Will Gordon, University of Saskatchewan
SASKATOON – Heated and bitter, but full of respect.
It's the only way to describe the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears men's hockey rivalry – the Canada West's most historic on-ice relationship.
The rivalry is renewed Friday and Saturday as the Huskies host the Golden Bears in the final series between the teams in the 2016-17 Canada West regular season. The Golden Bears and Huskies split their series in Edmonton – the Golden Bears winning 3-2 in OT and the Huskies winning 4-2 a night later.
"They're always the benchmark," Huskies head coach Dave Adolph said about the Golden Bears. "Now, we find out if we're good enough."
The No. 2 ranked Alberta (10-3-1) currently holds the top spot in Canada West with 21 points, while the No. 3 ranked Huskies (9-3-2) are behind by just one point.
This historic rivalry holds origins in the very first inter-university game, back in 1911 when university teams were called Varsity and focused on their city league. This game ended in a massive 16-0 win for Alberta. It took until the 1918-19 season for a Huskie team to beat Alberta, a 5-2 victory.
Evan Daum, Associate Director of Communications and Marketing for Canada West grew up with the rivalry. His father, Rob Daum, was the head coach of the Alberta Golden Bears from 1995 to 2005, leading the Golden Bears to six Canada West titles and three CIS titles.
"I remember the sense of frustration from my dad losing the Canada West title," said Daum, recalling when he first felt the rivalry in the late 90s, "but also the resolve of that particular group of Bears had to basically avenge those losses at the University Cup in Saskatoon both years.
For Adolph, it was in his second year as a Huskie player in the early 80s that he firstly truly felt it.
"Every time Alberta scored in their rink, they played Benny and the Jets by Elton John. It was a critical decision all us young guys had to make whether we wanted to continue to listen to Benny and the Jets, or if we're going to push back and not accept listening to Benny and the Jets."
Given the legacies established by each team, everyone has their own list of games they bring up as the finest moments of the Huskie-Bears rivalry. However, between the sides, as the stories come out, two games stand out among the more than 1,000 played between the two squads.
The 2015-16 Canada West championship in Saskatoon and the 2005 University Cup final in Edmonton.
"We were really fortunate last year," said Adolph, whose Huskies managed to sweep the Bears, but it required a rapid succession of third period goals to win.
The win meant a lot on a personal level too. Before the season began, Huskie Cody Smuk had passed away after a battle with cancer.
In 2005, the Huskies led 2-0 in the first. By the second, 3-1. Then, with only 23 seconds left on the clock in the third, Golden Bear Ben Thomson sent the final into overtime. Thomson entered Golden Bears lore shortly after, scoring to win the Cup in overtime.
"When they beat the Huskies in overtime was probably the most excited I've ever seen a Golden Bears crowd," recalled Daum.
It was a crushing defeat for the Huskies, but in the end, Dr. Michael 'P.J.' Kennedy, author of the Huskies' history book Dogs On Ice, remembers the respect the hard-fought game brought out, exemplifying the Huskie-Bears relationship.
"People came up to us afterwards and said 'boy, your team gave us a good run', it was that respect."
Despite the heated championship games, Adolph stressed the level of respect each team has for one another - whether in the era of Clare Drake and Dave King's day or between the current teams.
"That has always been inherent in that relationship despite what people say about the rivalry," he said. "I'm thankful for the University of Alberta because they've forced me to get better as a coach every year for 23 years."
Daum believes a quote from Ken Dryden's book, The Game, summarizes what the two teams have meant to each other of the years – it is a reliable opponent which defines a team.
The Golden Bears-Huskies rivalry again and again showcases this.
Puck drop is 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Rutherford Rink.