A pair of wins against the former second place Canada West hockey team, the University of Calgary Dinos, solidified the Golden Bears’ position as the team to beat in the west in 2015.
The U of A’s men’s hockey team didn’t look like they’d missed a step coming back from the holiday break, defeating the Dinos by scores of 6-1 and 5-3 last weekend. By the end of the weekend, the Bears found themselves solidly in first place in the conference with a 17-3 record, six points ahead of the second place Mount Royal Cougars, while the Dinos fell back into third place with the pair of losses.
After a dominant six-goal game on Saturday night, the Bears faltered out of the gate on Sunday, quickly giving up two goals to the Dinos. But the U of A were able to work their way back to finish off their sweep of the weekend against the Dinos.
“I think we wavered a little bit on (Sunday) night, we came out a little bit flat,” fifth-year Golden Bears defenceman Jesse Craige said about the team’s win on Sunday. “(We) got behind the eight-ball obviously two goals, but we battled back, which is good. We showed that good teams find a way to win.”
The win meant a lot to a Bears team that had lost the first two games they played against the Dinos earlier this season. The Bears’ pair of wins last weekend split the season series against their provincial rivals.
“Our guys had something to prove too. We weren’t pleased with the weekend last time when we got swept, so we came out with an attitude,” U of A head coach Ian Herbers said “That happened when we lost to UBC at the beginning of the year. When they came here, we came out with that same attitude, and held them to 10 shots in a game where they had six powerplays. We had something to prove to ourselves, something to prove to everyone in CanWest and to everyone in CIS.”
The combined 11-4 goal differential last weekend exemplified the main strengths of the Bears this season. Their potent offensive attack can be seen in the fact that four Golden Bears are in the CanWest top 10 scorers, four are in the top 10 for defencemen, and the two top rookie scorers both play for the Bears as well. Meanwhile, Kurtis Mucha and Lucas Siemens bring depth to the team’s crease, sporting two of the best goals against averages in the conference while splitting nearly equal playing time.
This weekend, the Bears will host the Regina Cougars at the Clare Drake Arena on Friday and Saturday night. Despite defeating the Cougars twice already this season, and Regina’s dismal 6-13-1 record, Herbers expects to see a better performance from the Cougars as they fight for a playoff spot before the post-season begins at the end of February.
“I was expecting a lot more from (Regina) this year, standing-wise. They’ve had a couple injuries at the beginning of the year, they didn’t have their full lineup,” Herbers said.
“They’re well-coached, they’ve got a hard working team. Their goaltending has been a little bit cold, but I think that’s starting to heat up and play better as well … We’ve got to make sure we don’t give them that chance to get going and get into the game.”
The Bears can expect to get a solid test from the Cougars this weekend anyway, due to their position atop the CanWest conference. As the most dominant western university hockey team, every other team is looking to prove themselves with strong showings against Alberta in preparation for the post-season.
“We get everyone’s best game. People don’t really realize that, but when you’re ranked number one, people always want to knock you off,” Craige said. “It’s a big weekend for them when everyone plays us, but we rarely see a game or a weekend where we’re not pushed as hard as we can be.”