REGINA at SASKATCHEWAN: The fifth-place Regina Cougars traveled north to Saskatoon to meet the fourth-place Huskies in the battle of Saskatchewan with a trip to either Vancouver or Edmonton on the line. Like any good playoff series, this best-of-three saw the first period go scoreless as both teams began to feel one another out for weaknesses. Regina would carry a 10-8 lead in shots into the second period, but both Regina's Jane Kish and Saskatchewan's Cassidy Hendricks played well in the opening frame.
Lauren Zary's bodychecking penalty with 28 seconds left in the first period carried over into the second period, and it would kick off the scoring for both teams. Saskatchewan would grab the lead just 48 seconds into the period while shorthanded as Kaitlin Willoughby got just enough blade on the puck sent over to her by Kayla Kirwan to get it past Kish for the 1-0 lead. 39 seconds later, Regina ended the power-play when Melissa Zerr took a pass in the slot and went high stick-side over the shoulder of Hendricks to make it a 1-1 game at 1:27. Saskatchewan's Kira Bannatyne would head to the sin bin 23 seconds later, and Regina would use this new power-play to gain the lead when Alexis Larson's shot from the point found its way through traffic and was tipped by Tamara McVannel past Hendricks at 3:02 to make it 2-1 for the Cougars! Saskatchewan, though, would use a power-play of their own to tie the game as Willoughby's rush into the zone saw her zip a shot past Kish at 7:32 to make it a 2-2 game! The remainder of the period saw the teams trade chances, but they would enter the second intermission deadlocked at that 2-2 score.
Saskatchewan went up 3-2 just 4:52 into the third period when - who else? - Willoughby found a puck in the slot and wired the puck stick-side past Kish. Exactly two minutes later, Kori Herner was sent in on a breakaway off a neutral zone turnover, and she made no mistake in beating Kish to make it a 4-2 game for the Huskies. Regina would make a desperate push late in the game as Jaycee Magwood was able to close the deficit to one when she beat Hendricks off a scramble in front of the Huskies net at 16:18, but the Cougars couldn't get the one they needed in the end as Saskatchewan emerged victorious in the 4-3 victory. Hendricks made 28 saves in the victory while Kish stopped 25 shots while coming up short. Saskatchewan gained a 1-0 advantage in the series.
REGINA at SASKATCHEWAN: Regina would have last change in this game, and they needed a win to keep their season going. Saskatchewan would be the road team on home ice, and they were looking to close out this series. Both teams had their chances early on, but it was a goal late in the period that would put the Huskies up 1-0. Bailee Bourassa's shot from the right face-off circle found a path through traffic and Jane Kish to dent twine at 17:51 to put pressure on the Cougars.
The second period was more defensive in nature, but the chances that were generated were stopped at both ends so we'd be forced to move to the final 20 minutes of regulation with the Huskies still leading 1-0. Midway through the third period, Kylee Kupper's shot was stopped by Cassidy Hendricks, but the rebound came out on her stick-side and Jolene Kirkpatrick was there to bang home the loose puck at 9:33 to get the Cougars on the board and tie the game at 1-1! It would be a mistake and a turnover in the neutral zone that would lead to the next goal as Kori Herner picked up the mishandled puck, broke into the zone, and fed Kaitlin Willoughby for the shot on Kish that pinged in off the post at 16:25 to put Saskatchewan back up by a 2-1 count.
Desperation set in quickly for Regina as they needed a goal badly. Kish was on the bench with nearly three minutes to play, and a late power-play for the Cougars had everyone on the edges of their seats, but the final horn would end this game with no further scoring as the Saskatchewan Huskies survived the late pressure by the Cougars to win the game 2-1 and sweep the series by a 2-0 count. Hendricks stopped 31 shots in helping her team advance while Kish made 21 saves as the Cougars' season comes to an end.
MOUNT ROYAL at MANITOBA: The sixth-place Mount Royal Cougars traveled east to visit the third-place Manitoba Bisons for a battle to determine who would advance to play either the Thunderbirds or the Pandas. This game started off quickly as both teams pressed early in trying to force a mistake by their opposition. It would be Mount Royal who flinched first as a failed clearing attempt up the boards was corralled by Caitlyn Fyten, and her slapshot after changing the shooting lane was deflected perfectly by Venla Hovi past Emma Pincott at 2:55 to put Manitoba up 1-0 early. Even with the furious pace, the two teams couldn't find the net again in the first period as Manitoba took the lead into the intermission.
The battle continued in the second period, and Mount Royal would finally solve Rachel Dyck on the power-play. Gabrielle Seper cut into the Bisons zone and received pass from Sarah Weninger before throwing a low shot on net that eluded Rachel Dyck's outstreched left leg and somehow found the inside of the far post to even the game at 1-1 at the 10:57 mark. The Cougars actually took control of this game for a portion of the period after the goal, but it would be a veteran who changed the tides of momentum. Manitoba's Karissa Kirkup pulled off an incredible individual effort as she chipped the puck past her check, put the puck on her backhand, skated into the slot, and went top-shelf with the backhander past Pincott at 16:47 to score one of the prettiest goal this season in giving the Bisons the 2-1 lead!
The two teams went back and forth at the start of the third period, and it would Kirkup who would strike at the midway point of the frame. She carried the puck into the Cougars zone, stopped in the face-off circle, and ripped a shot through Pincott at 10:12 to put the Bisons up 3-1. Five minutes after that, the Bisons were killing penalty when Alanna Sharman forced a turnover at the point and led a two-on-one the other way. Her feed over to Nicole Carswell was perfect as Carswell poked the puck between Pincott's legs for the shorthanded goal and the 4-1 lead at 15:13. Alex Anderson would tee up a point shot at 18:47 that appeared to change direction to elude Pincott with 1:13 to play, and that would be more than enough for Rachel Dyck to close this game out as the Bisons win 5-1 and go up 1-0 in the series. Dyck stopped 26 shots in the win while Pincott turned away 20 shots in the loss.
MOUNT ROYAL at MANITOBA: Game Two of this series saw the Cougars shift to the home team while the Bisons, playing on home ice, would be the road team. This would give the Cougars the last change, and they would use that advantage to match lines and get key players on the ice in specific situations. Quite literally, Mount Royal played a perfect road game despite being the home team in clogging up the neutral zone so Manitoba couldn't attack with speed and keeping the Bisons on the outside when they did gain the offensive zone.
Through 40 minutes, the Cougars and Bisons played scoreless hockey with a few chances, but both Rachel Dyck and Zoe DeBeauville were flawless in their netminding. However, the third period saw the scoreless draw snapped as the Bisons' third line made their presence felt. Caitlyn Fyten cleared her zone with a perfect bank pass off the boards to Erin Kucheravy who evaded a defender at the blue line and broke down the left-wing wall. She threw a centering pass across the ice where Alana Serhan, who had a step on her check, reached out and redirected the puck past Zoe DeBeauville whose sliding save wasn't quite stretched far enough to stop Serhan at the 8:18 mark.
With the Bisons leading 1-0, the Cougars began to throw everything they could at Rachel Dyck. Late in the game, the Bisons were down two women due to penalties and head coach Scott Rivett pulled DeBeauville for a six-on-three advantage. Blocked shots, big saves, and desperate clears kept Manitoba in the lead until the final horn sounded as the Bisons survived Game Two by a 1-0 score to win the series 2-0 and move on. Dyck was perfect on all 12 shots for the shutout win while DeBeauville was outstanding in making 15 stops in her final game this season.
Up NextThe top-four teams in Canada West women's hockey will play in the semi-final series as the Saskatchewan Huskies will travel west to Vancouver and play the UBC Thunderbirds in that best-of-three series while the Manitoba Bisons will head northwest to Edmonton to visit the Alberta Pandas for a best-of-three series.
UBC and Saskatchewan were 2-1-1-0 this season against each other with the teams splitting the two-game series in Vancouver in early October. Obviously, things have changed since then, but Saskatchewan is the only team in Canada West to have defeated UBC twice this season. That could be important as the two teams were similar in their defensive play - UBC had 45 goals-against while Saskatchewan had 52 goals-against. UBC, however, scored 30 more goals than Saskatchewan did this season, so we'll have to see if UBC can get that potent offence running. If I were a betting man, I think this series goes three games with UBC prevailing.
The other series is decidedly in one team's favor. Alberta has had Manitoba's number all season in going 3-0-1-0 against the Bisons. Three of the four games, though, were one-goal decisions, so there may be something to build on if you're a Bisons fan. Both teams had similar positive goal differentials, so they question of scoring and stopping goals shouldn't be an issue. It's just a matter of who can stop more pucks, and right now the Pandas have that advantage on paper. If we learned one thing from this Manitoba team, though, it's that they can play on the road and win a series in Edmonton as they did last season. I'm going to bet against common sense here to say that Manitoba wins this series in three games.
These two series should be exciting and fun to watch, so find a way to get to the rinks or tune in via Canada West TV. It might be some of the best, most spirited hockey you see all season as neither team in either series likes one another!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!