Sunday, 19 February 2017

Stars close regular season with record

Parker records highest goal total since Clark/Harris

Stars F Mackenna Parker set career highs with goals (24) and points (44).
    The Saskatoon Stars seem to just keep shooting for the stars, when it comes to collecting achievements.
    On Sunday at the Agriplace Arena, the Stars closed the regular season with a 4-1 victory over the Regina Rebels, improved to 25-2-1 and set a new team record for points in the regular season standings at 76. The Stars earned the 76 points by winning all their games in regulation and acquiring a point from an overtime loss. In the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, three points are awarded in the standings for regulation wins.
    The previous team record for points in the regular season standings was 74 set in the 2014-15 campaign, when the Stars posted a 25-3 mark. The Stars earned 72 points by winning 24 games in regulation and two points for an extra time victory.
Grace Shirley had a goal for the Stars on Sunday.
    Greg Slobodzian, who is in his third season as Stars head coach, said he always tries to focus on helping his players become better people, increase their confidence while also concentrating on the process of getting better on the ice. The bench boss said his team doesn’t shoot for lofty records but added it is sweet when they do happen.
    “Those little things are nice rewards for sure,” said Slobodzian, whose Stars won their last 14 straight regular season games. “That is not why we do it, but any time you can get rewarded for the work these girls put in, it means something.
    “All those little extras it is like that is why we work so hard in practice, and that is why our dryland was the way it was. It is a nice feather in the cap type thing.”
    Besides the team record, Stars 16-year-old forward Mackenna Parker also hit some impressive milestones.
    She scored once on Sunday to finish with career highs in goals (24) and points (44). Her 24 goals are the highest for a Stars player in a season since Emily Clark, who is now a member of Canada’s senior national team, and Kennedy Harris, who is a checking centre with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, both scored 26 goals for the Stars in the 2011-12 campaign.
Stars F Mackenna Parker is stopped by Rebels G Katheryn Neigum.
    Parker’s point total is the highest for a Stars player since Clark recorded 60 points also in the 2011-12 season.
    “It is amazing, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates too,” said Parker. “It is not just me that puts the work in.
    “It is amazing to hear that my hard work is paying off.”
    Parker, who is completing her third full season with the Stars, was pleased to hear her squad also set a new team record for most points collected in the regular season standings.
    “The dressing room was pumped,” said Parker. “It is a great feeling just to know that our hard work has paid off.
    “Definitely being a third-year now, it is amazing to see how we have developed throughout the years and how much we are getting better. It is an amazing feeling, and everyone is so excited about it.”
Joelle Fiala breaks down the wing for the Stars.
    In the win over the Rebels, the Stars came out firing and a blowout could have been possible had it not been for the stellar goaltending of 17-year-old veteran Katheryn Neigum in the Regina net. Neigum turned away 41 of 44 shots fired her way.
    Grace Shirley gave the Stars a 1-0 lead in the first period, but Rebels forward Ally Kosteniuk replied with a single to tie things up at 1-1 before the first intermission rolled around.
    Parker picked up the only goal in the second to put the hosts up 2-1. Rookie forward Kaitlin Jockims increased the Stars edge to 3-1 with a tally that came just before the midway point of the third period.
    The Rebels had a goal disallowed with 1:20 to play in the third, and Joelle Fiala sealed the final outcome for the Stars with an empty-net tally with 20.6 seconds to play.
Defender Dana Wood looks for a shooting lane for the Stars.
    Rookie goalie Arden Kliewer made 15 stops to pick up the win in the Saskatoon net.
    The Rebels fell to 17-8-3 with the loss and finished fourth in the SFMAAAHL standings.
    When Slobodzian became the Stars head coach before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, he expected to go through a three-year process before his players hit stride. The Stars always seemed to run ahead of schedule.
    “We went to nationals the first two,” said Slobodzian. “This year, we are tough to play against, really tough.”
    Having finished first in the SFMAAAHL for the third year in a row, the Stars will attempt to win a third straight league title and also advance to the Esso Cup national championship tournament for a third straight year.
    This year’s Esso Cup runs April 23-29 in Morden, Man.
Goalie Arden Kliewer enjoys Sunday’s win with her Stars teammates.
    The Stars take their first step on the playoff road by taking on the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings (0-28) in a best-of-five SFMAAAHL quarter-final series. All eight teams in the SFMAAAHL move on to the post-season.
    Game 1 of the series between the Stars and Gold Wings is set for Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena. Game 2 is Friday in Weyburn. Game 3 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Where there’s a Willo, there’s a way

Willoughby delivers first round series sweep to Huskies

Kaitlin Willoughby (#17) celebrates her series-winning goal for the Huskies.
    Just when everything seemed dark, Kaitlin Willoughby brought the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team into the light.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies went into Game 2 of their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final playoff series looking for a sweep of the University of Regina Cougars. In the third period of Saturday’s clash, things were looking bleach for the home side.
    The Huskies went into the third period holding a 1-0 lead, but the never-say-die Cougars came out hard and were throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Huskies goalie Cassidy Hendricks recording the first 12 shots on goal in the frame.
    At the 9:33 mark of the third, the Cougars finally broke through as fourth-year defender Jolene Kirkpatrick found the equalizer on her side’s 13th shot of the period to force a 1-1 tie. The Huskies for the most part were unable to get out of their zone, and it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before the Cougars went ahead on the scoreboard.
Kaitlin Willoughby starts her drive on her game-winning goal rush.
    When all hope seemed lost, Willoughby stepped up and stormed into the Cougars zone on a spectacular individual rush. The Prince Albert product wired home the winning goal top corner on Cougars netminder Jane Kish to put the Huskies up 2-1 with 3:35 to play.
    The Huskies came to life to close out the 2-1 victory in Game 2 and sweep the series 2-0.
    “I think when they scored, it was kind of just like you just feel like so upset,” said Willoughby, who had a hat trick in the Huskies series opening 4-3 win on Friday night at Rutherford. “You just have to make sure everyone on the bench is ready to go.
    “We’re not going to let that bother us. I kind of said to everyone like let’s make sure this doesn’t affect us. We got to go out and keep doing what we are doing, because it is going to come our way. It did.
    “I am so proud of how our team played this weekend. If we play like that from here on out, we will be doing good things.”
Defender Jolene Kirkpatrick had the equalizer for the Cougars.
    During the first two periods of Saturday’s game, it seemed like the Huskies would steadily push to a low-scoring win. With 2:09 to play in the first period, Bailee Bourassa accounted for the Huskies first goal thanks to a positive bounce. Huskies sophomore forward Courtney Cormack flipped a shot high on the U of R goal, and it deflected off Bourassa into the net to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    After 40 minutes, the Huskies seemed to have control of the game holding a 17-14 edge in shots on goal and having spent long stretches in the U of R zone. In the third, the visitors came in waves, but Hendricks, who is the Huskies fifth-year money netminder, was up to the challenge of holding her team in the game.
    “It was a really hard period,” said Hendricks. “Luckily, there were a lot of faraway shots, so I could control it pretty well.
    “I just had to focus on staying like calm. I just had to focus on making saves and controlling my rebounds. It worked out for the most part.”
Cassidy Hendricks makes one of her 31 saves for the Huskies.
    Hendricks ultimately made 31 stops to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. She admitted she got pretty pumped, when Willoughby put the hosts ahead.
    “I am just so glad to have Willo on the team,” said Hendricks. “She just always performs when she needs to, especially with last night’s three goals.
    “She is just a huge player. I love her on the team.”
    Kish turned away 21 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars.
    The series win was a first for Huskies interim first-year head coach Robin Ulrich, but the bench boss wasn’t overly concerned about that fact.
    “More important, the team got the win,” said Ulrich. “That is all I really care about. Overall, I think it was a real good series for us.
    “Those were a couple of excellent games for us as a team. Tonight, was a big test. Regina came with everything they had.
    “I really like the game that we brought tonight.”
    With the series win, the Huskies advance to play the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series. Game 1 is set for this coming Friday in Vancouver.
The Huskies salute the crowd at Rutherford after their series sweep.
    The two clubs split their four encounters in the regular season. The Thunderbirds finished first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 record and are rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies were fourth in Canada West with a 15-10-3 mark.
    Willoughby can’t wait to take on the next challenge in the post-season.
    “I think it is going to be awesome going to UBC,” said Willoughby. “We’re not going to take them lightly, but at the same time, we know that we can beat them.
    “We just have to go do the things we’ve been doing all year that had success against them before. It will be an exciting series that’s for sure, but I think it will be good.”

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Friday, 17 February 2017

Willo’s Huskies legend keeps growing

Star forward powers U of S with hat trick in 4-3 playoff win

Kaitlin Willoughby, right, celebrates one of her three goals.
    The presence of a couple of former teammates helped give Kaitlin Willoughby an extra kick to play at an all-world level.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the 21-year-old star forward with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team could peer into the alumni box to see her former linemates Cami Wooster and Marley Ervine were in attendance for Game 1 of a best-of-three playoff series against the rival University of Regina Cougars. 
    When Willoughby was a rookie in the 2013-14, the trio played an extremely important part in helping the Huskies win their first Canada West title.
    That season, Wooster was the super talented captain in her fifth and final year of eligibility, while Ervine was a third-year heart and soul feisty forward. Together, they had a huge influence in helping Willoughby become the U Sports rookie of the year, and their influence continues help Willoughby be the spectacular player and person she is to this very day.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set for an offensive zone faceoff.
    “They always text me before games too saying they are going to be cheering me on,” said Willoughby, who helped Canada win silver at the FISU Winter Universiade earlier this month in Almaty, Kazakhstan. “That means a lot to like have those girls there just knowing what we’ve done together in the past.
    “It is just awesome to see them there.”
    The Prince Albert product proceeded to put on a show her former teammates could be proud of. She netted a hat trick to power the Huskies to a 4-3 victory before a three-quarters full house at Rutherford.
    Willoughby’s first goal came short-handed on a setup from defender Brooke Patron to put the Huskies up 1-0 early in the second period. After the Cougars went up 2-1, she rocketed home a power-play goal top corner to force 2-2 tie heading into the second intermission.
Kaitlin Willoughby wires home her hat trick goal.
    At the 4:52 mark of the third, Willoughby wired home her third goal of the night to put the Huskies up 3-2.
    “My first goal was pretty lucky there,” said Willoughby. “I just threw it on net.
    “That is what happens when you keep grinding it out. The second two shots I was actually aiming.”
    The contest was also a physical one, and Willoughby didn’t shy away from that aspect of the game either. Besides winning a number of individual battles, she turned heads in the second, when she knocked Cougar defender Krista Metz to the ice. Metz stands an imposing 5-foot-11, and she has a height advantage of five inches on Willoughby.
    Willoughby said her side got locked into the game when Cougars sophomore forward Jaycee Magwood went hard to the net on a rush and nailed Huskies goaltender Cassidy Hendricks early in the first.
Kaitlin Willoughby does a flyby celebration after one of her three goals.
    “I think right off the start we were just like OK we are not letting them have anything tonight,” said Willoughby. “We are not letting that happen again.
    “We beared down, and we battled through.”
    The Huskies lead increased to 4-2, when speedy fourth-year forward Kori Herner scored just two minutes after Willoughby netted her hat trick tally.
    Magwood capitalized on a Huskies giveaway to cut the host’s edge to 4-3 with 3:42 to play. That set the stage for Willoughby to add her final impact on the win.
    With under 35 seconds to play, she broke up ice with the puck and was tripped by Cougars rookie forward Merissa Zerr. That infraction helped put an end to the visitor’s comeback hopes.
    Huskies interim head coach Robin Ulrich said Willoughby definitely stepped up in the series opener.
    “That is an example of what an exceptional player she is and just a difference maker in the game,” said Ulrich. “She is a game breaker, and that is why she is one of the best players in the league.
    “She can make the difference.”
The Huskies celebrate their 4-3 Game 1 victory over the Cougars.
    Tamara McVannel and Magwood both replied with singles for the Cougars.
    Hendricks turned away 28 shots to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. Jane Kish turned away 25 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars. Kish hadn’t given up a goal to the Huskies in two regular season starts.
    The win puts the Huskies in position to sweep the series in Game 2 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.
    The overall intensity of Game 1 was fairly high, and Willoughby expected it to be that way that night and for the rest of the series.
    “We go into the game thinking that it is going to be like an intense game,” said Willoughby. “We don’t take anyone lightly.
    “We went out there, and we had some fun with it. I think things just bounced our way tonight.”
    If a series deciding Game 3 is needed, it will be held Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Point still important in big playoff picture for Blades

Blades goalie Brock Hamm holds off the Silvertips.
    The Saskatoon Blades have reached the point where they never like to lose, but when you are trying to cement a playoff berth, any point you can get in the standings is important.
    On Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades were looking to extend their winning streak to four games taking on the Everett Silvertips, who are rated eighth in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings. The two teams battled to a legitimate even 1-1 stalemate though 60 minutes of regulation time and a five-minute three-on-three overtime period.
    In a four-round tiebreaking shootout, the Silvertips prevailed 2-1 to take the contest 2-1 before 2,935 spectators. Riley Sutter netted the winner in the shootout for the Silvertips, who also received a goal from Orrin Centazzo in the tiebreaker session. Jesse Shynkaruk had Saskatoon’s lone goal in the shootout.
The Blades and Silvertips scramble in front of the Everett net.
    The win allowed the Silvertips, who have won three in a row, to improve to 34-12-8-2 and move a point ahead of the idle Seattle Thunderbirds (36-16-3-2) for first place in the WHL’s U.S. Division.
    The Blades saw their record move to 23-26-5-2. The point they earned in the standings allowed them to sit three points up on the idle Calgary Hitmen (20-26-8-2) for eighth place and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    While the Blades expectations of themselves have increased despite the face they are missing six regulars due to injury, they still must be mindful of the bigger picture.
    Saskatoon is trying to nail down its first playoff berth since 2013, when the Blades hosted that year’s Memorial Cup. After three years of missing the post-season, the Blades are sitting in a playoff position as of Feb. 15. They were nowhere near such a spot this late in a campaign during the last three years.
Centre Kirby Dach (#77) gets set in the offensive zone for the Blades.
    On paper, you wouldn’t expect the Blades to match up well against a team like the Silvertips. The fact Saskatoon earned a point against Everett is big, because a number of other teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff chase wouldn’t be able to say the same thing.
    The Blades have beaten some of the WHL’s elite teams this season including the Regina Pats, who top the WHL’s overall standings, and the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. Against the Silvertips, it appeared the Blades were poised to send another elite team down to defeat.
    Saskatoon opened the scoring in the clash with Everett in the first period, when underage centre Kirby Dach deflected home a point shot from Blades overage defenceman Bryton Sayers.
Riley Sutter (#14) wins a draw for the Silvertips.
    At the 14:04 mark of the second period, the Silvertips tied things up at 1-1, when overage left-winger Dominic Zwerger netted his 23rd goal of the season.
    For most of the night, the goalies stole the show. Silvertips netminder Carter Hart, who played for Canada’s world junior team this season, turned away 30 shots over 65 minutes of play to allow the Silvertips to have a chance to win in a shootout.
    Blades netminder Brock Hamm, whose WHL career has shown a resurgence since the start of last December, stopped 28 shots over 65 minutes of work. Had Hamm bested Hart, it would have marked his biggest personal win of the season.
The Silvertips celebrate their victory after a tiebreaking shootout.
    As long as the Blades keep collecting points in the standings, they put that much more pressure on the Hitmen to keep pace. Saskatoon will try to increase its hold on the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference when they travel to Cranbrook, B.C., on Friday to face the Kootenay Ice.
    Every small step the Blades take in increasing their point total in the standings gets them that much closer to hitting the ice in the post-season.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Huskies vs. Cougars - The rivalry will return and be real

Huskies captain Lauren Zary, right, slips a past past a Cougars forward.
    They will say the right things leading up to the first game day, but those words will fail to hide the intensity that is to come.
    On Friday, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies will face the University of Regina Cougars in Game 1 of a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final women’s hockey playoff series at 7 p.m. at the Ancient Rutherford Rink. Game 2 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford, and if necessary, Game 3 will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.
    Don’t be deceived. There is no way anyone on either team wants to be on the losing side of this series.
    The women’s hockey rivalry between the Huskies and Cougars is a rivalry in its purest form. In Western Hockey League terms, this is old Regina Pats taking on the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Saskatoon Blades tangling with the Prince Albert Raiders in the 1980s and 1990s or the Medicine Hat Tigers battling the Red Deer Rebels in the 2000s.
Kaitlin Willoughby has to play at an all-world level to power the Huskies.
    To see proof of that, all one has to do is look back at the last post-season encounter between the Huskies and Cougars, when they engaged in an epic clash in the 2014 Canada West championship series.
    Every game in that series went to overtime, and the best-of-three series between the two sides featured 17 periods of hockey that totaled up to 296 minutes of ice time.
    The series deciding Game 3 was a war. While there were only four minor penalties called in the contest, there were numerous scrums after every whistle where punches were thrown. The game was physical, but it was also played with a lot of skill and heart before a packed crowd of 760 people.
    When the dust settled, the Huskies came away with a 2-1 victory in double overtime, where Kaitlin Willoughby, who was named that season’s U Sports rookie of the year, netted the winner with a shot from the left side wall.
    The Huskies return eight players from that series as do the Cougars, and the veterans do have long memories of what happened in the past. The majority of the players on both sides came up through the minor hockey system in Saskatchewan and know each other well. Those links give this series that much more of an edge.
Jaycee Magwood had a stellar campaign for the Cougars.
    Out of all the teams in Canada West the Huskies could face at home in the post-season, the Cougars are likely the opponent that will be the least affected by the deficiencies and the unique characteristics of the Rutherford Rink.
    They have probably already addressed in team meetings the atmosphere they are going to face. That will include anticipating the fact the majority of the members of the Huskies men’s hockey team, who are on a bye weekend before beginning their post-season run, will likely be in attendance to give the gears to the opposition wearing green and gold.
    Veteran Cougars head coach Sarah (Howald) Hodges, who has had lengthy involvement with Canada’s national women’s team program, always ensures her teams are well prepared. While she may appear to be quiet, she is no nonsense and holds her players to very high expectations. Her players always bring the effort to meet those expectations.
    Expect the Cougars to enter Rutherford as the outlaws looking to wreak the party.
    As far as the regular season went, not much separated these two clubs. The Huskies finished fourth in Canada West with a 15-10-3 record, while the Cougars were fifth with a 14-13-1 mark.
Kylie Gavelin is aiming for a memorable farewell run.
    The biggest difference came in the four regular season encounters, where the Cougars took three of those meetings and outscored the Huskies 7-3.
    Normally, you would assume the Huskies would have the advantage playing at home, but this series is a tossup.
    In order to win, the Huskies have to rely on Willoughby, who is now in her fourth year, captain Lauren Zary and fifth-year veteran goalie Cassidy Hendricks. Willoughby topped the Huskies in scoring with 11 goals and 10 assists in 24 regular season games. The Prince Albert product has been playing at an all-world level for over a month and just came off of helping Canada’s women’s team win a silver medal at the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    Zary appeared in all 28 regular season games for the Huskies netting five goals and 15 assists. Hendricks, who backstopped the Huskies to the 2014 Canada West title, had another stellar year in the U of S net posting an 11-9-3 record, a 1.67 goals against average, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts.
Rachel Johnson dumps a puck into the offensive zone.
    After Zary, the Huskies individual scoring falls off. Fifth-year veteran forward Rachel Johnson finished third in team scoring with six goals and six assists in 28 games.
    Also on the down side, U of S struggled on the power play all season. The Dogs cashed in on only 14-of-132 power-play chances for a 10.6 per cent clip that ranked second last in Canada West and likely cost U of S some wins.
    The Cougars have more a little more scoring depth, and their forward unit includes two players that also played for Canada at the Winter Universiade in Jaycee Magwood and Kylie Gavelin. Magwood, who is a sophomore, topped the Cougars in scoring with 12 goals and 12 assists in 24 games. Gavelin, who is in her fifth and final season, had seven goals and nine assists in 24 games.
    U of R also received solid seasons from third-year forward Emma Waldenberger and four-year forward Kylee Kupper, who both appeared in all 28 regular season games. Waldenberger had nine goals and eight assists, while Kupper had eight goals and eight assists.
    Fifth-year captain Alexis Larson, who also suited up for Canada at the Winter Universiade, eats up a lot of minute on the Cougars blue-line picking up two goals, nine assists and a plus-two rating in 24 regular season games.
Jane Kish (#31) has had a strong season in goal for the Cougars.
    In goal, the Cougars will rely on sophomore Jane Kish to carry the load. During the regular season, the Weyburn, Sask., product posted a 10-9 record, a 2.28 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and three shutouts. Kish backed her hometown Weyburn Gold Wings to an Esso Cup title for female midget AAA hockey national supremacy in 2014.
    One of the big wildcards in the series might be the fact the Huskies are led by positive and upbeat first-year interim head coach Robin Ulrich, who was once a Huskies captain. Ulrich is strong at connecting with her players, and that seems to bring out the best in those wearing the green and white.
    At even strength, the Huskies play as a unit of five has been very strong this season. They need to continue that strong play to transition the puck up ice to create scoring chances.
    On both sides, the ultimate key to the series might be which team can stay the most composed, when the intensity cranks up. When the series wraps up, the winner might just be battle hardened enough to go on a long run that might result in a berth at nationals that run March 16-19 at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Back in the Express with Hendricks

Goaltender Cassidy Hendricks has had a stellar career with the Huskies.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with feature story on Hendricks.
    The story went to press right before the Huskies played their final two regular season games, so it doesn’t contain a final update of the impressive final career totals put up by the North Vancouver, B.C., product.
    During her five-year career in regular season play, Hendricks appeared in 117 games, recorded a 57-44-13 record, a 2.04 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and 12 shutouts.
    She ranks third on the all-time Canada West career wins list and first in all-time minutes played at 6,973.
    The story on Hendricks can be found right here.

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Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bourassa finds groove with Huskies

Rookie forward brings clutch playoff history from Weyburn

Bailee Bourassa, left, smiles after scoring for the Huskies.
    When Bailee Bourassa joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, she came with a playoff pedigree.
    The 18-year-old rookie forward will always be remembered in her hometown of Weyburn, Sask., for scoring the winning goal in the championship game of the 2014 Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament. Her tally helped her hometown Weyburn Gold Wings top the Edmonton Thunder 2-1 at the Gateway Ice Centre in Stoney Creek, Ont.
    With that goal, Bourassa cemented herself with hometown hero status by helping deliver a national championship to her community.
    “That was probably one of the best experiences of my entire life,” said Bourassa. “It was one of the best teams I have ever been a part of.
    “The girls were great. That was one of my best years of hockey. It was just an unreal experience being there and like how big of a deal it actually was.
    “Being the underdogs to come out on top was just an awesome feeling.”
Bailee Bourassa circles past a couple of defenders in the offensive zone.
    As a rookie with the Huskies, Bourassa has experienced the typical learning curve that comes with joining the U Sports level. She also exited the regular season on a high.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Bourassa wired home a setup from fifth-year defender Alyssa Dobler on the power-play shortly before the midway point of the second period in a match against the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns. The goal gave the Huskies a 2-0 edge that ultimately held up as the final outcome in a contest that closed the regular season for both sides.
    In that one moment, Bourassa displayed the scoring prowess that allowed her to net 21 goals and nine assists in 26 regular season games with the Gold Wings in her final midget AAA campaign in 2015-16.
    “It felt awesome, because our line was kind of on a dry streak,” said Bourassa, who stands 5-foot-8. “We finally put one in there, and it felt really good.”
    During her rookie campaign, Bourassa appeared in 25 regular season games with the Huskies netting four goals and five assists.
Bailee Bourassa bursts into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    In the 12 games the Huskies played since returning from the Christmas break, Bourassa found the back of the net three times and collected a couple of helpers.
    While adjusting to the university game, Bourassa quickly found a high comfort level with the Huskies.
    “I love it so far,” said Bourassa. “All the girls are awesome, and they are welcoming.
    “That was one thing I was kind of nervous about was like meeting new people. Honestly, I don’t think this could have been a better group of girls to be with.”
    In four seasons in the midget AAA ranks, Bourassa appeared in 107 regular season games with the Gold Wings piling up 40 goals and 43 assists.
    She was even more prolific in the playoffs picking up 19 goals and 10 assists in 35 career Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League post-season games. When she came to the Huskies, she knew she wasn’t going to step in and be the standout right away.
Bailee Bourassa looks for a shooting lane.
    “It is definitely different, because you go from being one of the top players to like having to start at the bottom and work yourself back up,” said Bourassa. “It has been a really good experience so far, and I am enjoying it.”
    Now Bourassa will get her first taste of post-season action at the post-secondary level. The Huskies (15-10-3) finished fourth in the Canada West conference and will host their provincial rivals the U of Regina Cougars (14-13-1) in a best-of-three first round series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.
    In that clash, Bourassa will be trying to score on former Gold Wings teammate in Cougars netminder Jane Kish. Kish, who is also from Weyburn, turned away 29 shots for the Gold Wings in their 2014 Esso Cup championship game win.
    Bourassa is expecting her first her first university playoff series to be a battle.
    “I think that it is going to be a fairly even matched series,” said Bourassa. “Our games against them all year were pretty tight.
    “It is going to be whoever works harder is going to win the game.”
    On Saturday against the Pronghorns, the Huskies went up 1-0 in the first period when star forward Kaitlin Willoughby converted a beauty setup pass from linemate Courtney Cormack. The tally gave Willoughby a new career high for goals in a season at 11. She recorded 10 goals in each of her first three seasons with the Huskies.
The Huskies celebrate their win over the Pronghorns.
    Fifth-year veteran goalie Cassidy Hendricks started the game between the pipes for the Huskies and turned away three shots in one period of work. She was the goalie of record when she was pulled before the start of the second period and picked up her 57th career regular season win. The North Vancouver product is the Huskies all-time career leader in victories and is third all-time in the Canada West conference in career wins.
    Jasey Book played the final two frames in relief for the Huskies and stopped all 10 shots she faced.
    Alicia Anderson was stellar in goal for the Pronghorns turning away 40 shots to keep her side in the game. The Pronghorns finished last in Canada West with a 4-21-3 record.
    When the Huskies and Cougars clash in the playoffs, it will be their first meeting in the post-season since the 2014 Canada West championship series. The Huskies won that best-of-three series, when Willoughby scored the winner in double overtime to give the U of S a 2-1 victory in a series deciding Game 3.

Huskies men’s team eliminates Pronghorns

Wyatt Johnson scored twice on Saturday for the Huskies.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team ended the regular season by helping end the post-season hopes of the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns in Lethbridge.
    Powered by a goal and two assist performance from defenceman Tyler Borstmayer, the Huskies slipped past the Pronghorns 5-4. The Huskies built a 3-0 lead and never trailed in the contest despite a spirited Pronghorns comeback attempt.
    Wyatt Johnson scored twice for the Huskies, while Jaimen Yakubowski and Michael Sofillas had singles. Daniel Wapple made 29 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Dogs, who finished the regular season topping the Canada West standings with a 21-5-2 mark.
    Jay Merkley scored twice for the Pronghorns, who received singles from Justin Valentino and Ryan Chynoweth. Garret Hughson turned away 24 shots to take the loss in the U of L goal.
    With the setback, the Pronghorns finished seventh in Canada West with an 11-14-3 record. U of L was officially eliminated from the playoff picture, when the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds downed the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-1 on Saturday night in Calgary.
    The Thunderbirds improved to 12-13-3 and passed the Pronghorns for sixth place and the final playoff berth in Canada West. UBC opens the Canada West playoffs taking on the U of Calgary Dinos (18-9-1) in a best-of-three first round series in Calgary.
    The Huskies have a bye into the semifinal round of the Canada West post-season thanks to their first place finish.

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Friday, 10 February 2017

Huskies lock up home playoff series for second year in a row

U of S takes care of business, gets gift from Dinos

The Huskies are all smiles after a goal from Kaitlin Willoughby.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team looked after what they could control and proceeded to benefit from a gift from the U of Calgary Dinos.
    As a result of those two developments, the Huskies will open the Canada West playoffs hosting a first round playoff series for a second straight year.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies downed the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns 3-1 to put a halt on a three-game skid. Out in Calgary on the same night, the Dinos upset the U of Regina Cougars with a 4-3 regulation win.
    Those results guaranteed the Huskies will finish fourth in Canada West. The Huskies improved to 14-10-3 with their win, and they have 41 points in the Canada West standings coming off 10 regulation wins, four extra time wins and three extra time losses.
Forward Emily Upgang picked up the Huskies third goal on Friday.
    The Cougars fell to 13-13-1 with their loss, and they have 37 points in the standings coming off 10 regulation wins, three extra time wins and one extra time loss. In Canada West women’s play, three points are awarded in the standings for a regulation win.
    The Huskies and Cougars will also face each other in a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series. Game 1 is slated for 1 p.m. on February 17 at the Rutherford Rink.
    U of R was locked into fifth place in Canada West after the Mount Royal University Cougars dropped a 1-0 regulation decision to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Friday in Vancouver. Mount Royal fell to 10-13-4 and will finish sixth in Canada West with 33 points coming off nine regulation wins, one extra time win and four extra time losses.
    Against the Pronghorns on Friday, the Huskies accomplished a number of positives. U of S was able to control play and keep U of L pinned in its own zone for long stretches.
Morgan Willoughby, right, clears the puck out of the defensive zone.
    The Dogs received goals from three different players, went 1-for-5 on the power play and killed off all three Pronghorns power-play chances.
    After scoreless first period that was controlled by the Huskies, sophomore winger Courtney Cormack put the hosts up 1-0 slipping home a power-play goal from the front of the Pronghorns net at the 5:14 mark of the second.
    With 4:02 to play in the second, star forward Kaitlin Willoughby wired home her 10th of the season top corner on Pronghorns netminder Jessica Lohues to put the hosts up 2-0. Willoughby was playing in her first game with the Huskies since returning from the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where she helped Canada’s women’s hockey team win a silver medal.
Courtney Cormack (#16) smiles after scoring a goal for the Huskies.
    The Pronghorns proceeded to give the Huskies a scare in the third period, when third-year forward Delaney Duchek netted her fourth of the season at the 6:20 mark of the third to cut the Huskies lead to 2-1.
    U of S sealed victory with 4:20 to play, when rookie forward Emily Upgang knocked home a loose puck that took a high positive bounce towards her by an open side of the Pronghorns goal to cement the 3-1 victory.
    Huskies star goaltender Cassidy Hendricks had to be mentally sharp turning away 11 shots to pick up the win in goal. Lohues stopped 25 shots to take the loss in goal for the Pronghorns, who sit last in Canada West with a 4-20-3 mark.
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.

Cooke slams door on Pronghorns

Jordon Cooke came up big again for the Huskies.
    Jordon Cooke played like his usual self which spelled doom for the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s hockey team on Friday night in Lethbridge.
    The Leduc product made 36 saves to back his U of Saskatchewan Huskies to a 4-1 road victory over the host Pronghorns. The opening 20 minutes were extremely dicey for the Huskies, who were outshot 21-8, but they still managed to head into the first intermission locked in a 0-0 draw thanks to the stellar play of Cooke.
    Just past the midway point of the second, Huskies third-year forward Parker Thomas scored to put the visitors up 1-0. Third-year Defenceman David Stumborg, who was appearing in his first game of the season, tallied to put the Huskies up 2-0 at the 7:29 mark of the third.
    The Pronghorns answered back just over a minute later, when Sam McKechnie scored to cut the Huskies edge to 2-1.
    U of S sealed victory with a late power-play goal from John Lawrence and an empty-net marker from Michael Sofillas.
    Garret Hughson turned away 36-of-39 shots in the Pronghorns goal.
    The Huskies improved to 20-5-2 with the win, and they had first in Canada West already locked up heading into this weekend’s action. The Dogs have also won 11 of their last 13 games.
    The Pronghorns fell to 11-13-3. They are locked in a battle with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who are also 11-13-3, for sixth place and the conference’s final playoff berth. The Pronghorns and Thunderbirds split their four head-to-head meetings, but U of L holds the tiebreaker besting UBC 6-5 in points earned in the standings in the head-to-head matches.
    The Huskies and Pronghorns go at it again on Saturday in Lethbridge. If the Pronghorns win, they would qualify for the post-season.

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