By Paul Cartledge
Edmonton – (ISN) Renewing hostilities this weekend will be the No.5 University of Alberta Golden Bears and the No.7 Saskatchewan Huskies, facing off in a best-of-three Canada West men’s hockey semi-final at Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton.
Game times for the series are 7:00 pm on both Friday and Saturday while game three, if necessary, will start at 6:00 pm on Sunday. All games can watched live at www.canadawest.tv
A couple years removed from the eight straight years in which the two squads went head-to-head in conference final action, both teams will be hungry to move on to that series, especially since only the winner of the Canada West championship moves on to nationals at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, March 22-25.
Historically, Alberta holds the edge, winning 13 of 20 all-time series against Saskatchewan, and seven of those eight consecutive Canada West title matches, but it’s the Huskies who hold the upper hand this year and are coming in strong from the quarter-finals.
This series will feature seven of the top 10 point producers in Canada West men’s hockey; four Golden Bears and three Huskies.
Battling the Lethbridge Pronghorns last weekend, Saskatchewan outscored the visitors 14-5, including a 10-3 victory in the deciding game where Kyle Ross (2 G, 4 A) and Kyle Bortis (2 G, 3 A) combined for 11 points.
In fact, the two forwards, alongside former Saskatoon Blade Derek Hulak combined for 15 points in the game, continuing their scoring prowess from the regular season.
Hulak, Bortis, and Ross were respectively ranked first, second, and fourth in conference play on the leaderboard, and the trio also collected 14 points against Alberta this season, helping the Huskies to a 3-0-1 record in the process.
Keep in mind that half of those regular season contests went to extra time, and all but one were decided by one goal.
The Alberta offence isn’t too shabby either, as four players picked up 27 or more points, including two freshmen by the names of Levko Koper and Jordan Hickmott who sit 1-2 in rookie scoring with 28 and 27 points, respectively.
Filling out the other half of the Bears’ top four is third-year veteran Sean Ringrose (29 points) and sophomore Johnny Lazo (27 points), both players finding their way on to the CIS All-Rookie team in seasons past.
Add to that a defensive core that’s chipped in 18 goals (compared to Saskatchewan’s 10) and Alberta might just have the overall offensive edge.
At the other side of the ice, the Golden Bears seem to tip the scales with former Prince George Cougar Réal Cyr earning a conference-best 1.59 goals against average as well as a .935 save percentage.
Yet sophomore netminder Ryan Holfeld sports a 2.11 GAA and a comparable .930 SV%, though the Leroy, SK native split the goaltending duties with David Reekie last weekend against the ‘Horns, the latter letting in two goals on 31 shots whereas Holfeld let in three on 21 shots in the 10-3 blowout.
Overall, the semi-final matchup is anybody’s to win and, with these two teams combining to claim the last 15 Canada West Championships, both teams are strong contenders to for that trophy as well as the lone CIS berth.
Alberta is 13-7 (.650) in their previous 20 series against the Huskies and the Golden Bears are 30-15 (.667) in 45 games, outscoring Saskatchewan 199-137. Alberta is 28-9 (.757) in 37 games played at Clare Drake Arena. The Golden Bears have won seven of the last eight playoff meetings with Saskatchewan, dating back to 2001-02. In the last seven playoff meetings with Saskatchewan, Alberta is 15-3 (.833), outscoring the Huskies 77-55. In 21 series on home ice, the Bears hold the 17-4 lead.