The University of Alberta Golden Bears successfully defended their CIS championship title, defeating the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds 6-3. Despite finishing with a strong lead, the game was anything but a cruise for U of A, as they continuously had to fight to stay ahead right to the buzzer.
From the get-go, it was a game of catch up for the V-Reds. Just over two minutes into the game, U of A’s Jamie Crooks snuck a pass across the crease to a waiting Stephane Legault, who nudged it past UNB goalie David Shantz, opening the score 1-0.
At the ten minute mark on a U of A power play after a boarding penalty given to Jordan Murray, U of A’s top scorer Jordan Hickmott put another in the back of the net thanks to a beauty pass from T.J. Foster. It was another lucky break for the Golden Bears, as up until that point they only managed a total of three shots on net.
For the entire first period, U of A transitioned from offence to defence flawlessly, thwarting UNB’s offensive attacks at every turn, blocking shots and passes allowing just three shots on goal. Their defensive prowess is no real surprise, though. U of A let in just 56 goals the entire season, second in the CIS only to McGill. Safe to say, they know how to stop the opposition from scoring.
But whatever veteran coach Gardiner MacDougall said in the locker room during the first intermission certainly made a difference for UNB, as they came out guns blazing. After three minutes of aggressive offence by UNB, the predominantly hometown crowd finally had something to cheer about as Dylan Willick tipped the puck in to close the score to 2-1.
UNB was unable to capitalize any further on a succession of power plays. The Golden Bears gave them no room and simply would not let them get any shots in. UNB’s top of the period goal went unanswered for almost the full 20 minutes until the last ten seconds of play with a late move down the ice by U of A. With just three seconds left, Levko Koper passed across the net to Johnny Lazo, the team’s third highest score, who outmaneuvered UNB’s defence and potted a backhanded goal. U of A would lead 3-1 going into the third.
The final frame opened up with both teams, each eager for the title, turning up the heat. Seven minutes in, UNB closed the gap once again, with Philippe Maillet scoring with help from Murray and Dana Fraser.
UNB’s honeymoon was short lived, however, as U of A’s Kruise Reddick scored again just four minutes later, extending Alberta’s lead to 4-2.
UNB came back again within one as Adrian Robertson made an amazing goal from afar with less than four minutes remaining. His long shot was deflected off of a diving Golden Bear and went soaring over goalie Kurtis Mucha right to the back of the net. UNB was down one, but not out.
The back and forth scoring continued as U of A scored short-handed soon after. Koper got his first of the game with help from Brett Ferguson, improving Alberta’s lead to 5-3.
With two and a half minutes left to play, UNB pulled their goalie, which turned out to be a poor choice as Alberta would once again score, this time the goal coming from Jordan Rowley. The final score would stand at 6-3 for U of A.
UNB, the top AUS team and ranked third nationally, and U of A, top Western conference team and first seed, came into the game fairly evenly matched. It was only in the third period that U of A managed to open up the lead, getting 14 shots on net to end with 24, compared to UNB’s nine, evenly split across the periods.
Ian Herbers, head coach for the Golden Bears, was pleased with the outcome but not the game it took to get there.
“We had some fortunate bounces and timely goals. It was key to get that first goal. It wasn’t our best game.”
Coach Herbers credited a return to the basics for the team’s dominating third period.
“We started playing simple again. We were hesitant on pucks in the beginning but we started chipping pucks and got back into it,” Herbers explained.
Left-winger Levko Koper was right on board with his coach.
“We were really tired at the beginning. Three games in three nights was tiring, a first this year for us, so it took us a little time to get our legs. The third period we stopped trying to do fancy plays. We had a couple good shifts with guys making good plays and we followed up with that,” Koper said.
Coach Herbers had nothing but good things to say about the Varsity Reds.
“They were a really good team and we couldn’t take control like we normally do. They kept right there with us, chasing us the entire game.”
The UNB fans and players might have gone home without the trophy, but they did so with their heads held high.