By Woodard, Dale on March 15, 2019.
The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey team’s USPORTS Men’s Hockey Championship run is done at one.
The eighth-ranked and host Pronghorns were downed 7-1 by the number-one seeded and defending champion Alberta Golden Bears Thursday night at the Enmax Centre.
Paying tribute to the 1994 Pronghorns championship team before the game and playing in front of a boisterous hometown crowd, Lethbridge kept the deficit to 1-0 after 20 minutes before the high-powered Bears broke through in waves, scoring three goals in the second and third period to advance to the weekend draw of the tournament.
Golden Bear Luke Philp scored twice and had two assists, while former Medicine Hat Tiger Trevor Cox had a goal and two assists.
“The result is obviously disappointing,” said Pronghorns head coach Murray Nystrom. “Hats off to Ian, his staff and their team. They were extremely well-prepared and very detailed in their execution on the ice. I thought there were times where they really took advantage of some of the free pucks that we presented for them and good teams take advantage of those situations. They’re the reigning national champions for a reason and maybe that reason alone. They make you pay. They play hard from goal line to goal line and in every situation. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to your opponent. I thought they were really good today.”
Philp provided the lone goal of the first and added another on the power play for a 2-0 lead 3:24 into the second.
Pronghorn Connor Sanvido pulled it to one a little under a minute later when his shot from the top of the right circle found its way past Alberta goaltender Zach Sawchenko.
But the Golden Bears, who held the Horns to 12 shots all night, pulled away as Ben Carroll and former Tiger Cole Sanford made it 4-1 after two periods and Sawyer Lange, Cox and Brandon Magee rounded out the scoring.
“I played junior a few years down the road in Medicine Hat, so I was pretty comfortable in this rink,” said Cox. “It took a little bit of time get the legs going, but after the first it was feeling pretty good.”
“We’re confident, added Philp. “This first one is always difficult off the bat. I thought we were hesitant at times at the start of the game. But we did a much better job and I thought our third was our best period, so that’s good moving forward.”
Sawchenko made 11 saves for the Golden Bears, while Pronghorns goaltender Garret Hughson stopped 21 of 28 shots.
Golden Bears head coach Ian Herbers credited the Horns for keeping it close early.
“In the first period they came after us and made things difficult on us. That first game is always the hardest at this tournament, getting your legs under and everything else, feeling out the officials and how things are going to be called. I thought our guys responded well. We were a little tentative at first, but when we started to play our game as we kept going on.”
Playing in his final game as a Pronghorn Justin Valentino drew an assist on Connor Sanvido’s first period goal.
Sanvido nearly had another in the second period, but Sawchenko was albe to slide across and make the save.
“The experience I’ll never forget,” said Valentino of nationals. “I think it’s huge not only for our program, but the university and the community of Lethbridge. Look at the support we had today. It was fantastic. The whole lower bowl seemed to be sold out. Guys have seen and experienced what it takes to play at the national level, so hopefully moving into next year they can take this as motivation into starting the next season off on a high note. This is something I’ll greatly remember participating in as a Pronghorn.”
The loss ends a Pronghorns season in which the team made the Canada West post season for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
“We’re losing some really good people in terms of graduating players who are leaving a sound legacy for our players who are returning and our program moving forward in terms of playoff participation and what it takes to get to that level,” said Nystrom. “This tournament has allowed our players to experience that game at the next level. Making the playoffs is one thing, playing at the national level is another level all together and we’ll be better for that experience. It’s a tough moment right here following the game, but we have a group of fine men and we’ll rebound and start preparing to move forward and make sure we celebrate our successes this year. Of course, we’d like to be playing Saturday, but that just wasn’t meant to be.”
In the first game of the day, the Saskatchewan Huskies earned their spot in the weekend draw thanks to a 6-1 win over the Guelph Gryphons.
Carson Stadnyk scored twice for the Huskies, while Levi Cable, Logan McVeigh, Wyatt Johnson and Evan Fiala added one each.
Collin Shirley had four assists for Saskatchewan and goaltender Taran Kozun stopped 31 of 32 shots.
Scott Simmonds scored for the Gryphons and goaltender Andrew Masters faced 27 shots.
Action continues today as the second-seeded University of New Brunswick Reds take on the seventh-ranked Carleton University Ravens at 1 p.m. The St. Francis Xavier X-Men (6) plays the Queen’s University Gaels (3) at 7 p.m.
NOTES – The USPORTS and University Cup committee announced Thursday that for the remaining two quarter-final game and the semifinal that children 14-and-under get in free with a paid adult ticket. Children will still require a complimentary ticket for seating assignment and will need to check in at the Enmax ticket centre for these tickets prior to entering.