Saskatchewan takes care of business - With a sweep this weekend in Vancouver of the UBC Thunderbirds, the number-five ranked Saskatchewan Huskies continued their hot play, extending their win streak to five and in the process continued to show why they look destined for Fredericton come March. The two regulation wins for the Huskies - 3-0 on Friday night and 4-1 Saturday - were a major blow to UBC's playoff hopes, as the T-Birds are now four points behind Manitoba for the fourth and final playoff spot, with the Bisons holding two games in hand.
Friday night's game was all Saskatchewan on the scoreboard, with the Huskies getting goals from Brett Ward, Andrew Bailey and Steven DaSilva, while David Reekie picked up his second shutout of the season stopping 32 shots. In the rematch the following night, Ryan Holfeld got the start in between the pipes for head coach Dave Adolph's team, stopping 41 of 42 shots in a winning effort. A pair of goals from Kyle Ross sparked the Huskies to the win.
The Sled Dogs are now 8-2-0 in their last 10 contests, and are amongst the hottest teams in the country with their five-game win streak tied for the longest active streak with Carleton. With 30 points, Saskatchewan remains only two points back of Alberta for top spot in the conference, and will host the Bears next weekend in what should be a fantastic top 10 series with first place in Canada West on the line. The Huskies haven't only cut Alberta's lead in the standings down to two points, but they've also distanced themselves in their play from the likes of Manitoba, and Calgary in the second half. The Dinos are only two points back of the Huskies in the standings, but haven't been as consistent as Saskatchewan since the midway point - then again no team has out west.
For UBC their playoff hopes remain alive, but they're on life support. As mentioned Manitoba has two games in hand on the T-Birds, but UBC and Manitoba will face off this coming weekend in Winnipeg where things will really get sorted out between the two teams. The Thunderbirds will realistically need a sweep in regulation to have a legitimate shot to make the postseason.
Bears bounce back at home - Looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since February of 1995, the Alberta Golden Bears managed to snap their three-game streak of futility with a sweep of Regina. The two losses spelled the mathematical end of the Cougars' playoff hopes which had been realistically been dead for weeks.
With a comfortable 4-1 lead heading into the third period Friday night at Clare Drake Arena, the Bears appeared well on their way to a victory. That was before Regina cut the lead down to one thanks to Dillon Johnstone's second of the night and Chris Zubko's first of the season. Alberta would then be forced to weather a six-on-four disadvantage in the dying minutes after captain Eric Hunter took a slashing call with 2:16 to go. The Bears, however, would survive and get an empty netter from Sean Ringrose who was set up by Hunter to cap a 5-3 win.
If Friday night was a little too close for comfort, Saturday night certainly wasn't for the Bears who thoroughly outplayed Regina from start to finish pelting Regina rookie netminder A.J. Whiffen with 51 shots, beating him four times in a 4-1 win that saw the Cougars muster a measly 13 shots on Real Cyr. The Cougars went nearly 15 minutes without a shot at one point between the midway point of the first, into the second period. If it weren't for a strong performance in goal by Whiffen, it could've been ugly on the scoreboard.
The wins get the Bears moving in the right direction heading into Saskatoon this coming weekend, in what will be the biggest regular season meeting between these two teams in quite some time. Alberta could very well be considered the underdogs heading into the series against the Huskies with Saskatchewan playing very good hockey, and having the advantage of playing at Rutherford Rink where they'll host a Bears team with an abundance of rookies who will have to get used to the tight confines in short order.
Calgary scores playoff security with sweep - Thanks to a pair of wins at home over the number-nine Manitoba Bisons, the Calgary Dinos now look well on their way to the postseason with 28 points while the Herd all of a sudden find themselves in fourth in the conference. After heading into last weekend against Regina, the Bisons could've emerged in a tie for first place with Alberta, and now a short time later are in fourth place and only four points up on Lethbridge and UBC in the race for the final playoff spot.
Sparked by conference leading goal scorer Reid Jorgenson's 15th and 16th goals of the season, the Dinos earned a 6-2 win on Friday night at Father David Bauer Arena. Manitoba continued their undisciplined play at times this season, giving Calgary 11 powerplay opportunities, of which the Dinos capitalized on three. (The Bisons are the second most penalized team in the conference with 456 minutes.)
Again Saturday night the Herd would give the Dinos more than their fair share of man advantages, supplying seven powerplay chances, although Calgary couldn't capitalize on any. That wouldn't stop the Dinos though from a special teams goal with Torrie Wheat's short handed goal in the first the start of a night that would see Calgary earn a 3-2 win.
The sweep was a big bounce back for the Dinos who were swept last weekend in Saskatoon, and gives them some much needed breathing room over fifth place Lethbridge who was idle this weekend. As for Manitoba, they suddenly don't have the comfort of a spot inside the top three in the standings, and haven't played good hockey over the last few weekends after barely escaping Regina a week ago with a win. The race for playoff positioning out west continues to be a roller coaster ride that shows no signs of slowing down until the final regular season weekend is over.