EDMONTON – Sophomore forward Easton Ongaro and third-year forward Ajeej Sarkaria combine for seven points in a Prairie division-clinching victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies, taking a 4-0 decision, Sunday afternoon at Foote Field.
Ongaro led the terrific twosome with a natural hat trick and four points while Sarkaria notched a goal and two assists, the two players now leading Canada West in scoring with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Senior netminder Connor James made three saves for his fourth-straight shutout, setting a new Canada West record by earning his 29th career conference clean sheet, passing the total of 28 by Victoria’s Dominic Butcher (1996-2000).
Veteran netminder Greg Buckley made two saves in the loss for the Huskies while rookie midfielder Mason Ogoke led the offence with three shots.
With the top four teams from the Prairie division making the playoffs, and entry into the post-season decided by winning percentage, today’s Alberta victory makes it impossible for Mount Royal, MacEwan, or Lethbridge to catch up to the Golden Bears; Alberta is now also able to host the Canada West Final Four, should they make it through the quarter-finals.
“We’ve got a young group of players who have stepped up this year,” praises Golden Bears associate coach Martin Fenger-Andersen, “and they’ve performed consistently at a high level throughout the year, which has resulted in us taking maximum points in most of our games.”
The two teams played a tentative first half, most of the shots either coming from a fair distance or getting blocked by defenders, making the explosive breakout to start the second half that much more surprising.
Just over three minutes into the second frame, second-year midfielder Matthew Miki found Ongaro to the outside, the Arts student putting it into the middle where Sarkaria spun around a Huskie defender to put himself in alone before sifting the ball to the far corner and recording his seventh tally of the season.
Less than four minutes later, Ongaro shimmies through another Saskatchewan rearguard before knocking the ball deep into the far corner of the Huskie net.
Yet the Bears offence was relentless, Sarkaria finding Ongaro alone to the left of the net in the 55th minute, deking out the goalie directly this time for his second of the game.
The 6’6” athlete completed the natural hat trick in the 60th minute when he took another feed from Sarkaria and virtually recreated his footwork from his first goal of the game to net his 10th goal of the season, tying him for the conference lead with Fraser Valley’s Gurmaan Jhaj.
With the game firmly in hand, the Bears played a defensive possession game, still allowing a couple of chances to Saskatchewan to stop the shutout with corners, but Alberta clogged up the 18-yard box to limit the threats and make the month of October relatively easier by claiming the Prairie division before September even ended.
“We’ve got to continue to push them,” counters Fenger-Andersen, “to play at an even higher level. We’re happy with what they’ve done so far but there’s a lot of growth left…we know the competition will get stiffer as the playoffs come so we better be prepared.”
Due to their schedule, the now 9-0-2 Golden Bears take a “bye” during the Thanksgiving weekend before returning to the pitch on the road against the Mount Royal Cougars. The 3-6-1 Huskies will also have a weekend off before heading to Lethbridge for a two-game series against the Pronghorns.