Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
SASKATOON – In the blink of an eye, the Saskatchewan Huskies jumped to the front of the Canada West hockey pack Saturday night.
A pair of third period goals in the span of just 15 seconds were the difference for the Huskies, as the home side skated to a 3-2 win over the Alberta Golden Bears in Game 2 of the Canada West Men’s Hockey Final at Rutherford Rink.
After a 4-0 win in Game 1, Saturday’s result lifted Saskatchewan to their first conference banner since 2011-12 and the 16th in program history.
“Our purpose is a little bigger than theirs I think, because they’ve done this before and they’re trying to three-peat,” said Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph, whose team tied a program record for regular season wins with 22 this season.
“We’re just trying to (put down) building blocks with our young kids, so it was important (for us) to (win) tonight.”
After trailing for nearly 40 minutes after James Dobrowolski got Alberta on the board 3:31 into the game, the Huskies made the most of two third period scoring opportunities early in the frame.
Lightning-fast goals from Jesse Ross and Logan McVeigh at 3:20 and 3:35 respectively of the final period propelled the Huskies to victory.
“It feels amazing actually, because when Alberta has a 1-0 lead going into the third you know you have to take a chance and usually it goes in your net three, or four times with the skill they have. To our credit, it didn’t,” Adolph explained.
For Ross, who suffered through nine losses to the Bears in the Huskies previous 10 meetings with the defending national champions heading into the weekend – including the 2014 University Cup final in Saskatoon – getting on the right side of a Saskatchewan-Alberta box score felt sweet.
“They’re a great team and they battled us hard my four years and they’ve had our number for a large portion of that,” Ross admitted. “It just came down to the last couple of games, the two biggest games (of the season) and we came out on top.”
A Levi Cable goal at 11:57 of the third ended up being the game winner after Alberta’s Jordan Rowley scored in the dying moments, as Saskatchewan dethroned the three-time defending conference champion Bears.
For Alberta, the weekend series proved their worst offensive output of the season, as Alberta was held to three combined goals in a series for the first time in 2015-16.
While both the Huskies and Bears had already punched their tickets to the CIS University Cup in Halifax March 17-20 as the conference’s two representatives prior to the weekend, the series still had plenty on the line, as the bitter rivals met for the 18th time with the conference crown on the line.
Despite the setback, Alberta still has a chance to three-peat as national champs, as they look to regroup after suffering the program’s 12th loss in 38 trips to the conference final.
Saskatchewan on the other hand heads east looking to continue the momentum during a season that has defied all pre-season expectations, as Adolph and company look to capture the program’s first national title since 1983.
“We’ve had an awful lot of heartbreak in my 20 years here,” pointed out Adolph, whose teams have made the University Cup Final twice in his tenure and lost both times to the Bears.
“This is our 15th time going to nationals and we’ve got ‘Buck Owens’. These kids have to learn how to win and I think they have to learn how to treasure how hard it is to get there. First step done.”
HUSKIES HONOUR SMUK
There was a special moment after the Huskies win, as Marty and Darla Smuk – parents of former Huskie Cody Smuk – and Stephanie Vause – Cody’s fiancée – were brought out for the Saskatchewan championship photo.
Smuk’s memory has been front and centre on the minds of the Huskies since his passing last June of cancer.
Bringing the Smuks and Vause out for the celebration was a fitting way to pay tribute to Cody’s memory.
“The Smuks are an important part of our whole program. We lost a pretty important guy at a very early age,” Adolph said. “Darla and Marty and Stephanie – she’s a Huskie athlete too – they’ve been around this program for a long time. Everybody does their own thing with how they pay tribute and recognize their guys.”
“They’re a hard working family and Cody was everything to our fifth-year guys.”