In their first weekend of 2013, the University of Alberta Pandas will host the Mount Royal University Cougars in a two-game series, the first-ever Canada West regular season meetings between the two squads at Clare Drake Arena. Puck drop is 7:00 p.m. on Friday, and 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Both teams are in the hunt for the six playoff spots available in the conference, Alberta currently placing third with a 10-6 record that puts them four points back of second-place Regina and seven back of Calgary in the top spot.
Mount Royal, at 6-8-2, sits in the final spot, only two and three points behind Saskatchewan and UBC, respectively, but just one point ahead of Lethbridge and Manitoba.
With 12 games still left in the season, there is sure to be constant shuffling in the standings over the next two months, but quickly overcoming the long December break and getting a head start this weekend will make the journey easier.
Alberta’s victory in the first-ever conference match between Mount Royal and the Pandas back on October 12 in Calgary was anything but, however, as the road team overcame two one-goal deficits and scored late in the third before fourth-year forward Janelle Malcolm won the game 38 seconds into overtime.
The following night, Alberta took a 4-1 win on the strength of senior forward Karla Bourke’s career night, the Onoway, Alta. native earning a point on each Panda tally.
Yet that weekend sweep, which was in the middle of a seven-game winning streak where the Evergreen and Gold outscored their competition 23-10 seems ages ago, since Alberta has gone 3-6 since, struggling offensively with the injury to team captain Sarah Hilworth.
In those nine games, the Pandas have only scored more than two goals twice and, in a statistical rarity for the team that featured the talents of Danielle Bourgeois and Tarin Podloski in the past, not a single player has appeared in the top ten Canada West scorers for two straight weeks.
Bourke currently sits in 11th with 14 points (six goals, eight assists), sandwiched by Mount Royal’s Chrissy Hodgson and Tanika Dawson, both having strong starts in October with eight and nine points, respectively, but like their Alberta counterpart, had difficulty keeping the pace in November.
Perhaps the silver lining to keep in mind as the Pandas enter the second half of their season, though, is that all six losses have been decided by one goal, a testament to a defence that is tied with Calgary for fewest goals against in the conference.
Doing their part for that stat is the goaltending duo of fourth-year Michala Jeffries and rookie Lindsey Post, both of them posting impressive save percentages (.923 and .946, respectively) and spectacular goals against averages (1.98 and 0.93).
The Cougars bring a trio of netminders to the Mount Royal net, sophomores Katie Sigurdson and Jess Ross putting in a few nights’ work apiece while fourth-year ‘keeper Kendall Kilgour has played the lion’s share with 10 games, sporting a .908 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.
Helping Bourke put pucks past the seventh-ranked Cougar defence will likely be freshmen Jessica Kampjes and Kirsten Toth, but look for Mount Royal’s new blood in the form of Sydney Laurin to also make a difference, the Calgary native having four goals and seven points so far this season.