Following back-to-back series splits to open their 2016/17Canada West season, the CIS No. 7 University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team will face the 4-0-0 Mount Royal Cougars in the first of two home-and-home series between the two provincial rivals.
The 2-2-0 Golden Bears will host Game 1 at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night at Clare Drake, before the series heads south for Game 2 Saturday afternoon in Calgary.
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After a disappointing and somewhat shocking 5-2 loss in Vancouver to UBC last Friday, the Bears responded with a statement win, crushing the ‘Birds 9-4 on Saturday to improve to an even .500 record. Alberta’s nine goal outburst won’t surprise many, as the Canada West powerhouse consistently find themselves in the top of league scoring year in and year out. What may shock Bears fans are that the men’s hockey team has given 15 goals in four games, the third most in the conference.
Alberta’s plus one goal differential (16 for, 15 against) ranks them in a tie for fourth in Canada West, a full nine goals behind Mount Royal (17 for, 7 against, +10). While it’s easy to blame the team’s relative inexperience as a major factor, the Bears have started three rookies on their blue-line and a pair of first-year Bears in between the pipes.
The Bears do boast three goalies, including the brand new net-minder duo of Kenny Cameron and Brendan Burke, as well as fourth-year Luke Siemens. Cameron and Burke have had all the starts so far, and have combined for a 0.870 save percentage and 3.50 goals against average this season, albeit through only four games.
By comparison, Colin Cooper has posted a sparkling 1.75 GAA and 0.933 SV%, posting a perfect 4-0 record this season. Cooper is also coming off a Canada West all-rookie team spot after he led MRU with 13 wins as a rookie last season.
The Calgary native will have to be especially sharp this weekend against the always dangerous Bears offence. Fourth-year forward Jamie Crooks leads Alberta with seven points in four games, including a conference-best five goals. Sophomore Jayden Hart (4 points), third-year Stephane Legault (4pts), and rookie Tyson Baillie (4 points) have also contributed for Alberta this season.
On the opposite bench, Mount Royal has been just as lethal offensively, boasting one of the deepest lineups in the conference. The Cougars ice three of the conference’s top ten leading scorers, led by fifth-year forward Matthew Brown. Brown leads MRU with four goals and six points in four games, which is second only to Crooks. Also having an impact are forwards Connor Rankin, Jamal Watson, Devin Gannon, and Cam MacLise, who have combined for nine goals and 17 points.
The Golden Bears and Cougars met six times last season, with the Bears winning five of the six meetings. Included in those matches was the best-of-three Canada West semifinal, won by Alberta in a sweep, with a cumulative 12-4 score-line.