EDMONTON – Scoring three goals in the final 10 minutes, the University of Alberta Golden Bears made an improbable 4-3 comeback win over the UBC Thunderbirds to sweep a best-of-three conference semi-final series, Saturday night at Clare Drake Arena.
Team captain Kruise Reddick notched the winner with 33 seconds left, assisting on the other two goals in the third-period rally, tallied by fourth-years Jordan Rowley and Levko Koper. Former Victoria Royal Jamie Crooks rounded out the scoring for the Bears, who now advance to hosting the Canada West championship for the third-straight year.
Fourth-year forward Cole Wilson netted his playoff-leading fourth goal for the Thunderbirds, sophomores Anthony Bardaro and Luke Lockhart also scoring singles for UBC while former Spokane Chief goalie Eric Williams made 33 saves before succumbing to a late injury to force him out of the game.
Catching a lucky break on the game’s opening goal, a UBC point shot participated in a lot of pinball action in the Alberta crease, deflecting high off Wilson before caroming off the far post and in, only 2:15 into the match.
The Thunderbirds, down 1-0 in the weekend series, used the lead to fuel more early pressure, leading to Bardaro’s tally in the slot just over five-and-a-half minutes later, firing blocker side on sophomore netminder Luke Siemens and silencing the hometown crowd.
Slowly but surely though, Alberta began to shift the momentum, outshooting the opposition but not getting great scoring chances until the dying seconds of the period.
After a two-on-one in tight by Brett Ferguson got blocked by a falling defender, the Vibank, Sask. native stuck with the puck into the corner and passed it back out to the slot where Crooks slapped it home on the far side with eight seconds left in the frame.
Unsurprisingly, the Bears sprang to life to start the second, firing off seven straight shots on the UBC net, not including rookie Stephane Legault’s breakaway chance from center ice that rang off the near post.
The Thunderbirds responded with another goal, however, Rowley getting held up at the UBC blue line but with no call by the referee, much to the chagrin of the Clare Drake Arena faithful, the T-Birds broke out on a two-on-one in the other direction, Siemens stopping Lockhart’s first shot but with the former Seattle Thunderbird bearing down, the ‘keeper had no chance on the top shelf rebound that put the visitors up 3-1 at the 10:31 mark of the second.
Although Alberta continued to steadily outshoot the Point Grey squad in the middle stanza, by a final total of 18-7, Williams wasn’t letting anything through, leaving the Bears only 20 minutes to prevent the road team from extending the series to three games.
Fortunately for Alberta, they needed only 10 minutes, a little less than nine in fact, getting back into the game off a Rowley power-play marker, a howitzer from the top of the faceoff circle with 8:50 left to go.
The shot was so powerful, though, that it cut Williams’ hand, forcing the Langley, B.C. native out of the game, former Regina Pat Matt Hewitt stepping in to take over in the Thunderbird goal.
Although the sophomore was able to make a few stops in replacement, he was no match for a beauty pass by Reddick to Koper, perfectly in position with a wide-open net to shoot at, tying the game with 3:15 remaining.
The former Edmonton Oil King then returned the favour in the final minute, working behind the UBC net and shaking off his defender before centering the puck to Reddick for a one-timer over Hewitt’s blocker with 33 seconds left on the clock.
The T-Birds, pulling Hewitt in the dying seconds, almost tied the game when both Lockhart and St. Albert, Alta. native Nate Fleming had chances in tight, but Siemens’ left pad preserved the win.
Alberta went 1-1 on the power-play while UBC went 0-1.
Next weekend, the defending Canada West champion Bears aim for the three-peat and the 52nd conference title in team history against the winner of the Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal Cougars semi-final series.