It took a little while, but the University of Alberta Pandas proved once again why they are the number one team in Canadian university hockey.In the Canadian Interuniversity Sport gold medal game Monday, Alberta fell behind 2-0 to the University of Toronto Varisty Blues, before battling back to take an enthralling 5-4 overtime victory over the number three ranked Blues.
The victory served as a re-affirmation of the quality of the Panda’s squad, who went undefeated for the second consecutive year. Alberta’s last loss came at the hands of the Blues in the final of the same tournament in 2001.
The triumph was the third in the last four years for Alberta, but it didn’t always seem like a sure thing. Toronto jumped out to a 2-0 just past the midway point of the contest, and looked good for the win. Toronto surrendered only 11 goals in 22 conference games all season, and didn’t appear willing to relinquish one to the best offense in the country, either.
Goalie Alison Houston, with ten shutouts in the regular season, was finally beaten at 11:34 of the second and that’s when the onslaught began. Alberta would tally two more powerplay goals by the end of the period, and the Blues found themselves to be in deep trouble.
Alberta scored again at 6:51 of the third, giving them a two-goal lead of their own. Two of the four goals came at the combined hands of the Pandas top line of Kristen Hagg, Lori Shupak and Danielle Bougeois who terrorized goaltenders all year, and had both Shupak and Bougeois named to the all-star team for the tournament.
But just as U of T had done earlier, Alberta would relinquish the lead, setting up the overtime drama. A goal by Safiya Muharuma with just over five minutes left took the deficit to one goal, and a thrilling tying goal by Bree Kruklis with :19 remaining put the Blues into overtime with a chance at the championship.
All that went for naught though, as Taryn Fjeld clinched a gold medal for her side when she scored on Houston at 4:35 of overtime, and Alberta celebrated yet again.
Overall in the tournament, Alberta went 3-0-0, scoring 21 goals. Shupak, with her contributions, was named tournament Most Valuable Player. They finish the season 34-0-1 overall, with their only blemish coming from the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
Carol Scheibel was also a major contributor on the blueline as she saw her efforts rewarded with a position on the tournament all-star team.
Toronto went 2-0-0 in the qualifying round, then lost their playoff game to Alberta. Toronto knocked off number two ranked McGill 3-0 in the round-robin portion of the tournament to earn their spot in the final.