Despite coming off their first loss of the season last weekend in Saskatoon, the No. 1 ranked Alberta Golden Bears
hockey team returns to Clare Drake Arena this weekend as the top team in Canada West. The 11-1-0 Bears will host the 5-6-1 UBC Thunderbirds
, Friday and Saturday night in Edmonton.
After a thrilling and convincing 6-1 win over the No. 3 ranked Huskies on Friday night, the Huskies responded with a 4-0 win on Saturday, the Bears first conference loss of the season. Alberta, who haven’t been lower than third in the U SPORTS Top Ten rankings, and currently ranks first, still sit atop the Canada West standings with 22 points in 12 games, three points clear of the now 9-2-1 Huskies.
UBC, meanwhile, have lost four straight, and enter the weekend series with a 5-6-1 conference record. Nearing the halfway point in the season, the ‘Birds remain in the sixth and final playoff spot, four points ahead of the 3-8-1 Lethbridge Pronghorns. Despite the four losses, UBC still has four wins in their previous ten conference games, three of which have come on the road.
While this weekend’s set may favour the Bears, at least on paper, UBC has had Alberta’s number for the past two seasons. The two clubs split their four meetings last season, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Thunderbirds have won at least once against the Bears in every season since 2014.
Top-ranked Golden Bears
Not only are the Golden Bears the class of the conference, they have been defeating teams in convincing fashion so far in 2017-18. Alberta ranks first in goals (58), goals against (23), and penalty kill percentage (88.2%) through 12 games. In their 11 wins, the Bears average margin of victory has been 3.5 goals, nearly a full goal per game higher than second-ranked Saskatchewan.
No wrong option
As has been the case for the Bears in the past, they have two all-star caliber goalies, each deserving of playing time in the crease. Both rookie Zach Sawchenko
and sophomore Brendan Burke
have been stellar this season, ranking in the top five in both save percentage and goals against average. Sawchenko also sports a 7-1-0 record in his first season in Canada West, while Burke is undefeated at 4-0-0.
Vetterl leading the group
While the Bears have four players inside the top ten in conference scoring, and UBC just one, Thunderbird Austin Vetterl is putting together another fantastic season. The third-year forward, who hasn’t finished with fewer than eight goals and 21 points in his Canada West career, leads UBC with seven goals and 12 points in 12 conference games. Vetterl is on pace for 16 goals and 28 points, both of which would represent career-highs.
Special teams disparity
The British Columbia special teams’ results have been a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. UBC owns the conference’s No. 1 powerplay, which has been clicking at a stellar 24% (12/50). Their penalty kill, however, is the worst in Canada West, coming in at 70.1%, having given up a league-high 20 powerplay goals.