Pandas make it a dozen conference titles

Pandas make it a dozen conference titles

EDMONTON – In a tight game between perennial rivals, conference all-star Jessica Kampjes' power-play marker with 3:57 left in the third propelled the University of Alberta Pandas to the 12th conference title in team history, defeating the University of Manitoba Bisons by an eventual 3-1 final score, Saturday afternoon at Clare Drake Arena.

The third-year forward recorded a goal and an assist in Alberta's first Canada West crown since 2010, rookie defender Jessie Olfert scoring earlier in the third to tie the close game up at one and fourth-year forward Janelle Froehler adding an empty-netter. First team conference all-star Lindsey Post made 19 saves in her fourth-straight post-season victory. The win also advances the Pandas to the CIS Championships being held next weekend in Calgary.

Third-year rearguard Jayden Skoleski tallied the lone goal for the Bisons, while Canada West Second Team All-Star Rachel Dyck made 16 saves in the loss that ended Manitoba's season.

Both teams began today's elimination game with hesitancy, an early collision in the corner between an official and sophomore Alberta forward Jessica Sekulic quieting the hometown crowd, the Panda athlete getting the worst of it, but she would return in the second period.

For the rest of the opening frame, Alberta had the best scoring chance, a two-on-one between third-year forward Sasha Lutz and sophomore Ashley Morin led to Lutz's wristshot squarely finding Dyck's glove to keep the scoreboard at zeroes.

Former Melville Prairie Fire Alana Serhan followed up with a deflection off the post for Manitoba but the teams entered the dressing rooms still tied.

Sensing a chance to extend the series to a third and final game, the Bisons came on strong in the second, outshooting the home team 8-3 on the shot clock.

"They definitely brought their level up today," commented fifth-year Alberta defender Kayla Lavallee, playing in her final home game. "We knew that would happen. Their backs were against the wall and they definitely rose to the occasion. They're a tough team, a good team and a young team that will be a force to be reckoned within the years to come."

Manitoba's best chance in the middle stanza came with 1:05 left when senior forward Maggie Litchfield-Medd was in the right place at the side of the net, the puck finding its way to her from a scramble, but the Winnipeg's native shot at a wide-open net was instantly taken away by Post with an incredible reflex stick save to keep the game scoreless after 40 minutes.

Yet the visitors opened the scoring at the 2:21 mark of the third period, Post stopping Litchfield-Medd's point shot and amazingly stopping Skoleski's first rebound attempt with a blind pad save while on her back, but Skoleski had enough time to poke her second attempt through for the 1-0 score and put the Pandas on their heels.

"Maybe there was some hesitation through the first two periods," suggested Alberta head coach Howie Draper, "because you're worried about making a mistake that leads to a goal against. But, when you're in the third period and suddenly the first goal is scored by the other team, that hesitation goes out the window and you wake up and you start playing with confidence and making the plays you need to make because you have to do the things that made you successful and that means playing for the win."

It may have taken a bit too long for the hometown faithful for the confidence to appear, but Alberta replied on the scoreboard on a mad scramble in front of the Manitoba net at the 9:24 mark of the final frame.

With bodies flying everywhere and Dyck out of position from the initial scramble, Olfert powered home the puck into the Bison cage from the high slot, re-energizing the team and bolstering the bench efforts of Alberta's team captain.

"Kayla Lavallee was an absolute warrior for us," praised Draper. "I tell her that all the time because she always gives every game everything that she has, and today was no different. She kind of dragged the team along today. When we were down 1-0, she was the one walking up and down the bench rallying the players to get it together. She bleeds green and gold, and it was great to see her leadership as team captain, and her effort get rewarded because that was her final game on home ice, and she went out a winner."

It was then two-time Canada West All-Star Post's turn to shine, the Chelsea, Que. native taking on a point-blank shot from third-year forward Cassandra Taylor and making a left pad stop on another third-year Bison, Nicole McGlenen, to give Alberta a chance to win.

"Post was unbelievable today," continued Draper. "I thought she was our best player all weekend. She is an all-star and we really need her to step up in games like this, and at this time of the season. She was phenomenal today and all weekend."

Her efforts left the door open for some Kampjes heroics at the other end of the ice, a slapshot at the top of the circle on an Alberta man-advantage found its way through a maze of bodies before finding the far corner behind Dyck, the Pandas earning a 2-1 lead with 3:57 to go.

Not to be outdone, however, Manitoba turned up the heat with more offensive pressure in the winding minutes, forcing a final crucial save by Post on Litchfield-Medd with 30 seconds left, the netminder turning the former APHA Ranger aside with a combined stick-pad save.

"Litchfield-Medd was amazing all weekend for them," commented Draper. "I thought she was Manitoba's warrior all weekend, and that she put her teammates on her shoulders because she really wanted this game. It didn't surprise me that she was the one to break free late in the game and get a chance, but thankfully our best player, Post, bested their best player this weekend."

Froehler then added an insurance marker with 10.7 seconds left on the clock, vaulting a puck from center ice into the empty Bison cage to give Alberta its first conference banner in five years.

"It's an unreal feeling," expressed Lavallee. "I can't really describe the feeling, or even put it into words. The journey isn't over, we've accomplished one of our goals, but winning CIS is another goal and that's the next goal we're focused on."

Alberta went 1-7 on the power-play while the Manitoba went 0-5.

While the Bisons end their season with Canada West silver, the Pandas advance to the CIS Championships next weekend, their seeding amongst the six participating teams to be determined in the next two days.