Matt Gutsch - Golden Bears and Pandas Communications
EDMONTON – Mitch Maxwell had a four point night, including a hat-trick, and Jay Merkley picked up the game winning goal, as well as two assists, as the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns recorded their first win at Clare Drake Arena in seven seasons as they toppled the No.6 ranked Alberta Golden Bears 4-3 in double overtime on Saturday night.
Merkley tipped a Clint Filbrandt shot past Alberta goalie Kenny Cameron as the Pronghorns skated with a 4-on-3 man advantage in the double OT session. It was Merkley's third point of the game, and his sixth goal of the season. Maxwell, who drew a second assist on the GWG, banked his fifth, sixth and seventh goals of the season for Lethbridge, and rookie goalie Garret Hughson made 47 saves for the win.
The win was the first for the Horns in conference play in Edmonton, since February 6, 2010 when they registered a 5-4 victory. It also kept Lethbridge two points up on the UBC Thunderbirds for the final playoff position in the conference. They now have a record of 11-12-3, good enough for 25 points, while UBC sits two points back at 10-13-2. Both teams have two games remaining, with Lethbridge hosting first place Saskatchewan next weekend at Nicholas Sheran Arena, while the Birds travel to take on the fourth place Mount Royal Cougars.
Alberta, meanwhile, sees their record drop to 17-7-2, as well as 10-3-1 at home. They remain in second place in Canada West, however, three points ahead of Calgary, but out of the running for first place. Although Saskatchewan lost Saturday night to the Manitoba Bisons, the Huskies are four points up on the Golden Bears, with two games remaining, and the tie breaker in hand. The Bears will need to sweep fifth place Manitoba (13-11-2) next weekend, in Winnipeg, in order to secure second place in the final standings. Sitting number two in the conference table at the conclusion of the conference season would cement a first round playoff 'bye' for Alberta, as well as home ice for the best-of-three semi-final series in three weeks.
Calgary, hot on Alberta's heels, faces last place Regina (3-21-2) next weekend, and is just three points back of the U of A for second place.
The Golden Bears, looking to shake off a lackluster 2-1 win on Friday night, started with a bang on Saturday when freshman Cole Linaker stuffed a Horns giveaway past Hughson just 1:47 into the game. Maxwell got his first of the game at 5:13, leaving the teams tied after 20 minutes.
Maxwell then buried a shorthanded tally 53 seconds into the second, but Bears rookie Trevor Cox knotted things up at two when he scored his sixth of the season at 14:33.
The hat-trick was completed at 6:38 of the third when Maxwell once again beat Cameron, but Alberta dug in and found a way to tie the score, this time getting a howitzer off the stick of first year defender Jason Fram past Hughson at 9:03.
After 4-on-4 overtime solved nothing, thanks in large part to Hughson stopping Jamie Crooks on a breakaway, the game appeared to be headed to a rare shootout. But, with time draining away in 3-on-3 OT, Lethbridge was awarded a power-play opportunity, and Merkley tipped Filbrandt's blast past a screened Cameron for the game winner at 3:50 of the final OT frame.
The Golden Bears will close out the conference season next weekend on the road against the Manitoba Bisons.
The game was the final home conference appearance for fifth-year Golden Bears Brennan Yadlowski and Rhett Rachinski