|Wyatt Johnson (#26) celebrates scoring for the Huskies on Friday.|
A year ago, the two-way centre was in his sophomore season with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team, and he was unable to play in the best-of-three Canada West final against the University of Alberta Golden Bears due to a concussion injury. The Golden Bears swept that year’s series 2-0 in Edmonton, Alta., and ultimately captured the U Sports national title.
Now in his third season with the Huskies, Johnson was on the ice Friday night at Merlis Belsher Place as his squad opened the Canada West Championship series taking on the Golden Bears for a fourth year in a row.
|Wyatt Johnson breaks into the offensive zone for the Huskies.|
“It is unreal,” said Johnson about playing in this year’s Canada West final. “Obviously, last year was tough watching.
“I played it in my first year, so I knew what to expect. It is awesome to be back.”
The Huskies were working on a five-on-three power play when Johnson scored. Offensive defenceman and Huskies captain Jesse Forsberg started the play by slipping a pass to the right side of the Golden Bears net to Huskies winger Collin Shirley.
|Taran Kozun makes one of his 24 saves in goal for the Huskies.|
Johnson was pumped his team took Game 1, which means the Huskies will have a chance to wrap up the series in Game 2 on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place. If the Golden Bears force a series-deciding Game 3, it will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Merlis.
Following Friday’s win, Johnson was already looking focusing on what his team has to do to close out the series.
“Every game, everybody rises in intensity,” said Johnson, who had five goals and 10 assists in 22 regular season games with the Huskies in the current campaign. “Every game as you get into playoffs, everybody starts bearing down on pucks more, and the intensity rises.
|Brandon Magee scored the Golden Bears first goal.|
While the Huskies and Golden Bears know each other well, the 509th overall meeting between the two squads on Friday started with a bit of a feeling out period.
Just 2:32 into the opening frame, Huskies fiery left-winger Jaimen Yakubowski roofed home the game’s first goal short side over the left shoulder of Golden Bears star netminder Zach Sawchenko to give the host side a 1-0 lead.
Huskies head coach Dave Adolph thought Yakubowski’s tally gave his side some early traction.
“We were pretty uptight,” said Adolph. “The whole game was played kind of uptight, and the ice wasn’t great.
“We thought in this brand new facility that things would be a little bit better, but the puck was bouncing everywhere on both teams. It was a little unnerving. I think that we scored the first goal and that might have been the difference in the night.
“I think if they would have scored we would have been a little bit more nervous. Jaimen Yakubowski scores and it kind of just calms the sails a little bit.”
|Huskies LW Jaimen Yakubowski is turned away on a scoring chance.|
The Huskies hit another gear in the second period. At the 4:06 mark of the frame, Huskies fifth-year right-winger Parker Thomas slipped home a shot from the front of the U of A goal to put his squad up 2-1.
Johnson’s power-play goal came just under three-and-a-half minutes later.
“You never really separate yourself from this team, and I think they would probably say the same thing,” said Adolph. “I think we were opportunistic.
|Parker Thomas had a goal on Friday for the Huskies.|
When it appeared the Huskies had total control of the game, the Golden Bears got themselves back into the contest, when fourth-year right-winger Jayden Hart scored on the power-play with 40.4 seconds remaining in the second period to cut the U of S edge to 3-2.
The Huskies argued both the puck was knocked in with a high stick and star netminder Taran Kozun was interfered with to no avail.
The hosts sealed the win with 4:02 remaining in the third period, when Huskies rookie defenceman Gordie Ballhorn sprung sophomore right-winger Carter Folk on a partial breakaway. Folk wired home a shot glove side to put the Huskies up 4-2.
|Huskies G Taran Kozun,left, gets tangled with Golden Bears LW Trevor Cox.|
Friday’s encounter included a number of scrums and some chippy play, which is expected when the Huskies and Golden Bears face each other.
Golden Bears top agitator Trevor Cox tried to do his thing, which included standing in front of Kozun and waving his stick in the air in the third period. The two got tangled together later on in the frame.
Cox’s linemate, Cole Sanford, also tried to stir things up too.
Adolph said his side always has to be aware that both Cox and Sanford are dynamic players, which adds to the challenge of countering the duo.
|Huskies captain Jesse Forsberg, left, fights to get to a loose puck.|
“I think that we were calm enough tonight to handle it. We have to do it again. It is a best of three.”
When the teams hit the ice for Game 2 on Saturday, the Huskies will be trying to win the Canada West title for the first time since 2016, when they swept the Golden Bears 2-0 at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
Johnson said the players on his team are aware of what they can accomplish with one more win.
“Obviously, the excitement is huge,” Johnson. “We try and stay even keel, but everyone knows what is on the line tomorrow.
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