With all due respect to the Alberta Golden Bears and Calgary Dinos, the Saskatchewan Huskies are the team to beat in Canada West.
In fact, they might even be the favourite for the U Sports national championship.
Not only did the Huskies sweep UBC this past weekend, they even managed to shutout the Thunderbirds in back-to-back games for the first time this season — 4-0 and 5-0 were the final scores. It was a total domination for Saskatchewan, against a UBC side who have struggled to score this year and are thus sitting second-to-last in Canada West for goals scored.
"We have to put it behind us really quick,” UBC head coach Sven Butchenson told UBC Athletics after Saturday’s 5-0 loss. “It's been a tough schedule since Christmas, we would've liked to pull out a couple more wins in there, we didn't get it but now it's time to figure things out because we're running out of time."
The series against Saskatchewan ended a brutal three weeks for the Thunderbirds that included playing both the Golden Bears, the defending national champions, the Calgary Dinos and the Huskies. UBC managed only one win during this stretch, but it is better than nothing considering that all three opponents are nationally ranked.
“It's been a tough schedule since Christmas,” said Butenschon. “We would've liked to pull out a couple more wins in there, we didn't get it but now it's time to figure things out because we're running out of time."
"We've got four games to finish the year and we need to get some momentum going into playoffs,” he added.
The schedule now gets easier for UBC, as they will host the seventh place Manitoba Bisons this coming weekend before traveling to face Regina and finish the season against the last-place Cougars.
UBC can't afford any more setbacks if they want to get home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. If they did, they would likely go back to Calgary, either to face the Calgary Dinos or the Mount Royal Cougars — they haven't won a game against either school this year.
As of now, the Thunderbirds are fifth in Canada West. Though they are technically tied with the Mount Royal Cougars for fourth, the Calgary-side own the tiebreaker between the teams and have one game in hand, giving them home-ice advantage if it came down to it.
There may be some luck on UBC's side though.
The Cougars visit the Saskatchewan Huskies this week, which may give UBC a lead in the standings if the Thunderbirds prevail against the Bisons and the Cougars get swept.
If UBC is to be successful, they must generate more offense and stay out of the penalty box; the Huskies scored two powerplay goals in each of the two games this past weekend. For the Thunderbirds, they can't afford to give away the little calls and instead need to get back the fighting spirit they had against Calgary two weekends ago when they came back from the 3-2 Winter Classic loss to win the second match 4-3.
In other words, there remains a lot of work to do.