The Oregon Ducks (12-10, 6-7 Pac-8) swept USC (10-12, 6-8 Pac-8) this weekend, delivering on head coach Rich Salahor’s promise that the team was out to send a message after being eliminated from playoff contention the week before.
“We went up there and I think we were definitely the stronger team,” Salahor said.
Oregon used two strong third periods, scoring three unanswered goals in the final frame both Friday and Saturday to beat USC.
Salahor said that the Ducks success in the third period was due to good conditioning — that and a few spirited speeches during intermission.
“Conditioning and threatening them with their lives,” he said, laughing. “The coaching staff made the team aware that they needed to go out and play with urgency and play hard every shift.”
The Ducks traveled to Southern California with a clear mindset — their schedule was stronger than USC’s and they wanted to prove that they were more deserving of playing in the Pac-8 tournament in Seattle.
“When we went out and outworked the other team, things went well,” Salahor said.
The Ducks won 7-4 to open the series on Friday night, scoring three times in the final 10 minutes of the third period. On Saturday night, the Ducks entered the final frame down 3-2 but scored four times in the period en route to a 6-4 win.
The Ducks focused energy in last week’s practice on accuracy, and while they did show signs of improvement, the team knows there is still work to be done.
“You can’t master sniping in an hour and a half,” junior Garrett Roberts said.
Roberts is from Southern California and relished the opportunity to play some of the same people he has played against in summer leagues.
“It was good to be able to talk a little smack and play some hockey,” he said.
The Ducks had been plagued by penalty trouble all season, but they stayed out of the sin bin against the Trojans, taking only three penalties over the weekend. Salahor said that the series had a decidedly different tone than the I-5 Cup games the Ducks played against Washington.
“We played clean, they played clean,” Salahor said. “Both games were very good games, hard fought, hard battled — good hockey”
The extra time with five skaters also gave the Ducks more time than they’ve had all year to play at even strength, which they see as one of their strengths because it allows them to play their own special style of hockey.
“We can run the systems that we practice,” Roberts said.
The Ducks return home to the Lane County Ice Center for their two final games of the year, a non-conference series with Western Washington Vikings (15-1-0 National Association of Intercollegiate Hockey).
The Vikings are the top-ranked team in the NAIH and haven’t lost since October 2011, but the Ducks think that once again the strength of their schedule will play to their advantage.
“The schedule that we’ve played this year definitely prepares us,” defenseman Matt Hanlon said.
Because they don’t play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Hanlon said the Ducks don’t really know what to expect against the Vikings, but he is ready for a challenge.
“I know we played them twice last year and split, and from what I hear they’re a deeper team this year,” he said. “We’re expecting a team that’s going to be pretty tough.”
Hanlon says the Ducks are in a similar situation against Western Washington that they were against College of the Canyons, the national champs a division below the Ducks in the American Collegiete Hockey Association.
The Ducks will honor a large senior class at a Senior Night ceremony on Saturday.