Matt Gutsch - Golden Bears and Pandas media team
EDMONTON – After going 22 games without a goal this season, Golden Bears assistant captain Rhett Rachinski picked up three in two games, including a pair during a crucial 5-3 win over the No.7 ranked Mount Royal Cougars on Saturday night at Clare Drake Arena.
The former Edmonton Oil King notched seven goals and 13 points last season for the Evergreen and Gold, and had 14 points the season before, but hadn't lit the lamp in Canada West play this season until this weekend. The fifth-year winger, and native of Edmonton, got off the 'schneid on Friday night in Calgary when he slid one home into an empty net during Alberta's 5-2 win over the Cougars. On Saturday night, back in Edmonton, he picked up goals No. two and three, with the first coming off the rush when he ripped down the left wing, untouched, and then cut towards Colin Cooper in the MRU goal, lifting a backhand into the top right corner for the 2-2 goal. His third of the season was a power-play tally, and empty netter which cemented the win. Remarkably, Rachinski now has three goals on the season, with two going into empty nets on the same weekend against the same opponent.
Alberta, ranked No.8 coming into the weekend, also got goals from team leader Jamie Crooks (15) and freshmen Luke Philp, his 10th, and Jason Fram who potted his second of the season, and fourth point in eight games since joining the Bears after the Christmas break.
Rookie goaltender Brendan Burke made 31 saves to earn his second straight win and seventh on the season. In 12 Canada West games to date, Burke owns a 7-3 record with two shutouts, a Canada West best 1.73 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
Cooper more than did his part in the Cougars goal as well, stopping 31 of 35 Alberta shots, and making a number of five alarm saves. He robbed the Bears numerous times in the second period and made a big save on Stephane Legault in the third.
Mount Royal came into the weekend two points up on the Bears for second place in the Canada West standings, and holding onto a first round playoff 'bye' and home ice advantage in the second round of the post-season. After dropping a 5-2 decision on home ice last night, the Cougars opened the scoring in the first period at Clare Drake Arena when Maddison Smiley beat Burke at 12:02 for his first of the season.
Crooks then redirected a feed from Fram at 17:58 of the first to tie the game, but Tanner Olstad restored MRU's lead at 14:41 of the second. Rachinski and Philp both scored before the period ended, with Philp lighting the lamp on the power-play at 19:49 to give Alberta a 3-2 advantage going into the third period, and seemingly all the momentum.
Devin Gannon, however, tied the game up early in the final frame, with Grant Baker and Olstad earning the assists, while the solid play of Cooper tilted the ice towards the Cougars and overtime.
That all changed at 16:09 when Cox raced up the right hand side of the ice, looked off the first trailer, and then spied Fram slipping in even later at the far left side. Cox feathered a cross ice pass to the blueline for Fram, hitting him in stride, and the rookie blueliner waited for Cooper to slide across the crease before sending his wrist shot past Cooper's glove hand into the far side of the goal for the game winner.
With Cooper on the bench, Rachinski sealed the win with an empty net tally, giving Alberta the weekend sweep. The Bears also slid into second place, two points ahead of Mount Royal, and five back of the conference leading Saskatchewan Huskies.
Mount Royal will face Calgary in a home-and-home next weekend, in a massive series as the Dinos trail the Cougars by just two points for third place. The two teams will play their annual 'Crowchild Classic' next weekend as well, which sees the two squads take over the Saddledome and play in front of U SPORT record breaking regular season crowds. The Cougars will then close out the conference season at home against the 8-13-3 UBC Thunderbirds.
The Golden Bears, meanwhile, will close out the season with a home series against the 10-11-3 Lethbridge Pronghorns before hitting the road to face the 12-10-2 Manitoba Bisons. Both the Bisons and 'Horns occupy the final two playoff positions in the standings.