This weekend the Golden Bears and Pandas hockey teams will both challenge the rival University of Saskatchewan Huskies — the Pandas on home ice and the Bears on the road.
U of A hockey started hot this season, with both teams tied for first place in their respective conferences. The Pandas are undefeated at 4-0-0, while the Bears dropped to 3-1-0 after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Mount Royal Cougars. Bears head coach Ian Herbers believes the key to a successful road trip relies on addressing the weaknesses evident after the team’s first loss of the season.
“We didn’t have enough commitment around the net. We had a number of great chances, but we didn’t capitalize and that cost us the game,” Herbers said. “We will need to get more traffic in front of the net. We need to find ways to deflect and screen, and we need to hop on our rebounds for those second and third opportunities.”
Friday’s game marks the second time the Bears and Huskies will meet since Saskatchewan eliminated Alberta in last year’s Canada West semi-finals. Despite last season’s early exit, Herbers expressed confidence his team has put the past behind them.
“Last year was last year. This is a new year,” Herbers said. “We know there are teams that are always looking to play their best against us to knock us off. We need to play our game and dictate the play.”
While the Bears will be aiming to regroup, the Pandas will instead be looking to keep their record unblemished as they face Saskatchewan’s women’s team at Clare Drake Arena. Pandas head coach Howie Draper has been pleased by his team’s play, but doesn’t want the players getting ahead of themselves.
“We feel that if we play our game we have the ability to beat any team in the league,” Pandas head coach Howie Draper said. “Of course we’re confident, but it’s a quiet confidence. The team realizes we have a long way to go in terms of development before we reach our full potential.”
Through four games this season, the Pandas have outscored their opposition 13-6 and Friday’s 4-3 win over MRU marked the only time this year the Pandas have allowed more than one goal against.
Despite this, Draper still feels Alberta needs to play better defensively, and attributes the team’s ability to keep the puck out of their net to the stellar work he’s seen in the Pandas’ crease from starting goaltender Michala Jeffries.
For their part, the Bears won a preseason meeting against the Huskies 2-1 in a shootout, but since then, Saskatchewan’s men’s team has compiled an uncharacteristically mediocre 1-2-1 record. This only adds fuel to the fire for a squad that went 16-6-2 before winning a CanWest championship last season and is projected to be a contender along with the Bears for another championship this season.
The U of S women’s hockey team, like their male counterpart, has experienced a slow start this season and sit tied for sixth place in CanWest with a record of 1-2-1. But just like the Bears, the Pandas know they cannot take the Huskies lightly.
“Saskatchewan is a hard-working team. We have to be prepared to set the tempo and outwork them. They are a very offensive team; they get a lot of shots,” Draper said. “The thing about our conference right now is that any team can beat any team on any given night. The parity in the conference is greater than it has ever been.”
With the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan football teams also playing this Saturday, this weekend is shaping up to be one of the biggest university sport rivalry weekends for two of the most athletically celebrated schools in western Canada.
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