Being beaten by a bitter rival is never fun but the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team is moving on to bigger and better things.
After losing the Canada West final to the University of Alberta Golden Bears in a hard-fought three-game series, the Huskies took some time to lick their wounds before turning their attention to the U Sports national championship tournament.
“(The final) could have gone either way so for us it was just kind of taking a day or two and coming back, practising hard and getting ready for this week coming up,” Huskies forward Collin Shirley said.
The good thing about being a conference finalist is that win or lose, a spot in the national championship is guaranteed. The Dogs intend to make the most of their second chance.
“I’ve been fortunate, this is my third time here. Some guys have been fortunate all their years so it’s just once-in-a-lifetime and you wanna do whatever you can to play on that championship Sunday,” forward Carson Stadnyk said.
The Huskies are taking part in the national tournament for a fourth-straight year, but they haven’t won the title since claiming their first in 1983.
There have been some close calls in recent years, though.
In 2016 the Huskies suffered a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss in the semifinals. The following year they made it to the final but had to settle for silver after falling to the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
Then came 2018. The Huskies once again advanced to the semis, where they faced a familiar foe in the archrival Golden Bears. Just like they did this year, the Bears had bested the Huskies in the conference championship.
Saskatchewan led the semifinal after two periods only to have Alberta come back to win in overtime en route to claiming their 16th national championship.
But after posting their best record in program history in 2018-19 and finishing first in the Canada West conference the Huskies’ championship hopes are higher than ever, regardless of their loss in the conference final.
“Been there, done that for all the other things (at nationals) so it’d be nice,” team captain Jesse Forsberg said. “It’s obviously a really tough tournament to win and I think the city and our alumni and everyone, all the players and Dave deserve this so we’d like to do it this year.”
Head coach Dave Adolph is in his 26th season behind the Huskies bench. He’s won more games than any other coach in Canadian university men’s hockey history and a national championship is the only thing missing from his impressive coaching resume.
“We’re a good team. I think we’re worthy of being a top-four team in the country and now we just have to go and hope we get a break,” he said.
The Dogs’ biggest challenge may be not looking ahead. If they can get through the quarter-finals, a semifinal rematch with Alberta potentially awaits.
“I think we’ve been there enough times that we know we gotta focus on the task at hand first and then you know in the back of our minds we’ll still be thinking about it though for sure,” Forsberg said.
The math is simple: three wins equal a national title; one loss and you’re out.
“The more you get into it, the more you realize you know how big that cliff is on the other side, so can’t worry about the cliff. Lemmings don’t. We just go for it right, so that’s what we’re doing,” Adolph said.
The Huskies take the ice for their quarter-final matchup with the University of Guelph Gryphons on Thursday, March 14 at 1 p.m. MT. The semifinals are set for Saturday with the final taking place Sunday at 6 p.m.