Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
EDMONTON – Good things came in pairs Friday night for the Alberta Golden Bears, as the defending Canada West champs earned a Game 1 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies at Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton.
Powered by a pair of goals from both Trevor Cox, and Tyson Baillie – with two of them coming on the power play and another via penalty shot – the Bears skated to 5-2 win over their archrivals from Saskatoon.
Meeting for the 20th time in the Canada West Final and for the third consecutive season, the Canada West powers didn't disappoint in the first period, as the 2,896 who crammed into Clare Drake Arena were treated to an energetic opening frame.
"There's been lots of buzz around the school this past week leading up to this game and obviously with the rivalry with the University of Saskatchewan it's a pretty heated rivalry, we knew there was going to be lots of emotion," said Cox.
"It's great to play in front of a sold out crowd again just like the Western League. It's great to see."
The Huskies found the back of the net first when Andrew Johnson opened the scoring 7:08 into the period. The former Swift Current Bronco couldn't have asked for an easier goal, as Bears netminder Brendan Burke turned the puck over behind the net to Kohl Bauml, who promptly found Johnson for the series opener.
Alberta answered back just under 10 minutes later when Trevor Cox went hard to the net, drawing a rare penalty shot opportunity when Jesse Forsberg got tied up with the second-year Bear. The former Vancouver Giant made no mistake going one-on-one with Huskie netminder Taran Kozun, beating him with a quick snapshot to the blocker side to even the score.
"I wasn't really expecting them to call a penalty shot to be honest. I don't think it was really a clear-cut breakaway, but luckily they gave it to me," Cox said candidly. "I didn't really know what to think. I didn't really want to deke on the ice, it wasn't the greatest tonight. I just shot the puck and luckily it went in."
The first period's frantic pace continued late into the frame, as Saskatchewan and Alberta traded a pair of goals in the span of just 1:23 late in the period, as Huskie Connor Cox made it 2-1, before the Golden Bears got another from Trevor Cox – this time with the man advantage – to even the score at 2-2 heading into the locker room.
"Let's say it was entertaining. Maybe not the way we had it scripted, but I thought that we were still able to settle into our game plan and there's so little that separates these two programs, these two teams that you know that it comes down to special teams … and a little bit of detail, and maybe some puck luck," said Bears head coach Serge Lajoie of his team's start. "That's what it come down today for us – three power play goals, a penalty shot, so we made good on our chances."
Playing without a host of their top guns, including three-time Canada West Goalie of the Year Jordon Cooke, and team leading scorer Josh Roach – who posted 37 points this season to finish second in the conference scoring race – Saskatchewan couldn't muster another goal, as Alberta found the back of the net three times in the final 40 minutes.
"The only adversity we had was that power play goal they scored, that third goal, it bounced twice and went through Kozun and that's the difference. We turned the fourth one over all ourselves. That's the adversity we faced tonight we had two self-inflicted goals and a couple of penalties," head coach Dave Adolph said when asked about the adversity created by some key absences.
"Jordon Cooke won't play. He's done for the year, and Josh Roach is day-to-day. We want to make sure that he's healthy and that he's good to go (for nationals). We've got some serious warriors here that just didn't find a way to get it done. I like the guys we had in tonight."
Tyson Baillie, a veteran of 393 WHL games, scored a pair of second period goals to give the Bears a 4-2 lead heading into the third, before Brandon Magee added a third period power play goal to help the Bears to a 5-2 win a step closer to defending their conference crown from a year ago.
The Huskies and Bears, who are both headed to the University Cup March 15-18 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredricton, N.B., go at it again Saturday night in Edmonton, as Game 2 is slated for 5 p.m. MST. The game can be seen exclusively on Canada West TV.