Levko Koper scored twice, including the game-winner, to lead the top-seeded University of Alberta Golden Bears to a 3-1 victory over the host Saskatchewan Huskies on Sunday in the Canadian university men’s hockey championship.
It’s a record 14th University Cup triumph for U of A.
It was the first national championship since 2008 for the Bears, who were skating in their 19th CIS title match, another all-time mark. With the win, Alberta improved to 6-0 overall this season against its archrival from the Canada West conference.
“It was a long time coming,” said Ian Herbers, who was in his second campaign behind the U of A bench and had won a title as a player with the Bears back in 1992. “The guys worked so hard all year, going back to their off-season training last summer. There’s so much leadership in our locker room. The focus and determination of our player was phenomenal.
“We’re a hard-working team, that’s Bears hockey. This weekend we were very aggressive on the forecheck and on the penalty-kill. We were able to play three very solid games and that’s what you need to win this championship.”
The championship game was played in front of 6,289 fans at Credit Union Centre, lifting the seven-game total to 41,089, a new standard for the 52-year-old tournament. The previous standard of 40,956 had been set in 2000 at Credit Union Centre, then known as Saskatchewan Place.
Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph, whose program’s lone CIS title dates back to 1983, was proud of his teams despite the heartbreaking loss.
“It’s hard to win a national championship,” said Adolph. “Our guys gave it everything they had. They fought their way to credibility and proved they belonged in this tournament. Today, they just ran into a powerhouse.”
The game’s turning point came with five minutes remaining in the second period. Up 1-0 thanks to a Jordan Hickmott goal early in the period, the Bears found themselves down one man for five minutes after Johnny Lazo earned a major penalty and a game misconduct for hitting an opponent from behind.
With one minute to go in the major, Koper and James Dobrowolski were able to take off on a two-on-one breakaway. Koper took a perfect pass from his teammate before beating netminder Ryan Holfeld with a high wrist shot on the glove side.
A few moments earlier, Matthew Spafford came inches away from tying the contest at one all but his backhand shot hit the post to the left of veteran goalie Kurtis Mucha.
“I’m not going to lie, on the winning goal, I kind of closed my eyes and hoped it goes in,” said Koper, who was named player of the match for Alberta. It’s an amazing feeling. There are no words to describe how we feel right now.“
Unfazed by the two-goal deficit, the Huskies needed only one minute to respond and get on the board. Left uncovered in front of the net, Canada West MVP Derek Hulak received the puck from Josh Roach and one-timed it past Mucha.
In the third, Alberta was able to protect its slim lead and Koper finally added an insurance goal with six minutes left in regulation, once again on a two-on-one, this one with Travis Toomey.