston University Cup 16 times. They claimed both the Canada West and U Sports national titles last season. Over the last five seasons, the Golden Bears have won three national titles.
    Over the years, it seems the Golden Bears have always been there to crush the Huskies hopes. Last year, the two sides met in U Sports national semifinal contest that saw the Huskies take a 2-0 lead only for the Golden Bears to rally back for a 3-2 overtime victory as skilled forward and agitator Trevor Cox netted the winner.
Golden Bears F Trevor Cox scored a big playoff goal against the Huskies.
    In 2018-19, the Huskies had a dream regular season posting a 25-3 record to finish first in the Canada West Conference. The Huskies regular season win total and standings points total of 50 were team records.
    Despite the outstanding campaign by the Dogs, the Golden Bears were right at their heels finishing second in Canada West with a 24-3-1 record.
    The two sides split their four regular season encounters and will face each other in the best-of-three Canada West Championship series for a fourth straight year. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    Game 2 is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Merlis, and if necessary, Game 3 will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Merlis.
    The Huskies and Golden Bears have combined to win the last 22 straight Canada West titles.
Golden Bears F Luke Philp was the Canada West player of the year.
    You can be sure Cox will be reminding the Huskies players of past post-season heartbreaks as part of trash talking sessions on the ice.
    One wonders if the Huskies dreams of winning conference and national titles will again be dashed by the Golden Bears.
    By making it to the conference final, both teams will play in the David Johnston University Cup national championship tournament slated for March 14 to 17 in Lethbridge, Alta.
    The last time the Huskies won the Canada West title might have been their most memorable conference championship to date. On March 5, 2016 at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies swept the Golden Bears in the Canada West title series 2-0 with a 3-2 victory in Game 2.
    That year, it felt like the Huskies were ordained to win it all.
Logan McVeigh (#14) celebrates a goal in the 2016 Canada West final.
    They were playing to honour the memory of gritty forward and alumnus Cody Smuk, who passed away due to cancer in June of 2015. Smuk, who played for the Huskies from 2010 to 2014, was known for his hard work and being the ultimate glue guy in the dressing room.
    The Huskies brought Smuk’s jersey on to the ice for the post-game celebrations and his family on to the ice for the team picture with the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy and the Canada West championship banner. A number of Smuk’s teammates were still with the Huskies at that time.
    Unfortunately, a 2-1 triple overtime loss in a national semifinal contest to the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men dashed the hopes of winning a U Sports national title. The X-Men’s winning goal came on a power play from a borderline weak checking from behind penalty on Huskies winger Levi Cable.
    Those events made the Huskies 2016 foray to the David Johnston University Cup one of the most heartbreaking ever.
Kendall McFaull shows Cody Smuk's jersey to the crowd in 2016.
    This year, the Huskies will again give it their best shot to win the Canada West and U Sports national titles. Huskies head coach Dave Adolph was named the Canada West coach of the year for the fourth time in his 26 seasons with the team.
    Sophomore Huskies netminder Taran Kozun was named the Canada West goaltender of the year for a sensational season.
    The Golden Bears captured four major individual Canada West awards. Third-year forward Luke Philp was named the player of the year for a second straight campaign after leading Canada West in scoring with 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points.
Carson Stadnyk was a first team Canada West all-star.
    Third-year rearguard Jason Fram claimed defenceman of the year honours, forward Grayson Pawlenchuk was the rookie of the year and fifth-year forward Riley Kieser captured the student-athlete community service award.
    As far as Canada West all-star selections went, Kozun, forward Carson Stadnyk and defenceman Jesse Forsberg picked up first team selections from the Huskies, while forward Kohl Bauml was a second team all-star. Huskies defenceman Gordie Ballhorn made the all-rookie team.
    The conference all-stars from the Golden Bears included Philp and Fram on the first team and netminder Zach Sawchenko, Kieser and forward Cole Sanford named to the second team. Pawlenchuk was named to the all-rookie team.
    The Huskies have won 12 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs and are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
    The Golden Bears have won 15 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs and are rated first in the U Sport Top 10 rankings.
The Huskies and Golden Bears will faceoff for the Canada West final.
    These teams have one of the best pure rivalries in sports and the Canada West title series will be hotly contested.
    While both sides are deserving of going all the way, the Huskies wouldn’t mind a little help from the hand of fate for once.

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