The Canada West champion has been crowned, and for the ninth time in ten seasons the Alberta Golden Bears are the conference champions as they escape a three-game series with the Manitoba Bisons to become conference champs.
Game 1: Manitoba- 4 Alberta- 1
If it were possible, Steve Christie would have taken home first, second and third star honours Friday night in Game 1 at Clare Drake Arena as he put on what Bears head coach Eric Thurston described as the greatest goaltending performance he had seen in his 16 years as a coach with the Green and Gold. Christie was sensational, making 46 saves on 47 shots to lead the Bisons to a 4-1 win over the Bears, proving why he was named CW First Team All-Star goaltender earlier in the week. Christie made at least 10 saves that appeared to be sure goals, as he gave notice to the rest of the competition at nationals that he can single-handedly steal a game for his club, making the Herd a scary team to play in a one game situation.
At the other end of the ice, the Bears' Travis Yonkman struggled early in goal, surrendering two goals on four shots in the first period of play. Manitoba got a strong performance from Jared Walker who picked up a goal an assist to lead the Bisons offensively.
The win was Manitoba`s third of the season against the Bears, and put them within one game of claiming their first conference title since 1965, when they were also national champions.
Game 2: Manitoba - 1 Alberta - 2
Deadlocked at 1-1 heading into the third period in what was a tremendous game, the line of Jesse Gimblett, Sean Ringrose and Eric Hunter, which was the Bears best line all weekend long, and all season long against Manitoba for that matter, broke the tie with the man advantage with just over five minutes to go in the third period, as Ringrose put home a rebound of the pads of Christie into the back of the net for the eventual GWG.
A key play of not only the series, but also the Bears' season came in the first period of Game 2 when the Herds' Travis Mealy lined the Bears' Chad Klassen up at the Manitoba blueline with a shoulder-to-head hit that sent Klassen down to the ice, and out of the series with an undisclosed head injury. There was no penalty on the play, as initially the hit looked clean at game speed, but after seeing the hit frame-by-frame the contact of shoulder to head was evident. That loss of Klassen led to Mike MacAngus drawing into the lineup, along with some line juggling in the third game for the Bears, while Manitoba dressed the same lineup in all three contests.
Game 3: Manitoba - 1 Alberta - 4
With one team looking for their 48th conference title, and the other looking for their first in 45 years, the Bears and Bisons squared off Sunday with the CW conference title on the line.
In what was a far less entertaining game than Friday night's spectacular goaltending performance, or Saturday night's fast paced one goal victory, Game 3 lacked some of the excitement the previous two contests provided. Once again it was Gimblett, Ringrose and Hunter providing the jump for the Bears as each member of that line scored a goal, to go along with Ian Barteaux`s goal to open the scoring only 1:17 into the first period.
With a 4-1 lead heading into the third, the Bears were well in control of the game with Manitoba struggling to generate anything offensively, as they would get their second of the game with only four seconds remaining on a lackadaisical play by the Bears' Yonkman, as Tyler Dittmer threw the puck in on the Alberta netminder who inadvertently deflected the puck up over his glove. Yonkman and the Bears laughed that lapse off, as they skated away with a 4-2 win and their 48th conference title and presumably the number-one seed at the national tournament.
Both squads will head to Thunder Bay in a little over a week, as the Bisons return to the national stage for the first time since 2005, while the Bears return to the national tournament for the third consecutive season.