Saskatchewan sweep spices up first place race - With a pair of three-goal victories at home over the weekend the #7 - and soon to be higher-ranked - Saskatchewan Huskies are now hot on the heels of the slumping Alberta Golden Bears for first place in the Canada West conference.
Friday night #9 Calgary rolled into town looking to keep the momentum they'd gained last weekend after they swept Alberta for the first time since 2008. It didn't take long for the Dinos to fall behind the eight ball though, with the Huskies' Kyle Bortis opening the scoring 2:40 into the first giving Saskatchewan a lead they would never relinquish.
Bortis was one of five U of S players with multiple points in the Huskies' 6-3 win over Calgary. The Dinos got all their offence via the powerplay with Cory Pritz, Reid Jorgenson and Jerrid Sauer all scoring on a night that saw Calgary go three-for-eight with the man advantage.
League-leading goaltender Dustin Butler didn't have his best outing of the season in net for the Dinos, surrendering five goals on 23 shots, and was pulled 4:58 into the third period after Michael Kaye made it 5-1 Saskatchewan.
In the rematch Saturday night it was all Huskies on the scoreboard, shutting the Dinos out with a 3-0 victory. Brett Ward, Andrew Bailey and Brennan Bosch found the back of the net for Saskatchewan, while rookie goaltender Ryan Holfeld secured his first U of S shutout after watching David Reekie pick up the win a night earlier.
With the sweep Saskatchewan is now a mere two points behind Alberta for top spot in the conference, while Calgary is only two points up on Lethbridge and UBC for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Huskies were expected to make things interesting in the second half of the season, and with the Bears faltering as of late it's first place and not second that Saskatchewan has their eyes on now. The Huskies have a trip to UBC next weekend where they'll need to take care of business before looking forward to a February 11-12 series in Saskatoon against Alberta where first place could very well have a new owner. As for Calgary, don't look now but with three more games against the Pronghorns to come this season - including that midweek game on February 16 - the playoffs aren't a foregone conclusion for head coach Mark Howell and company.
Pesky Cougars make life tough for Manitoba - Adam Ward and company may not have spoiled Manitoba's first place hopes over the weekend by splitting with the #8-ranked team in the nation, but the Regina Cougars certainly made the race a whole lot more interesting.
Ward made 34 saves on Friday night in what amounted to a picture-perfect execution of the game plan for Regina - keep it scoreless as long as possible, get one goal and try to weather the storm. That's exactly what the Cougars did thanks to a third period goal off the stick of Dillon Johnstone - the lone goal of the game, with Ward doing the rest to record his third career U of R shutout in a 1-0 Cougars win.
After the disappointment of Friday night it appeared the table was set for a dominating Manitoba win on Saturday - much like what happened the first weekend of the season when the Cougars won 5-2 Friday night in Winnipeg before the Bisons kicked it into gear the night after in a 7-0 win. That wouldn't happen this time around, with the two teams needing a shootout to crown a winner.
A night after Ward was brilliant in goal, rookie A.J. Whiffen looked like he was headed to his first CIS shutout until Manitoba would finally score in the Queen City. Johnstone had scored in the second to give Regina a 1-0 lead, and the Cougars had once again protected that lead to perfection until, with only 36 seconds left in the third, Dane Crowley finally beat Whiffen to even the score at 1-1. Overtime would solve nothing, and Tyler Dittmer's shootout goal was difference in a 2-1 Manitoba win. It took 119:24 for the Herd to finally score, but they did to salvage something out of an otherwise miserably unproductive weekend.
It was too close for comfort in the Queen City for the Bisons who are now in a tie for second place in the conference as opposed to tied for first had they swept the Cougars. Manitoba has Calgary next weekend on the road before taking on UBC, Saskatchewan and Alberta to wrap up the regular season. The Bisons still control where they finish in the standings with games against both teams they're chasing, but the two points they left on the table against Regina makes their room for error minimal if they hope to host a playoff series or two.
Still a six team race - With nothing less than a sweep - and in regulation - good enough to keep their playoff hopes alive and well, the Lethbridge Pronghorns came out and took care of business this weekend with two wins on home ice over the UBC Thunderbirds. With two regulation wins, the 'Horns pulled even with UBC in the standings and are now only two points back of Calgary for the fourth playoff spot.
Andrew Courtney's hat-trick Friday night was the difference for Lethbridge in a 5-2 win that saw the Pronghorns big guns of step up and lead their team to victory. The two sides combined for 66 shots on goal, with Scott Bowles outshining his UBC counterpart Jordan White in goal. Bowles made 29 stops on 31 shots while White gave up four goals on 34 shots.
Saturday night it was former Medicine Hat Tiger Taylor Gal's turn to spark the Pronghorns to victory. Gal had two goals and a pair of assists to lift his team to a 5-1 win, and in the process pull the 'Horns even with the T-Birds in the standings and push Lethbridge to a position where they now too own their playoff destiny. Bowles was once again stellar in net Saturday stopping 33 of the 34 shots directed his way.
After looking like their postseason dreams were all but gone after last weekend when Calgary swept Alberta and UBC swept Regina, Lethbridge all of a sudden is very much in the thick of things. UBC has the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams fighting for the final playoff spot having to play Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta in their final six games of the season. Lethbridge on the other hand doesn't exactly have a cake walk after their bye week, playing Saskatchewan twice and Calgary three times, but they do have a series against Regina - although, as Manitoba found out that isn't an automatic two wins. I still think Calgary will find a way to make the postseason, but Lethbridge will have their chance late in the season once again to make a return to the playoffs only a week after it looked like that wouldn't be the case.