The Dino must have seen his shadow early in February, as winter has finally thawed for the University of Calgary men's hockeysaurs, who were able to claw their way back into the win column. The Dinos lost an embarrassing eight straight games to close out the regular season, as well as the first game of the post season, but the Dinos pulled it together and rediscovered the key to their early season success. By defeating the University of Regina Cougars during Feb. 23-25's first-round playoff action, the Dinos have advanced to the Great Plains division final and are poised to make a serious charge at the title of Canada West champions.
The Dinos faced an elimination situation after losing Friday night's contest 4-2 in Sherwood Twin Arenas, much like they did the last time they traveled to the open prairies. Dino Andre Blanchette put his team on the board early in the first period off a Torrie Wheat pass on the power play. Each team threw eight shots at the opposing goalie in the opening frame, but it was the Dinos who found themselves heading into the second with a 2-0 advantage.
Dino defenceman Travis Friedley played a crucial role in the Dinos' series victory, scoring their second goal Friday night in the dying minutes of the first, and more importantly, the insurance goal during Saturday's must-win. However, the Dinos couldn't hold on to their lead in the second period, as the Cougars finally woke up and started to play some real hockey.
The Cougs hammered Dino netminder Scott Talbot with 14 shots in the second period, three of which showed up in the goals column. Cougar James Ardelan scored the first goal for Regina, as well as the game-winner in the last five minutes of the middle period. The Dinos only managed four shots in both the second and third periods, none of which they were able to convert. Cougar Jason Weitzel, who owned the Dinos in their last meeting, scored the insurance goal on a third-period power play to wrap up the victory, and left the Dinos facing what could be the final 60 minutes of their unpredictable season.
"We seem to come out strong, and once we've shown we are the better team, we get too complacent," commented Barry Horman, a second-year student. "It's been hurting us for a while now."
If the Dinos were going to get back to their winning ways, they were running out of time to do so. Saturday night's contest could have very well been their last game of the season, but the hockeysaurs were not about to let their hard work and improvements at both ends of the ice go to waste against a team they had dominated during the regular season.
The Dinos controlled Saturday night's critical game from puck drop, with Brett O'Malley scoring the only goal the Dinos would need in the first three minutes of the contest. The Cougars weren't able to gain any offensive momentum until the third period, thanks to the Dinos' stifling defence and strong penalty-killing unit. The Cougs made a final push in the last period with 13 shots on Talbot, but he stood tall between the pipes and blanked the Cougs for a 2-0 shutout victory. More importantly, the Dinos were still alive, and looked to put the series away Sunday afternoon.
"We had a team meeting after [Friday's] game and really got some things sorted out," explained Wheat. "For the first time in a while, we really played some good hockey [Saturday night]. We played as a unit, as a team."
Sunday's game, the end of the season for one of two very talented teams, began with an onslaught of penalties. A total of 11 two-minute minors were assessed in the opening period, including a whistle against the Dinos for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the frame. The Cougs scored their only goal of the game during this man-advantage to tie up the game at a goal apiece, but Dino Colin McRae silenced the crowd and concluded the Cougars' season with the series-winning goal a mere two minutes later.
The Dinos were heavily out-shot Sunday by a 14-shot margin, but it was Talbot who upheld their lead. Talbot again remained solid for his team, turning away 31 shots on 32 attempts by a desperate Regina squad, and received tremendous support from the Dinos' strong defence. The Dinos skated out of Saskatchewan with the series victory, and extended their season by at least another weekend.
Talbot's performance over the