Alberta manages three points in Saskatoon - It was an exciting weekend at Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon between the number-three ranked Golden Bears and number-six Saskatchewan Huskies, with the two teams splitting their two game series. That result ended up extending the Bears lead atop the conference from two points heading into the weekend, to three after picking up a point in an OT loss.
Friday night, Saskatoon native Chad Klassen opened the scoring short-handed for Alberta, before Matt Delahey evened the score later in the first for the Sled Dogs at a jam-packed Rutherford. That would be all the offence either team could muster in regulation, with Andrew Bailey eventually netting the winner in overtime to lift the Huskies to the win and within one point of the Bears for first place in the conference. Both Kurtis Mucha and David Reekie were at the top of their games in goal for the Bears and Huskies respectively.
While Reekie picked up the win Friday, he didn't get the start Saturday giving way to rookie Ryan Holfeld. In goal for Alberta once again was Mucha who would be a big part of the Bears' success in the second game of the series. The Green and Gold once again opened the scoring short-handed Saturday when Zack Dailey late in the first. Sean Ringrose would then score just over a minute later to make it 2-0 Alberta. That would be more than enough offence for the Bears who went onto a 4-0 win, with Mucha stellar in goal stopping 34 Huskie shots. Saskatchewan had their chances early in the first, missing the net on several glorious scoring chances. If they would've been able to capitalize, it would've been a very different game.
The three-point split for Alberta clinched the defending conference champs a playoff berth, and are now in the drivers seat when it comes to securing first place. With two weekends to go, Alberta is three points up on the Huskies and seven points clear of both Calgary and Manitoba.
Trio of points for T-Birds - Just like Alberta, UBC came out of their weekend series with three points after a 5-2 win Friday followed by a 4-3 OT loss on Saturday night in Winnipeg against the struggling Manitoba Bisons.
Justin McCrae paced the offensive attack for the Thunderbirds on Friday night in the Manitoba capital, scoring his eighth and ninth goals of the season in a contest that saw the Herd earn a narrow 32-31 advantage on the shot clock.
That shot advantage would be much greater on Saturday night, when Jordan White saw 45 shots directed his way compared to 29 for the Thunderbirds. The UBC goalie stopped 41 of those 45 shots, but it wouldn't be enough as the T-Birds would eventually fall in overtime when Greg Beller lifted the Bisons to a 4-3 victory and a series split.
The three points were welcome for UBC, but that still wasn't enough to keep this team realistically in the playoff hunt. Nothing short of a four point weekend would've kept the T-Birds truly in the postseason picture. UBC is now tied with Lethbridge for fifth with 25 points. The 'Horns and T-Birds are three back of Manitoba and Calgary, however, both Lethbridge and Calgary have three games in hand on UBC, while Manitoba has two games in hand. The Thunderbirds aren't mathematically eliminated, but that should happen next weekend when they are idle. As for the Bisons they head to Edmonton this weekend to take on Alberta.
Lethbridge leaves valuable point on the table - Keeping with the theme of three-point weekends out west, Lethbridge accomplished just that with a 5-4 shootout loss Friday, and a 4-1 win the following night in Regina against the Cougars.
After taking a 4-3 lead late in the third period thanks to Mason Conway's first as a Pronghorn at the 19:14 mark of the final 20 minutes, Lethbridge would see that lead slip away. Andrew Courtney took a roughing penalty with only 25 seconds left in the period, and Regina would capitalize 15 seconds later when Brett Leffler scored on the powerplay to send the game to OT. The extra period would solve nothing, with Matt Strueby's shootout goal the difference in a 5-4 win for the Cougars that was a serious letdown for the 'Horns.
Saturday night would prove to be a better outing for the Southern Alberta side, as they would earn a 4-1 win that saw Regina manufacture only 16 shots on goal. Winston Day Chief opened and closed the scoring, helping to lift his team to a must needed win with his 10th and 11th of the campaign. All four of the Pronghorns goals came on special teams, with Day Chief scoring his first short-handed, and the other three Lethbridge goals coming on the powerplay which went three-for-six.
Despite leaving a valuable point on the table the Pronghorns remain one of five teams truly fighting for a playoff spot with only two weekends to play in the regular season. Lethbridge, as mentioned, is three points back of both Manitoba and Calgary, and has a crucial Wednesday night game this week against the Dinos in Lethbridge to make up for that January game that got postponed due to weather. The Pronghorns will then host Saskatchewan, and finish the regular season with two games in Calgary that could determine their playoff fate.