The Dinos men's hockey team took on the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the first round of Canada West playoffs Feb. 24-26 for the third time in as many seasons. The series record between the two teams prior to this year was 5-1, with the Dinos winning all five series played in Calgary. In this regular season, the T-Birds finished only two points behind the Dinos, with each team winning two of the four contests played.
"They have played well against us all year and they have a very hard-working team," Dino Brett Thurston said of the T-Birds. "We knew it would be a hard-fought battle."
Although head coach Scott Atkinson thought his team dominated every game of the series, the scoreboard didn't agree. The first game of the best-of-three match-up looked like the Dinos were on their way to victory after Jarret Lukin scored with less than three minutes left in the game. To the crowd's dismay, UBC tied the game just 30 seconds later. Then, Jon Kress of the T-Birds scored on a late rush with just six seconds left in regulation, securing a 0-1 series lead for UBC.
Game two was do-or-die for the Dinos. They felt they deserved a better outcome and certainly didn't want to give the T-Birds their first playoff series win in 35 years. The Dinos came out firing, out-shooting their opponent in every period. However, T-Birds goaltender Gerry Festa was outstanding in net. With some weak goals, UBC maintained a 1-3 lead going into the second period.
Yet there was plenty of time for a comeback. Alex Lalonde and Daniel LaPointe, who have been on a scoring spree lately, each bagged one for the Dinos. With the score tied at three going into the third frame, the Dinos found big trouble after the T-Birds potted another goal late in the period to go up by one. With under a minute left, Atkinson went with the big line: Lukin, Ryan Annesley and Tyrel Lucas. With only three seconds left in regulation, Father David Bauer Arena erupted as Paul Gentile made a nice play in the corner, leading to the tying goal and sending the game into overtime.
"After an intense moment like that, myself and the rest of the team just had to calm down and stick to the game plan heading into overtime," Thurston described.
The first OT period solved nothing, but the Dinos kept the shots coming in double OT. After facing more than 50 shots and getting no help from his defense, Festa was all alone against Annesley after a giveaway. Annesley elected to shoot high, and the puck went over Festa's shoulder and into the net for the win.
"I didn't think 'Oh no, it's over,' when UBC scored in the third period," Atkinson said. "The game is not over until it is over."
The series then headed to a deciding game three. Similar to the first game, UBC opened scoring in the middle frame after a scoreless first period. Both teams played a tight defensive game, limiting shots to 28-25 in the entire game, but the T-Birds started breaking down in the third. After Lucas' first goal of the game, the Dinos poured it on, with Andre Blanchette scoring and Lucas adding another.
The T-Birds pulled Festa with half a minute left, but it was too little, too late. Blanchette put the game away with an empty-netter for his second point of the night, while Lucas had three. Although the Dinos successfully came back from a 0-1 series deficit, they felt they should've ended the series in two games, for more reasons than one.
"It was clear that we were the better team out on the ice. We dominated them," said Atkinson. "But with some weak goals, we weren't able to get it done. I thought game three was a better display of our abilities on the scoreboard."
"If the series ended Saturday night, the fellas might have gone for a couple of beverages as a team," Thurston offered. "But a lot of the guys were busy with school, so we just played the victory music and enjoyed the win at the rink."
With the series win, the Dinos next play the University of Alberta Golden Bears in Edmonton Mar. 3-5. The Bears earned a bye to the CW mountain division final after finishing the regular season at the top of the standings with 44 points. They are undefeated at home against conference teams, but Atkinson believes his team has a great chance at winning--of the five losses the Bears suffered in the season, two came at the hands of the Dinos.
"We went from not being able to win, to being the first team to post a shutout against them in 10 years," Atkinson commented. "We are the best team to play against them and we can definitely be successful next week."