If there is ever a good time to lose three of four games, it might just be in the middle of the season, while you are in first place in Canada West. Those are the shoes the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team finds themselves in, as they have dropped all but one game since the start of the second half.
The 16-3-1 Golden Bears host a favourable matchup this weekend, however, as they look to get back in the win column, welcoming the 3-15-2 Regina Cougars to Clare Drake Arena on Friday (7:00 p.m.) and Saturday (5:00 p.m.) night.
Despite the slow start to 2018, the Golden Bears did clinch a playoff spot with their series split last weekend against Calgary, and are on the fast track to a top-two seed in Canada West with 33 points in 20 games.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the Regina Cougars sit 10 points out of a playoff spot with eight games remaining, and will need a strong finish in order to make the post-season for the first time since 2012-13.
Regina’s path to the post-season isn’t an easy one either. Six of Regina’s final eight games are away from The Co-operators Arena, including next weekend when they travel to Manitoba to take on the third-place Bisons.
While most of the focus this season has been on the tremendous play of the Bears first- and second-year athletes, also having himself another all-star caliber season is fifth-year sniper Jamie Crooks. The Bears lone fifth-year is putting together one of his best in Evergreen and Gold, leading Canada West with 12 goals in 20 games. Crooks is on pace for 17 goals, which would also represent a new career high.
Canada West dominance
The Golden Bears home-ice dominance over Regina in conference play is getting to absurd levels as of late. The Bears have won 33 consecutive conference games over Regina, a streak dating back to January 2009. On home ice, that streak runs to 42 consecutive conference wins. The last time the Cougars earned two points at Clare Drake Arena was February of 1996.
One thing that Regina hasn’t had in previous seasons, however, is a high-end scoring talent like they have in rookie Zak Zborosky. Zborosky leads all Canada West freshmen with 22 points in 18 games, three more points than MRU’s Brad Kennedy. The Regina, Sask. product’s scoring touch isn’t just a flash in the pan, as the former Lethbridge Hurricane scored 99 goals over four seasons in the Western Hockey League, including 41 in 66 games last season.
While the Cougars’ offence this season has improved from previous seasons, averaging just over 2.55 goals per game in 2017-18, Regina’s Achilles heel has been on the opposite end of the rink. The Cougars have allowed 94 goals against this season, an average of 4.64 per game, easily the highest total in Canada West. The Cougars also rank last in the conference in shots allowed (741), and team save percentage (0.873).