For the first time ever, the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team will square off with the Mount Royal Cougars in a Canada West playoff series, this weekend at Clare Drake Arena.
Game one of the conference semifinal gets underway at 7:00 p.m. at Clare Drake Arena on Friday, while game two on Saturday and, if necessary, game three on Sunday start with puck drop at 6:00 p.m.
The winner of the semifinal series will book their ticket to the conference finals, as well as earn a spot in the CIS championship, March 18-20 in Halifax.
The Bears enter the conference playoffs as the No.2 seed with a 19-7-2 record, the three-time defending Canada West champions, and back-to-back CIS champions. It also marks the 21st consecutive year of Golden Bear playoff hockey; the last time Alberta failed to qualify for post-season action was 1994-1995.
The Cougars, meanwhile, entered their third-straight conference playoffs as the No.3 seed with an impressive 17-8-3 record. Mount Royal, however, had to get through a tough quarter-final series against the UBC Thunderbirds in order to book their ticket to Edmonton. After a thorough 3-1 win in Game 1, the Cougars continued their strong play with a dominating 7-3 win in Game 2.
The inter-provincial battle will be the second in the previous three weeks, with the Bears sweeping the Cougars in the regular season finale. Including the final two wins, the Bears won three of four from Mount Royal this season, outscoring the Cougars 14-9 during that time.
The Golden Bears enter the playoffs as arguably the hottest team in the conference. Alberta has won four straight games, and seven of their last ten to close out the season. Before their sweep of Mount Royal, the Bears pulled off a huge upset, sweeping the conference-leading Saskatchewan Huskies, who were ranked No.1 in the CIS at the time.
The semifinal matchup may be the most difficult of the year, however, as both the Bears and Cougars rank in the top half of the league in goals for, goals against, as well as power-play and penalty kill percentage.
Offensively, the Cougars are led by fifth-year forward Tyler Fiddler, whose 36 points ranked second in the conference. Forward Cam Maclise also had a stellar season for Mount Royal, putting up 29 points, while adding four assists last weekend against UBC.
Alberta, however, is also loaded up front, with four players scoring more than 30 points, led by fifth-year forward Jordan Hickmott’s 35. The Golden Bears, by virtue of three straight conference titles, have also had tremendous success in the post-season, as the fifth-year trio of Hickmott, Kruise Reddick, and Brett Ferguson has combined for 42 games, and 48 Canada West playoff points.
Not only do these teams match up well offensively, they draw similar comparisons in net. Alberta goalie Luke Siemens holds the slight advantage in goals against average (2.12) over Cougar starter Colin Cooper (2.30), while Cooper slightly edges Siemens in terms of save percentage (.913), beating the Alberta net-minder by just seven percentage points (.906).
Historically, Hickmott just needs two more points to crack the top 10 in all-time Golden Bears overall scoring, coming into the weekend with 240 points.