It’s been a long time coming, but for the first time since 2010, the Pandas hockey team is Canada West Champions.
The Pandas plowed their way through the playoffs, taking down the Calgary Dinos in the semifinals before sweeping the Manitoba Bisons in the finals at Clare Drake Arena last weekend. With the win, the Pandas cemented their position in the CIS Championships, beginning on Thursday in Calgary.
Pandas head coach Howie Draper said it was a fantastic feeling for his team to finally push themselves over the hurdle and earn a conference championship.
“It was electric,” he said. “The players were really excited, as were the coaches. It’s been a long time coming winning Canada West again, so it’s great to have finally done it.”
The Pandas came into the series with the luxury of home ice advantage facing a Bisons squad who had been taxed from playing three games on the road the previous weekend. While the Pandas had only played two games since the regular season ended on Feb. 14, the Bisons took three games to beat the Regina Cougars in the quarterfinals and three more to beat the UBC Thunderbirds in the semifinals.
Draper said the extra rest was critical to the Pandas’ success in the series as players got the opportunity to nurse nagging injuries from earlier in the season.
“We’ve had players who have been nursing injuries for the larger part of the year, so to have that weekend off was important for us,” he said. “Not having to travel helps from an energy standpoint, if you look at Manitoba, they probably weren’t at their best because they didn’t have the same level of energy that we had.”
In the first game of the series on Friday, the Pandas were led by a strong goal tending performance from Lindsey Post, who stopped all 21 shots she faced on the way to a 4-0 victory. The championship clinching game on Saturday was more highly contested. The Bisons grabbed a lead early in the third period, but the Pandas tied the game with 11 minutes to go, then took the lead on a power play late in the period, eventually coming away with a 3-1 win.
Draper said that while the win was the result of a strong team effort, Post’s performance in net has been critical to the team’s success throughout the playoffs.
“I don’t think it’s been one player that’s carried us, but I really like where Lindsey Post is,” he said. “She’s been critical to our success over the course of the season and she’ll continue to be critical for any success that we have through nationals.
“In the end, we’re getting great defence from our defence core, and we’re getting offence straight through our four lines, and that’s been important to our success all year.”
The Pandas will travel to Calgary this week for CIS championships which will consist of a single-elimination, bracket style tournament of eight teams from across the country. The Pandas will play their first game on Friday against the Montreal Carabins, who finished as the silver medalists behind the McGill Martlets in the RSEQ conference.