Hockey: CW recap - All-Alberta final awaits after Bears, Dinos move on

After what was a remarkably unpredictable regular season, the Canada West playoffs got off the ground this past weekend with the top two teams from the regular season - Alberta and Calgary - advancing to the conference final in a rare show of the 'favourites' getting it done.

In Calgary the Dinos hosted the Saskatchewan Huskies, or should I say Kyle Ross and a few of his friends. Friday night Ross scored both Saskatchewan goals in a losing cause, as the Huskies fell 4-2 thanks to Calgary scoring three unanswered goals in the span of 1:30 nearly midway through the third to get the win. Jevon Desautels scored at 8:30 of the third to even the score at 2-2, before Aaron Richards scored the eventual game winner 19 seconds later. Jerrid Sauer would finish the flurry of goals at the 10 minute mark.

Saturday night Ross got things started quickly for Saskatchewan scoring 1:16 into the first, and got some help the rest of the way with Curtis Kulchar chipping in with a goal in the second, before Brennan Bosch capped off the Huskies offence with an empty-netter in the third. The three goals were enough to secure a 3-2 win and force Game 3.

In the third and deciding game, just like Friday night, the only offence Saskatchewan got was from their captain Ross and that would prove to be not enough in a 4-1 loss to the Dinos. Calgary used two powerplay goals to earn the victory and advance to their first Canada West Final since 1996 when they downed Alberta for the conference crown. With the win over Saskatchewan the Dinos also advance to the University Cup - the program's first appearance at the national tournament since 2000 when the event was hosted by Saskatchewan.

Meeting the Dinos for the conference title will be Alberta who makes their 15th consecutive appearance in the Canada West Final. The Golden Bears are 10-4 in the previous 14 Canada West Finals with their last series loss coming back in 2007 to Saskatchewan.

The Bears punched their ticket to the conference final and in turn the University Cup with a two game sweep of Manitoba thanks to a mundane 4-0 win Friday night and a 2-1 victory the following night.

In the opener Alberta got goals from Greg Gardner, Jesse Craige, Derek Ryan, and J.P. Szaszkiewicz while rookie netminder Kurtis Mucha made 23 stops for the shutout in his first playoff start as a member of the Green and Gold. Manitoba didn't put up much of a fight Friday night in what was a rather low tempo affair that looked more like an early October game than early March.

Saturday night proved to be a much better contest with some big hits and big saves at both ends. Colin Joe's winner 6:28 into the third wasn't pretty, as the defenceman's slap shot caromed off Manitoba's Jordan Cyr, rolling past veteran goalie Steve Christie to seal the series in strange fashion.

The Canada West Final gets underway this weekend in Edmonton where the Bears and Dinos will meet in the best-of-three series. While the matchup boils down to a tuneup for the University Cup still expect a lot of jump from both sides in what is becoming the premier rivalry in the conference thanks to the work - and U of A connection - of Dinos head coach Mark Howell. More on this series later in the week.
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