Bears, Huskies Collide Yet Again For Men's Hockey Title

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Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

EDMONTON – Combined, they've won every Canada West men's hockey title the last two decades.

In 14 of those 20 years they've faced each other in the final, including last season.

And the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears wouldn't have it any other way.

"You bring up the Bears and the hair stands up on my arms and the back of my neck," says Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph. 

Yet again, the Canada West championship will be on the line when the Bears and Huskies square off this weekend in Saskatoon.

The Bears and Huskies meet in a best-of-three series Friday through Sunday (all games 7 p.m. CT) to determine the Canada West champion – the 20th time they've met with gold on the line. Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon hosts this latest installment of the historic rivalry between two powerhouse programs that would be peerless were it not for one another.

"From my standpoint there's always been a healthy respect for the University of Saskatchewan, their program and the tradition that they've built over there," says Alberta head coach Serge Lajoie. 

The respect goes both ways, as the pair will meet for a Canada West record 19th time in the conference final. 

"I don't disagree with Serge one bit," concurs Adolph. "They're the benchmark of the league, they always have been."

Alberta boasts 25 Canada West titles to Saskatchewan's 10 since 1972, but the Huskies have had the upper hand most recently. Saskatchewan swept the Bears in last year's final, and this season finished first during the regular season, six points ahead of the Bears, who mustered just one win against the Huskies in four conference meetings.

"I remember all four of those games like it was yesterday," Adolph says. "I remember the pre-season games that we played against them. It's a great rivalry; it's something I think both teams cherish." 

Alberta and Saskatchewan are fresh off semifinal sweeps of Calgary and Mount Royal, respectively. In both series, every game was determined by one goal, during nail-biting action that reflects the competition of Canada West.

"It's intense, highly-competitive, high-paced, high-energy hockey" Lajoie says. "It's hockey that is played the right way – it's played hard but it's also highly-skilled. You have everything that a hockey fan would want to see in a quality hockey game." 

From Saskatchewan's second-year star Logan McVeigh scoring the series-clinching goal with less than four minutes left, to Golden Bear rookie Luke Philp potting an overtime goal in Game 1, last weekend saw the emergence of new playoff heroes on squads that are full of first- and second-year players. 

"It's two young teams," Adolph says. "Usually when the Bears and Huskies have gone at it before it's two veteran teams, so it's a little different. But the talent level is just incredible now, so it's wide open."

The last four times Alberta and Saskatchewan have faced each other for the championship, the team with home advantage has prevailed. The Huskies, in fact, have never lost a Canada West Final at home, sporting a perfect 6-0 series record inside cozy Rutherford. 

"Going into Rutherford Rink, there's no place to hide," Lajoie says. "We think things happen in Clare Drake, at Rutherford things happen even quicker."

One thing that might not be so quick is the length of the series. Given the calibre of these teams, it could very well go the distance.

"Why wouldn't it go three games?" Adolph says. "It's a 50-50 horse race."

 You can watch the entire series by visiting CanadaWest.tv Game time Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (if necessary) is 7 p.m. CT.

Saskatchewan Huskies 

2016-17 CW regular season record: 21-5-2 (44 pts.), 1st

2016-17 record vs. Alberta: 3-1

Last conference championship / total conference championships: 2015-16 / 16

Last national championship / total national championships: 1982-83 / 1

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 106 GF, 1st

Defence: 61 GA, 1st

Power play: 23.1%, 2nd

Penalty kill: 85%, 2nd

2016-17 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 13 – Logan McVeigh and Michael Sofillas, F

Assists: 18 – Josh Roach, Logan McVeigh, F

Points: 31 – Logan McVeigh, F

Wins: 19 – Jordon Cooke

Shutouts: 4 – Jordon Cooke 

Key performer:

Jordon Cooke

Goalie

3rd-year

Leduc, Alta. 

Reigning Canada West outstanding player and national goalie of the year Jordon Cooke posted yet another phenomenal season for Saskatchewan, backstopping the Huskies to a second consecutive first-place finish during the regular season. 

The former Kelowna Rocket and Western Hockey League Goalie of the Year has had a special season in Saskatoon, posting a sparkling 19-4-1 record, a 1.94 GAA and .929 SV%. Adding to his great Canada West numbers is the fact Cooke had the opportunity to play with Canada at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland back in December. Now, Cooke is looking to cap off what has been a memorable 2016-17 season with a conference banner and national title.

Alberta Golden Bears

2016-17 CW regular season record: 18-8-2 (38 pts.), 2nd 

2016-17 record vs. Saskatchewan: 1-3 

Last CW championship / total conference championships: 2014-15 / 52

Last national championship / total national championships: 2014-15 / 15

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Offence: 97 GF, 3rd

Defence: 72 GA, 2nd

Power play: 29.4%, 4th

Penalty kill: 86.7%, 1st

2016-17 CW regular season leaders:

Goals: 15 – Jamie Crooks, F

Assists: 19 – Stephane Legault

Points: 26 – Jamie Crooks and Tyson Baillie, F

Wins: 8 – Brendan Burke and Luke Siemens

Shutouts: 2 – Brendan Burke

Key performer:

Luke Philp

Forward

1st-year

Canmore, Alta. 

First-year Golden Bear is coming off his biggest weekend as a Golden Bear, as the former Kootenay Ice scored three goals in Alberta's two-game sweep of the Calgary Dinos in the conference semifinal.

Philp's overtime winner just 1:52 into the first OT period in Game 1 extended Alberta's playoff win streak against the Dinos to 29 games.

The rookie scored 10 goals for the Bears during the regular season, and is one of seven first-year players that has emerged as an every game starter for a Golden Bear team that is looking for its 53rd conference title all-time.