Connor Hood - Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON – The University of Alberta Pandas hockey team advanced to the Canada West Final after defeating the Manitoba Bisons 3-2 in Game 2 of their conference semifinal series, Saturday afternoon at Clare Drake Arena.
This is the second time in three seasons the Pandas have made the conference final, winning their last trip in 2015. The win also sends the Pandas to the U SPORTS Championship, regardless of the outcome in the conference final.
Sophomore defenseman Abby Benning scored her second in as many nights, with Ashley Morin and Kennedy Ganser also scoring for Alberta in the series-clinching win. Karissa Kirkup and Venla Hovi scored for the Bisons in the loss.
The first period of Game 2 was substantially better than the previous night, with the teams exchanging chances in a fast-paced start. Both Alex Poznikoff and Hovi had breakaways in the first, but were both turned aside by the respective goalies. Benning was able to capitalize on her chance midway through the first, walking the blue line, before ripping a point shot through Rachel Dyck.
Kirkup evened the game early in the second, as all four Pandas got caught puck watching on the penalty kill, leaving Kirkup alone in the slot, as she beat a helpless Lindsey Post.
Morin restored the Panda lead eight minutes later, taking advantage of a great rush by Cayle Dillon. Dillon's initial shot was stopped, leaving Morin to beat a lost Dyck with the rebound from the wall. The game hit the brakes after the goal, with neither team generating a shot until the third.
Hovi had countless chances to level the game at two, but missed the net on a majority of her shots in the third period. The Bisons had a perfect opportunity to even the game with a late five-on-three powerplay, but couldn't beat Post, who was outstanding down the stretch with nine third-period saves. Ganser seemed to ice the win with a shorthanded empty net goal with a minute left, but the tally turned out to be the game-winner. Hovi finally scored with 10 seconds left, but her late goal was too little, too late. Alberta didn't allow entry into their zone in the dying seconds, securing the 3-2 win.
Alberta will await the outcome of the UBC vs Saskatchewan semifinal to determine their opponent in the conference final. Either the Pandas will travel to UBC, or host the Saskatchewan Huskies next weekend at Clare Drake Arena.