EDMONTON – In the battle for first place between the No.4 University of Alberta Pandas and the No.7 UBC Thunderbirds, the home team put its nose to the grindstone and pulled out a gritty 2-1 win to clinch the regular season conference title, Friday night at Clare Drake Arena.
Scoring in her third-straight game, fourth-year forward Janelle Froehler came 1:19 short of netting her third consecutive game-winner, sophomore forward Jessica Sekulic providing the insurance marker that came in handy with UBC's late goal.
Fourth-year blueliner Cailey Hay found the net for the visitors to make the final seconds interesting, but Alberta prevailed to improve to 19-1-6-1 on the season and solidify home-ice advantage throughout the Canada West playoffs. With the loss, combined with a Manitoba win in other action on Friday evening, UBC can fall to third at the end of the regular season if both the Bisons and T-birds repeat their respective stories on Saturday.
With the Pandas just needing a single win on the weekend to claim first place in the conference, both teams came out with defence-first strategies in the opening frame, avoiding any chance of a mistake to give their opponent an advantage on the scoreboard.
On a relatively harmless play nine minutes into the first period, the first great chance came in the form of second-year forward Deanna Morin in the slot, hitting the post behind fourth-year UBC goalie, Danielle Dube.
Only two minutes later, Alberta struck iron again but Froehler's redirect along the ice hit the far post and went in, giving the Pandas the 1-0 lead at the 10:47 mark on the power-play.
The two squads then continued their mistake-prevention strategy, combining for only nine shots in the opening stanza, adding only 11 more in the second when the flow of play was constantly interrupted by a parade to the penalty box.
Eight different penalties were doled out in the middle frame, the best chance of the frame coming off rookie defender Jessie Olfert's exit out of the sin bin right into a breakaway attempt but her snapshot hit Dube's blocker, her rebound then ricocheting off her skate and wide of the net.
Sensing their chance of victory slipping away, the T-birds tried to sway the momentum in the third, putting a flurry of pressure on Alberta five minutes into the final frame but the conference leader in goals against average and save percentage met them head on, Lindsey Post stopping a screened point shot by Devon Morrison with her right pad before taking a Rebecca Unrau rebound off the facemask.
Shortly after, Alberta got another dose of iron in their diet, with an Amy Helfrich wristshot ringing off the far post to keep the game at 1-0 and it would take another 10 minutes before the Pandas found the twine.
Jumping on the ice for a line change, Sekulic found herself the beneficiary of a bad line change by the UBC defence, getting a breakaway from the Thunderbird blueline that ended with a forehand deke, doubling the Alberta lead with 2:16 left to go.
Hay responded just under a minute later when the puck squirted out to her at the point, the Oakbank, Man. native's shot deflecting off a Panda defender before going five-hole on Post.
Successful with the goalie pull on the first UBC goal, the road team tried it again in the final minute but couldn't find the shot they needed, the Alberta defenders all too happy to keep the puck along the boards as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Alberta finished 1-5 on the power-play while the Thunderbirds went 0-8.
The two teams finish their regular season tomorrow, puck drop at 2 p.m. in the afternoon at Clare Drake Arena.