Move over Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, there are two new rival hockey titans with clashes more deserving of the title Battle Of Alberta: the University of Calgary Dinos and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans.
This past weekend, the two adversaries partook in three games of hockey that will go down as one of the most evenly matched, hard-fought, passionate series in Canadian varsity sports history. With a berth in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference finals on the line, the two teams fought with every last breath for every last inch of ice on a series that went down to the wire like never before. At the end of the three-day epic, more than 250 minutes of hockey had been played with the Dinos emerging victorious and earning a well-deserved spot in the finals.
After sweeping the less-than-stellar Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks in the opening round of the ACAC playoffs, the Dinos knew they were in tight against the Trojans, a team that tied for first place during the regular season and were two-time defending ACAC championships. The two teams were bitter rivals going in, but nothing could have prepared them for what transpired. The Dinos won the first game of the series 2-1 on Fri. but were closely edged 1-0 in double-overtime the following night, setting the stage for a Sun. night tiebreaker to determine who'd keep their playoff dreams alive. The match was an emotional roller coaster but the lady hockeysaurs persevered, winning 5-4 in an unheard of triple-overtime and ending SAIT's reign at the top.
"What a series," exhaled head coach Danielle Goyette after the final win. "Our team doesn't quit. We worked until the end and made sure that we didn't give up. After we beat them the first night, I knew we could beat them twice. I couldn't ask for more from the girls. They used everything they had in the tank."
You could taste the playoff atmosphere in the air from the initial drop of the puck in game one. Both squads came out dedicated but conservative, deciding on defensive styles of play that warranted few mistakes. The opening goal of the series wasn't scored until late in the second period when Trojan forward Sheena Smilgelski chipped a rebound past Dinos netminder Katie Urness to give her team the 1-0 edge. SAIT appeared poised to head into the third protecting the lead, but the Dinos thundered back minutes later. Sparked by a 3-on-2, forward Lianne Legere was rewarded for following through with the play, banging home a rebound off linemate Cassandra Atkins' shot as she stormed the Trojans net, tying the game at one.
Still tied up midway through the third, the Dinos found themselves going ahead thanks to a great individual effort by centre Danielle Boyce. Boyce, exhausted at the end of a long shift, received a pass at her own blue line and found herself leading the charge of a 2-on-1 as she elected to carry on with the play instead of dumping the puck and going off for a change. The choice paid off as she fired home a hard slap shot. The goal stood as the eventual game-winner, as the Dinos defence shut the door for the remainder of the third to take an early 1-0 series lead.
The girls were unable to make use of their momentum from the night before for game number two, as the defensive mentality of both teams increased tenfold, allowing little in the way of scoring chances. The Dinos were blessed with six power plays in the game but were unable to overcome SAIT's aggressive, blitzing penalty kill. Tied 0-0 at the end of regulation, the game turned into a goaltending duel between Urness and former Dino Natalie Gerstmar, teammates from the 2004-05 season, to see who would be perfect on the night and preserve the shutout. The Dinos came within inches of ending the series late in the first overtime when Legere beat Gerstmar with a hard slapper from the wing, only to have the puck rattle off the far post. It ended up being a costly piece of bad luck for the Dinos when Trojan captain Jaime Teichman broke the scoreless deadlock in the second overtime, keeping her team alive and shifting the series back to SAIT for one last winner-take-all contest. The loss also snapped a five-game winning streak for the Dinos.
Conservatism was left at the door for the start of game three as each team knew that they needed to take more risks to muster enough offence to crack the other's defence. The night couldn't have started better for the Dinos when Legere got her team on the board 13 seconds in, stealing the puck from a Trojan defender down low and beating Gerstmar on the first shot of the game. SAIT tied it up four minutes later, but the Dinos would reclaim their lead before the end of the frame. With the man advantage, the Dinos swarmed the Trojans' net, taking several shots in tight around the net that were robbed by Gerstmar before Boyce was finally able to chip one in with 38 seconds remaining in the period. The Dinos outshot SAIT by a lengthy 15-3 margin after the first twenty minutes.
The lady hockeysaurs added another power play goal in the second to give themselves a comfortable 3-1 lead going into what should have been the last period of the series. However, tragedy struck as SAIT did the impossible and scored three unanswered goals within the span of eight minutes to take the lead. Any momentum the Dinos had was squashed by an absurd parade to the penalty box as SAIT scored all three of the goals on 5-on-3 power plays. All hope appeared to be lost as SAIT had the late lead and full control of the momentum over their disheartened counterparts, but the Dinos made one last push to keep their season away from extinction. With another timely power play at their disposal, the Dinos got the puck down low and used every last ounce of strength to battle through the trenches of Trojan defenders before captain Cait O'Hara banged one home, tying the game at 4-4 with only 2:25 to go.
The late lifesaver revitalized the Dinos but SAIT refused to let their chance at a three-peat go up in smoke, putting the teams into sudden death once again with both seasons on the line. Numerous chances were exchanged but to no avail, leaving the crowd at SAIT Campus Centre holding its collective breath to see who would be the eventual hero. That hero was Legere. With 5:03 remaining in the third overtime of the night, almost doubling the normal length of the game, Legere wired a wrister from the wing that found the inside of the far post behind Gerstmar, redeeming herself from the night before by successfully scoring the series-winning goal.
"It was an amazing feeling," she remarked. "I was too exhausted to celebrate but it was a huge sense of relief."
Goyette was also proud of the team's efforts.
"The longer the game went, the more confidence we had," she said. "These girls train hard for games like this."
With the SAIT marathon behind them, the lady hockeysaurs now look to their first berth in the ACAC finals since 2004 and their opponents, the Grant MacEwan College Griffins. The Griffins are red hot, coming off playoff upsets over the Red Deer College Queens and Mount Royal College Cougars. However, Goyette is assured of her team's ability, regardless of who stands between the Dinos and their first ever ACAC championship.
"It doesn't matter who we play, we're going to continue to work hard and follow our game plan," she concluded. "They're going to have to adjust to us."