EDMONTON – After finishing the regular season four weeks ago, the University of Alberta Golden Bears started their Canada West title defence on the right foot, finding their way against the UBC Thunderbirds to claim game one of their best-of-three conference semi-final series by a 3-1 score, Friday night at Clare Drake Arena.
Team-leading goal-scorer Jordan Hickmott potted a pair for the Evergreen and Gold while conference freshman scoring leader Stephane Legault netted the game-winner, senior goaltender Kurtis Mucha making 21 saves in the win.
Rookie sensation Eric Williams kept up his recent stellar play with a 33-save performance in the UBC net, former Calgary Dino David Robinson notching the lone goal for the T-Birds.
The visitors, who haven’t beat Alberta in a playoff game since 1978 but beat them earlier this year in the regular season, burst on the ice with some quick pressure, firing three shots on goal in the earlygoing but Alberta found its legs, following up with the next 10 shots and outshooting the opposition 12-6 in the opening frame, but not finding their mark on the scoreboard.
The Bears cracked the goose egg early in the second, however, Canada West leading scorer T.J. Foster finding Hickmott in the slot, the former Edmonton Oil King picking the low far corner on Williams, 1:58 into the middle frame for the 1-0 lead.
UBC replied on a gift from the Alberta defence just under six minutes later, a bad turnover at the Bears’ blue line leading to a two-on-one for the T-Birds.
Robinson headed in on goal, deftly using his decoy, and fired a wristshot at the top of the circle to knot things up at one.
A little under three minutes later, the Point Grey squad had a chance to pull ahead, Sherwood Park, Alta. native Jessi Hilton getting his wrister to ricochet off of Mucha and bounce around in the crease before the Bears’ defence cleared the puck from danger.
Alberta amped up the puck pressure after that, outshooting UBC 7-1 for the rest of the period to regain momentum heading into the third.
Four minutes in and six more shots later, former Red Deer Rebel Brett Ferguson wrapped the puck around in front and Legault slammed home the puck at the far side of the net to the cheers of a 2,100-plus crowd in Edmonton.
Although Alberta gave the road team chances to equalize with two power-plays in the final period, the Bears shored up their defence to allow only two shots over the four minutes and kept UBC to the perimeter for the rest of the final frame, Hickmott notching the empty-net insurance marker with 1:20 left on the clock.
The T-Birds pulled their goalie again in the last minute but team captain Kruise Reddick led the way on defence, blocking shots and pushing the puck to safety from his knees.
Alberta and UBC both finished at 0-2 on the power-play.
Game two of the best-of-three semi-final series goes Saturday at 7 p.m. MT.