Sunday, 3 March 2019

Golden Bears still have Huskies number, three-peat as Canada West champions

The Golden Bears celebrate their Canada West title win.
    When the championship trophies are on the line, it always seems to be the University of Alberta Golden Bears time.
    In a classic series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West final, the Golden Bears men’s hockey team once again found a way to prevail over their “forever rivals” the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    On Sunday at Merlis Belsher Place, the Golden Bears downed the Huskies 1-0 to claim the Canada West title for a third straight year to the disappointment of a packed crowd of 2,614 spectators. With the win, the Golden Bears locked up the best-of-three series 2-1.
    The Huskies claimed Game 1 of the series on Friday 4-2, but the Golden Bears rebounded to take a 3-0 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.
    Sophomore Golden Bears netminder Zach Sawchenko made 20 saves to earn the shutout win in Game 2, and he turned away 29 shots to pick up a second consecutive shutout in Game 3.
Luke Philp had the only goal in Game 3 on Sunday.
    The Huskies had their share of quality chances to take Game 3, which included a last gasp opportunity off an offensive zone faceoff to the left of the U of A goal with 1.1 seconds remaining in the third period. Huskies rookie centre Donovan Neuls won the draw back to rookie defenceman Gordie Ballhorn, who rang a shot off the post of the U of A net.
    “It is a game of inches,” said Sawchenko. “It has been a crazy weekend.
    “There has just been bounces. I can’t stress enough. It has been a game of inches this weekend.
    “There was a post in Game 2, post in Game 1 and post in Game 3. It really could have gone either way. We’re just happy to be on this end of it.”
    The win allowed the Golden Bears, who are the defending U Sports national champions, to capture the Canada West title for a third straight year.
Gordie Ballhorn (#3) skates away after hitting a post with a last second shot.
    The Golden Bears and Huskies have met in the conference final for four straight years, and U of S took the first of those meetings back in 2016.
    Dating back to the 1996-97 season, the Golden Bears and Huskies have clashed 17 times in the Canada West Championship series, and U of A has won 12 of those encounters.
    Still on Sunday when the teams met for the 511th overall time, it appeared the Huskies might get some breaks to take this round. U of S started Game 3 holding a 6-1 edge in shots on goal, but the Golden Bears, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, thought they took the lead with 9:26 remaining in the opening frame.
Goalie Zach Zawchenko makes one of 29 saves in a shutout performance.
    Huskies sophomore netminder Taran Kozun was playing the puck behind his own net, and he had it stolen off his stick by Golden Bears left-winger Taylor Cooper. Cooper got the puck to right-winger Cole Sanford, who slid it into an empty right side of the U of S goal.
    The tally was disallowed as the officials ruled the net was knocked ajar.
    In the second period, the Huskies had a glorious chance to go ahead, when right-winger Parker Thomas centred a pass from the right side of the U of A goal to left-winger Alex Forsberg. Forsberg was denied at point blank range by Sawchenko.
Taran Kozun makes one of his 27 saves in goal for the Huskies.
    The Golden Bears netted the game’s lone tally with 2:16 remaining in the second period while working on the power play. Golden Bears left-winger Trevor Cox had the puck along the left side boards in the U of S zone and fed a pass to centre Steven Owre, who was sitting beside the left post of the Huskies net.
    Owre slipped a backdoor pass across the face of the U of S goal to Luke Philp. Philp, who claimed Canada West player of the year honours for a second straight season, fired the puck in an empty right side of the Huskies cage. He said he felt relieved to see the puck go in.
    “It was about time I think,” said Philp. “We had our fair share of chances.
    “We did a good job with both units getting chances, but we couldn’t seem to find the net for a while there. That felt great to get that first one. We did a good job sticking with it.”
Steven Owre had an assist on the Golden Bears lone goal.
    The Huskies didn’t go away.
    Moments after Philp’s goal, Huskies fourth-year right-winger Levi Cable had a breakaway into the U of A zone, but he fired his shot attempt over top of the goal.
    In the third period, Forsberg was sent in alone on the U of A goal, but his rolling shot attempt was turned away by Sawchenko.
    Huskies left-winger Collin Shirley had a big scoring chance too on the doorstep at the left side of the Golden Bears net, but he was stoned by Sawchenko.
    Then came the dramatics when Ballhorn wired his shot off the U of A goal.
    Philp had lost the game’s final faceoff to Neuls and admitted he had a moment of panic.
    “I was thinking, ‘What the heck just happened?,’” said Philp. “I didn’t know what happened.
    “I thought he was going to go forward with it on the faceoff. Last second, he won it back. He did a good job there, but thank God it didn’t go in.”
    Kozun turned away 27 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings. 
Golden Bears D Jason Fram battles Huskies LW Collin Shirley.
    Huskies captain Jesse Forsberg left Sunday’s game late in the third period with an injury.
    Both the Golden Bears and Huskies have earned berths to the David Johnston University Cup national championship tournament slated for March 14 to 17 in Lethbridge, Alta.
    The Canada West final was expected to be tight. The Huskies topped the conference standings in the regular season with the best record in team history at 25-3. The Golden Bears were second sitting one point back in the standings with a 24-3-1 mark.
The Golden Bears receive their Canada West gold medals.
    U of A head coach Ian Herbers said his team wanted to back to nationals as conference camps and was pleased his team captured the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy on Sunday. The Golden Bears have won the U Sports national title 16 times.
    “That was one of our steps,” said Herbers. “We wanted to make sure we came in here, and we win a Canada West (title).
    “We knew it would be a tough challenge. They are a very good team over there. They play hard, and we knew it would be a good challenge.
    “It is another step for us to help in our development and get us ready for nationals.”
The Golden Bears are all smiles during their post-game team picture.
    Sawchenko was in goal as a rookie last season for the Golden Bears Canada West title clinching win and their national championship win. He said he is looking forward to playing more hockey at the upcoming David Johnston University Cup in Lethbridge.
    “It is a good feeling,” said Sawchenko. “At the end of the day, it is not the end of the road for us.
    “Canada West is great, but we have our eyes on the big prize now, and that is a national title.”

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