The U of A Pandas hockey team continued their string of inconsistent play this past weekend, splitting their two games against their provincial rivals, the Calgary Dinos.
The weekend got off to a tough start for the green and gold, as they lost a double-overtime heartbreaker, 1-0. Despite carrying the pace of play for the majority of the game, and outshooting the Dinos 27-15 in regulation, the Pandas couldn’t solve Hayley Dowling, who was on her game all night.
Despite the loss, head coach Howie Draper didn’t fault his team’s execution or effort level.
“The girls were flying, I though their execution was good for the most part,” he said. “It just would’ve been nice to have been able to finish off some of those opportunities.”
Dowling finished with a shutout, turning aside all 35 shots she faced, while Sasha Vafina scored the overtime winner for the Dinos.
Saturday’s game was a different story for the Pandas, as they pulled out a 3-1 victory courtesy of two goals late in the third period. The Pandas broke out of their goal-scoring slump just over 12 minutes into the first period on Saturday, as Janelle Froehler converted on a breakaway to give the green and gold a 1-0 lead. Even though the Pandas only had two shots in the period, they still left the first period with a lead.
The Dinos were able to pull even early in the second, as Canada West leading scorer Ilya Gavrilova buried her 16th goal of the season to tie the game at one apiece. The game remained tied until late in the third, until the Pandas finally broke through with two late goals courtesy of Alex Poznikoff and Lindsey Cunningham.
Draper credited an adjustment made to the Pandas level of physical play between the second and third periods as one of the keys to the victory. He said the Pandas came out with more of a physical mindset for the third period.
“Our level of physical play and compete wasn’t where it needed to be, and we addressed that between the second and third, and I thought it was better in the third,” he said.
With the split, the Pandas are now 5-5 in their last 10 games, and struggling to find the consistency they had before the Christmas break.
Draper noted that now is the time for the Pandas to raise the level of their game.
“We have to recognize that now is the time to be pulling the best out of ourselves and each other,” he said. “I feel that other teams have started to lift their level, and we haven’t answered that bell yet.”
The Pandas now sit in logjam at the top of Canada West, tied for second with the Regina Cougars with 42 points, with both teams only sitting a single point behind the UBC Thunderbirds for first in the conference. They now look forward to a matchup with the fourth place Saskatchewan Huskies, and Draper noted that he was looking for some improvements in his team’s game.
“We’ve got to go in there like it’s a total shutdown, we limit their opportunity to make passes, and we limit their ability to take shots,” he said.
“This week is going to be about helping our players realize that they have to compete harder.”
“We’re fighting for first place right now, and they have to bring that intensity, and they have to bring it in spades.”
The Pandas will hit the road this upcoming weekend to take on the Huskies on Feb. 5 and 6.