LETHBRIDGE - The #1 ranked Alberta Golden Bears came up just short against the UNB Reds in the 2019 U Cup gold medal game, losing a 4-2 decision to the AUS champs to bring home the silver medal instead.
The Bears, in search of their second consecutive national title and 17th overall, got goals from Steven Owre and Brandon Magee, as well as 27 saves from sophomore goaltender Zack Sawchenko, but had to deal with the setback of losing 2019 U SPORTS Player of the Year Luke Philp to an injury midway through the first period. Despite outshooting the Reds 34-31, Alberta couldn’t find the goal they needed on special teams either, going for 1-6 on the power-play.
“That’s obviously a very good team over there. They had a great season, and they were the better team today and are very deserving of the championship,” said fourth-year Alberta head coach Ian Herbers. “When you lose the best player in the league, and early in the game, it’s obviously going to affect you. With Luke Philp in the game, maybe it’s a different score and a different outcome, but we don’t know that and can’t control that. I thought guys stepped up and did a good job. I’m very proud of how the guys didn’t give up, and kept on competing and battling right to the end. We gave ourselves a chance to win this game right until the end.”
The Reds, who have now won eight University Cup trophies, came out strong in the opening period, owning possession for long stretches of time and keeping the Bears on their heels. In one of the few instances were Alberta did gain the zone on UNB, Trevor Cox was able to draw a penalty on the forecheck behind the Reds’ goal, and Alberta was able to go to work.
After retrieving the puck following a UNB clearing, Magee flew up the right hand side, held off the defenceman and slid a perfect cross-ice pass to a wide open Owre who punched it into the net for the 1-0 lead with 15:27 left in the opening stanza.
“I thought they came out very hard to start the game,” noted Herbers. “They were very aggressive on the forecheck, and their D was pinching hard. We weathered that storm, and then got the goal on the power-play on a good rush and a good entry. That’s something we drew up last night, and our guys executed perfectly.”
UNB levelled the score just two minutes later when they scooped up a tipped breakout pass in the Bears zone, and walked in alone to beat Sawchenko.
Philp, who led Canada West scoring for the last two straight seasons, was hurt and taken off the ice three minutes after the UNB goal, when he was twisted up trying to get the inside lane on a UNB defender and fell heavily into the boards. He was not able to return to the game.
Alberta then got a four minute power-play to close out the first period when assistant captain Graham Craig took a UNB stick to the face and received a cut that needed several stitches to close. The Bears couldn’t convert, however, and the teams went to the dressing rooms tied 1-1.
After a tightly played and tense start to the second period, UNB notched a pair of goals, including the eventual game winner, to take control 3-1. Their second tally of the game would come with 5:33 left on the clock when a screened shot from the point was tipped through a maze of bodies and past Sawchenko. The UNB game winner came with 2:31 remaining in the second period, while skating on the power-play.
Despite the momentum back on the UNB side, the Bears started out strong in the final period, taking the game to the Reds, and with 13:13, they were rewarded for their effort. Canada West Rookie of the Year and U SPORTS all-rookie team member Grayson Pawlenchuk won a puck race behind the UNB goal line, and smartly fired the puck into the slot where a streaking Magee buried it to make it a one-goal game.
The Reds however, would cement the victory with 9:03 remaining, beating Sawchenko one last time for the 4-2 scoreline.
Alberta would press for the remainder of the third period, but couldn’t light the lamp in the UNB zone despite numerous chances.
“We needed another goal on the power-play today,” said Herbers. “We had chances and created opportunities, but we weren’t able to capitalize, and in games like this, in a championship moment, you need to convert on chances.”
Magee, who finished with two points on the night, was named Player of the Game, while teammates Jason Fram, Trevor Cox and Luke Philp were named to the 2019 U Cup tournament all-star team.