It wasn’t the start the second-ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team envisioned following the winter break, but coming off being swept for the first time this season, the Bears return to Alberta for a home-and-home series this weekend against the Calgary Dinos.
The Golden Bears host the first half of the series on Friday night at Clare Drake Arena (7:00 p.m.), before the series shifts to Calgary for the finale on Saturday night. Both games also will be streamed live on Canada West TV.
This is the second and final regular season series between the Bears and Dinos, after Alberta earned a pair of victories over Calgary in October.
Alberta, despite the pair of losses to the Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg last weekend, still own the conference’s best record (15-2-1), and sit two points clear of Saskatchewan for the top seed in Canada West. The Bears are also seven points clear of Manitoba, who sit in third, with the top two teams in the conference earning a first round playoff bye.
Down but not out
The Calgary Dinos were thought of as a team who could potentially knock off either Alberta or Saskatchewan as the conference’s top team. Calgary completed an 18-9-1 season a year ago, good for third in Canada West, and added to their roster with an impressive recruiting class over the summer. However, Calgary’s strong start was quickly eliminated by the participation of an ineligible player. Calgary forfeited each of their first six games of the conference season, falling from 4th to 7th place. However, the Dinos trail Mount Royal by just four points for the final playoff spot
, and a strong showing against Alberta will vault the Dinos back into the playoff picture.
Mid-season wakeup call
The Golden Bears completed one of their best first half’s in program history, finishing 2017 with an astounding 15-1-0 record. And while the Bears have not guaranteed anything by virtue of their strong start, continued success will be crucial down the stretch to ensure the highest seed possible. The Manitoba Bisons did their part in closing the gap last weekend, handing Alberta their first losing streak of the season. The Bisons scored eight times in their two game series (5-4 OT, 3-1), which represents the highest total of goals the Bears have allowed in a series this season.
Normally a team built around fourth and fifth year student-athletes, the Golden Bears have thrived this year on the play of their first and second year players. While the success of rookie goalie Zach Sawchenko has been well documented, equally as impressive is the play of their other rookies. The Bears have three rookies inside the top 10 in freshmen scoring, including Brandon Magee, who sits third in Canada West with 17 points in 16 games.
Despite giving up eight goals last weekend, the Golden Bears still own the conference’s top defence (35 goals against). Calgary too has been no slouch on the defensive side, sitting second behind Alberta in goals allowed (42), while leading the conference with a team save percentage of 0.921.