Jack Frost's excursion to Hades has been called off for yet another year, as the nation's tenth-ranked University of Calgary hockeysaurs narrowly thwarted the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, advancing to the second round of the Canada West playoffs Feb. 26-28.
After a close call Friday night, the 'Birds flew in to steal game two Saturday and really applied the pressure to a Dinos team who were already clenching their sticks tighter than American Pie's Jim after an ill-fated experiment with crazy glue. However, everything was set right Sunday when the Dinos came out with a jump to their game that was lacking on the first two nights.
"We decided we had to have a better start and just concentrate on ourselves," said an obviously relieved Dinos captain Sean Robertson. "On Saturday, we got away from our game plan and we actually started to panic a little."
If that was the case, Robertson turned Saturday's panic into Sunday's determination. In the deciding game, Robertson led his team, who were without leading goal scorer Ken McKay for the weekend, by scoring once and adding two assists to eliminate the pesky T-Birds.
"My job is to put points up on the board and I definitely felt a little bit of pressure coming into the playoffs," said Robertson. "I have to contribute every night, maybe not by scoring, but by killing penalties and doing the little stuff right."
The Dinos received exactly what they expected from their fourth-year star in round one. He was the standout leader, scoring once and adding five assists--enough to earn him Canada West Men's Hockey Player of the Week honours.
As good as Robertson was, he could not overshadow the consistently strong play of first-year netminder Donald Choukalous. After picking up the win on Friday night, Choukalous was tossed back into the pressure cooker Sunday and held his team in the early stages of the game despite facing repeated odd man rushes.
There may not have been anyone more relieved following the UBC scare than Dinos Head Coach Scott Atkinson--at least until he realized next week's opponents were the notorious, nefarious and undefeated fuzzy bears from the 'Chuk.
"We eventually have to beat them, and in my mind we're getting a lot closer to that," said Atkinson, of the rival University of Alberta Golden Bears. "Last game we finally played well for 60 minutes in their building and that's what it's going to take."
If you think Atkinson is concerned about the 35-game undefeated streak the Bears have against the Dinos, you'd best think again.
"It's going to take just getting past the idea there's anything special there," he said. "They're just another hockey team who we have to outplay on that day. That streak stuff doesn't mean anything to me."
For the clawed reptiles to escape Edmonton with a pair of wins, they'll probably have to accomplish the feat without McKay who remains doubtful for all the weekend's games.
The outlook for Gable Gross, who took a vicious two-hander across the back of the knee late in Friday's game, is much more positive.
"[The slash] made a lot of contact on the sciatic nerve and his leg was numb for a long time," said Atkinson. "It wasn't good, but he toughed it out."
So here we go again, every year the road seems to lead to the always potent U of A squad. Is there a reason to believe the Dinos can beat the currently undefeated Bears not once, but twice, in the same weekend?
Robertson believes there is.
"Our goal is to go to nationals, but U of A is in our way," he said. "To say not reaching nationals would be a failure is an understatement--this means everything to us."