Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — Without one of their biggest offensive weapons in the lineup, the No.1 ranked University of Alberta Pandas needed to find a way to fill the void. Alberta got some timely scoring from some unlikely sources against the No.3 ranked University of Manitoba Bisons and earned a 3-0 victory to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three Canada West Final series.
Fourth-year winger Alex Gowie scored her first Canada West playoff goal since 2012, and third-year centre Jaslin Sawatsky scored her first-ever playoff goal to give the Pandas a big boost in the absence of fourth-year forward Autumn MacDougall. Canada West leading scorer Alex Poznikoff rounded out the scoring for Alberta.
Third-year goaltender Kirsten Chamberlin secured her second shutout of the playoffs and eighth shutout of the season with a 17-save performance. Sophomore goaltender Lauren Taraschuk made 25 saves in the loss.
"It's been a concern of ours all year if the scoring runs dry with our first line, and it was nice to see Jaslin (Sawatsky) and (Alex) Gowie score tonight. That's huge for us, and we need that to continue for us to be successful," said Pandas head coach Howie Draper.
"The first goal is always important, but in playoffs, it's critical. If you don't get it, your chances of winning the game are diminished exponentially.
"She (Sawatsky) deserved that goal. She had a hell of a game. She was working hard all over the ice winning battles as a smaller player. I'm really happy she got that."
Gowie, who made her return to university hockey this season after a four-year absence to play pro in Europe, opened the scoring for Alberta. The Vernon, B.C. product broke down the right wing and ripped a slapshot past Taraschuk to give Alberta a 1-0 lead just 6:16 into the contest.
The early goal sparked the Pandas who dominated the opening frame, outshooting Manitoba 11-4. Manitoba battled back in the second period with a flurry of good scoring chances in the opening half of the period, but Chamberlin stood tall. One of her best saves of the night was robbing senior forward Karissa Kirkup with a blocker save from the slot.
With the Bisons pressing for the equalizer, the Pandas struck for the insurance marker as Poznikoff jumped on a loose puck in the crease to jam home her second goal of the Canada West playoffs.
Poznikoff and linemates Kennedy Ganser and Amy Boucher had the Bisons hemmed in their own zone for nearly a minute working the cycle and were rewarded with the goal.
"For me, that was the easiest goal I ever scored. It was sitting on the doorstep and I had to basically just blow it in," said Poznikoff.
"It takes so much out of a team when they see that goal go against you. It was a spark of momentum for us that came at a good time."
Alberta continued to pour it on offensively in the third period and with 7:32 remaining, Sawatsky took a feed from Kiara Machry and made a nice move around the Bisons' defender and, while off balance, was able to snap a wrist shot past Taraschuk to put the game out of reach.
"Our line has worked hard all season, but we weren't successful offensively, so it feels nice to get a goal now when it matters most," said Sawatsky.
"I almost tripped and fell on my face, but I kept pushing through. The shot was there and I took it and tried to make it count."
With MacDougall likely out for the remainder of the season, Alberta will need to continue to have others step up in the absence of the program's second leading scorer. The Pandas did a great job in Game 1.
"Autumn recently got injured and that gives the rest of us an opportunity to pick up the slack that much more," said Sawatsky.
"We want to win nationals, so we're going to do whatever it takes to get there."
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Saturday at Clare Drake Arena. Puck drop is 7 p.m. MT.