The Great Plains division cross-over for the University of Calgary men's hockeysaurs proved a barren one, as Saskatchewan was not as Dino-friendly as their last trip east. The Dinos bowed out of the 2007 post-season at the hands of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the division final at Rutherford Arena in Saskatoon Mar. 2-3. The dogs dished out a heart-breaking 3-2 overtime loss Friday night, and the Dinos were sent home to clean their lockers following a 2-0 defeat the following evening.
Friday night's Canada West semi-final opener saw the dogs come tearing out of the box, showing no signs of rust after three weeks of rest. The first 10 minutes of the opening frame were completely dominated by the Huskies, as they outshot the Dinos 20-13 over the course of the first period. Husky Colin Patterson drew first blood with an unassisted goal halfway through the first, and teammate Mark Hinz put the team up 2-0 heading into the dressing room. The Dinos knew they had to give their heads a shake and get back in the game, which is exactly what they were able to do.
The scoreless second period saw the Dinos hammer the Husky goalie with 13 shots, six more than the Huskies were able to generate on the other end of the rink. Fatigue was beginning to set in for the Huskies, and they were about to pay for their long stretch away from the ice. Dino Ryan Annesley, who has been crucial to the Dinos' offensive success as of late, put his team on the board off a Liam Couture pass two minutes into the third period. With the Huskies hanging desperately to their one-goal lead, Dino Tyrel Lucas tied up the contest with three and a half minutes left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
Extra time was a shocking heart-breaker for the Dinos. With five minutes left in overtime, a Dino defensive breakdown in the neutral zone led to a series of very unfortunate events. Patterson picked up the puck in the neutral zone and managed to split two Calgary defenders. He lost control of the puck and Dino netminder Scott Talbot came charging out of the crease to play it. But Talbot misjudged his position and timing, allowing for Patterson to dump the puck neatly into the empty net.
"We had our chances," said Dinos head coach Scott Atkinson. "We dominated most of the game, but one missed play, and we lost the game we deserved and needed to win."
Once again, the Dinos were faced with what could be the final 60 minutes of their season Saturday night. The Huskies knew they had to put the Dinos away before they could build any momentum, as the hockeysaurs were able to do in their previous series against the University of Regina Cougars. Fifth-year Husky Keegan McAvoy, in possibly his last game in front of his home crowd, took it upon himself to shut down the Dinos.
McAvoy scored both Husky goals, one with four minutes left in the first and the other with four minutes left in the second.
The Dinos started out with intensity reflective of the previous evening, but were heavily out-shot in the opening frame by a count of 16-9. Husky netminder Jeff Harvey could not be beaten, as he turned away everything the Dinos threw at him throughout the contest. The hockeysaurs had a last-ditch effort during a five-on-three advantage in the third, but it was to no avail as they were shut out for a final score of 2-0. The Dinos headed home, losing the series two games to none, with no games for fans to look forward to until next season.
The series against Saskatchewan summed up the second half of the Dinos' up-and-down season. After a red-hot first half, with a seven-game winning streak, including victories against the defending Canada West champion University of Alberta Golden Bears and the very same Huskies, the Dinos came up short nearly every night after Christmas. The Dinos never found themselves dominated or out of the game, and were always just a shot or a save away from victory. But they just couldn't get 'er done.
"It's hard to put your finger on a solution when you play well," explained Atkinson. "Our season was a lot better than the record shows, and the games were always ours to lose."
On the defensive end, the Dinos have arguably the strongest and most offensively-skilled lines in the entire CIS. The Dinos defensive corps accumulated 102 points this season. Not only have the defence been able to put the puck past the goalie, but their stifling play, including smart hits and effective back checks, have also kept the Dinos in stride with their opponents during their tough second half, giving themselves the chance to win against every team they faced.
Goaltending for the Dinos was also a strong point for the team, even when they found themselves stuck in the rut. Talbot, recipient of the Canada West athlete of the week for men's hockey Feb. 26 to Mar. 2, stood tall between the pipes in the face of hard shots both on and off the ice. Through injury, Talbot never let the critics get to him, and skated onto the ice every night with the determination and strength that helped get the Dinos as far as they did this season. However, as he will be returning to the squad for his final season next semester, finding support for Talbot will be a major focus for the team during the off-season.
But it always comes down to offence. If you don't score, you just won't win. With a very talented group of forwards, the Dinos were often left wondering why they couldn't finish off the play and get the goals they needed to win games. Granted, the team has suffered a plethora of injuries throughout the campaign, including promising newcomer Torrie Wheat's dislocated shoulder late in the season. If the forwards can stay healthy and get the biscuit between the posts, an extended post-season is in the team's very near future.
"It always seemed like we had a short bench," said Atkinson. "Almost every night, a new guy was getting hurt, but we never gave up."
Although the Dinos saw their season end much earlier than merited, Atkinson has only the best to say of his strong squad. Despite the injuries and the losses both on and off the ice, the hockeysaurs took it hard to their opponents every night and never gave it less than their all.
"[We] are a very resilient team and never threw in the towel," said Atkinson. "We're in the final learning process to become a truly dominant team, and are still the biggest threat in the CIS."