Early rest: Saskatchewan Huskies enjoy bye week, undefeated in Canada West hockey

University of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach takes on the Calgary Dinos during Canada West pre-season action at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon, Sask. on Friday, September 15, 2023. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Darren Zary, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The hockey Dogs are resting while they can.

The Canada West men’s hockey schedule only gets tougher in the next couple of months for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, who will enjoy this weekend off after improving their conference record to 4-0-0 over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The competition will slowly ramp up for the Dogs, who needed some stingy goaltending by Roddy Ross and a goal by Carter Stebbings during a five-round overtime shootout to complete a sweep over the MacEwan Griffins.

Saskatchewan head coach Brandin Cote sees the schedule as favourable, as long as the Huskies take advantage of the games they are supposed to win while getting ready to face the likes of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, University of Alberta Golden Bears, Mount Royal University Cougars and the reigning conference champion University of Calgary Dinos.

“That’s what we’re building towards, right?” said Cote. “It’s early in the season. We’ve got a younger group up front and a few in the back that just need to get acclimated to the level. It’s just little details. But our guys care and they want to win.

“I do (like the schedule) if you take care of business in the first half. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for a real battle; but if you continue to gain confidence and get the points in the bank that you can get, and take care of it that way, then you’re setting yourself up for some confidence for when you go into those games (against top teams), and who knows.”

The Huskies will return to action next Friday, Oct. 20, when they host the University of Regina Cougars at Merlis Belsher Place.

“It’ll give us a rest and give us some time to work on some things and come together as a group still — again, we’ve got a lot of new guys — so that’s important,” stressed Cote. “We’ve got to approach it the right way. The byes are always a scary thing sometimes because you get a little rust on, but the rest is never a bad thing.”

Against MacEwan, Ross had to come up big in a shootout, and thanks to a few goal-posts and a spectacular diving save that saw him bat the puck off the goal-line, he closed the door on all five shooters.

“Obviously (the bye) is a little early, but we’ll take it,” said Ross. “We’ll take this time to get well, get healthy, get well rested and just re-group and then get back to it.

“That (schedule) is the big talk in the room right now. We know we’ve got a schedule that we like. Once we get past Christmas, that’s when all these little games matter and that’s why we know we’ve got to win these and just find a way.”

Added Stebbings: “We’re on a little bit of a roll now, so it’d be nice to keep going, but it’s nice to get everyone healthy again and a rest is always good. It’s a good start to the year. We’ve got to keep it going. We’ve got to tighten up our D-zone a little bit. We’re a little loose there, but these two weeks of practice will help and we’ll get everything tightened up.”

It’s been a learning experience for the young Dogs, knowing that you can’t take any Canada West opposition lightly.

“You can never disrespect the opponents coming in,” stressed Cote. “You can‘t take a night off because you’ll regret it.”

The Huskies are awaiting the return of No. 1 centerman Liam Keeler and top-four D-man Rhett Rhinehart.

Keeler is expected to be out for a while. Rhinehart is more week-to-week, day-to-day.

“We’ve got two weeks now to hopefully have him back in the fold here by the time we play Regina,” said Cote.