Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
When it comes to this weekend’s Canada West Men’s Hockey Final between the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears, one word comes to mind: history.
The two storied program’s will meet for the 18th time in the conference final, as a young Saskatchewan team looks to claim its first Canada West banner since 2011-12 against an Alberta team fueled by seven fifth-year players, who are aiming for a third consecutive conference crown.
“Our leadership is guys in their second and third years, which is kind of unheard for teams in the CIS that are looking to win a championship, or win a division title. We’ve never had a team that’s been this young and been so successful in my time here,” Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph said of his group, who tied the 1999-00 edition of the Huskies for most regular season wins (22) in program history.
While there’s no shortage of history between the two program’s in the Canada West Final, this weekend’s series marks just the third time the pair will square off at Rutherford Rink for conference supremacy.
It also marks the first time the Bears will play a conference playoff game away from the friendly confines of Clare Drake Arena since 2000.
That season just so happens to be the last time Saskatchewan and Alberta met in Saskatoon for the Canada West title, as the Huskies skated away with a thrilling three-game series win.
“That ’99-00 team, back in those days we used our small rink to our advantage…we were big and strong and very physical and I don’t see any resemblance between the two teams in that regard,” Adolph pointed out.
“We’ve been trying to play the game with speed and at a very high level, much like the Bears, except our youth sometimes gets in the way.”
“My coaching style has changed since ’99-00 just because it had to. The game’s changed. We play wide open and our kids have fun.”
Admittedly, the Huskies last meeting with the Bears during the regular season was a speed bump for the young Dogs, who dropped a pair of games to Alberta, as the Bears rebounded from a tough month of January with two key victories over their prairie rivals.
“In ’99-00 if that would’ve happened to us it probably would’ve taken me three weeks to calm our guys down and get them refocused,” Adolph said of his team’s two losses to the Bears in early February. “These guys, it was water off a duck’s back. They’re kids that are fresh out of the WHL, where you flush distraction overnight and start fresh.”
Led by a core group of youngsters, including Canada West Rookie of the Year Kohl Bauml and conference Outstanding Player and Goalie of the Year Jordon Cooke, Saskatchewan poses a significant test for the Bears, who stumbled at times this season, but enter the series riding a six-game winning streak they hope propels them to a third straight national title.
“I would hope that they relish the opportunity to compete for a conference championship away from home,” said first-year Alberta head coach Serge Lajoie of his players getting their first taste of Canada West playoff hockey on the road.
“It just fits into the story of this team this year. Nothing has come easy and it’s always been a test of character. We’ve definitely put ourselves in positions throughout the year where we’ve had to be resilient and rebound to win in different ways.”
“It’s another great experience for them to not only test their ability and character as hockey players, but their character as individuals.”
NOTES: Alberta holds an 11-6 edge in the all-time series with the Huskies in the conference final…Like the 1999-00 series between Saskatchewan and Alberta, both teams are headed to nationals…1999-00 saw Saskatchewan host the University Cup at then Saskatchewan Place…Alberta rebounded from their conference final loss in 1999-00 to claim their second consecutive national title…This weekend marks Dave Adolph’s 15th trip to the conference final (5-9 record)…Serge Lajoie is the eighth Golden Bear coach to guide his team to a conference championship series.
Canada West Men’s Hockey Final Schedule (best-of-three)
Friday, March 4
Alberta at Saskatchewan / 7:00 PM CST / CW Final Game 1
Saturday, March 5
Alberta at Saskatchewan / 7:00 PM CST / CW Final Game 2
Sunday, March 6
Alberta at Saskatchewan / 7:00 PM CST / CW Final Game 3 (if necessary)
All games can be seen live on Canadawest.tv