Saturday, 25 March 2017

Stars had magical three-year run, now guard starts to change

Saskatoon graduates trio that were key to success

From left, Julia Rongve, Willow Slobodzian and Dana Wood reflect on a loss.
    It feels like an era is transitioning to a close for the Saskatoon Stars.
    On Tuesday, the Stars 2016-17 campaign came to an end with a 4-2 loss to the Prince Albert Northern Bears at the Agriplace Arena in Game 3 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series. The Bears swept the best-of-five SFMAAAHL championship series 3-0 and captured their second league title in team history.
    Saskatoon saw its two-year run of winning consecutive league titles and advancing to the final four of the Esso Cup national championship tournament come to an end. From 2014 to 2016, the Stars posted a 90-18 overall record, won two SFMAAAHL titles, two Western regional banners and a Mac’s Tournament title.
Julia Rongve jets up ice for the Stars.
    In 2016-17, they topped the SFMAAAHL standings for a third straight year after posting a 25-2-1 mark. The Stars also set a new team record for most points collected in the standings at 76.
    Saskatoon made the final of the Mac’s Tournament in Calgary falling 5-4 in overtime to the Alberta based Rocky Mountain Raiders, while posting a 5-1 record at that event in the process. 
    The Stars won six straight playoff games sweeping the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings in a quarter-final series and the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in a semifinal series. The run of success came to an end against a talented and well-coached Prince Albert side.
    One of the cool things about female midget AAA hockey is you get to build teams where you can have a core group of players around for like three years. In midget AAA hockey on the boys side, you usually only return on average six players from the previous season due to losing players to the major junior ranks and the junior A ranks.
    While the Stars can return most of the players from their team this past season, they will lose three key pieces from their run of success to graduation in forwards Julia Rongve and Abby Shirley as well as offensive defender Willow Slobodzian. Those three were the consistent cogs throughout the whole run of success the Stars had the past three seasons and their departure feels like a chapter in team history is coming to a close.
Abby Shirley played with grit and skill.
    Rongve played an unsung hero role for the Stars for four seasons appearing in 112 career regular season games posting 24 goals and 52 assists. During her 15-year-old season in 2014-15, she was the third part of a dynamic scoring line that includes Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia, who both moved on to play for Canada’s under-18 women’s team.
    Rongve’s efforts were often overshadowed by the spectacular performances of her linemates, but she still netted six goals and 17 assists in 28 regular season games. Her production didn’t drop after Shirley and Elia left the Stars. In her final campaign with the Stars, Rongve, who stands 5-foot-8, picked up career highs in goals (nine) and assists (20), and she appeared in all 28 regular season games for a fourth straight campaign.
    She was still often overshadowed by the work of one of her other teammates, and you almost took it for granted that she would come out and give a strong performance. No matter who was on the Stars team, Rongve was always one of the club’s top six forwards.
    Abby Shirley grew into one of the Stars top offensive threats during her three campaigns with the team. The Delisle product appeared in 77 career regular season games posting 31 goals and 32 assists.
    In her final campaign with the Stars, Shirley dressed in 25 regular season games and set career highs for goals (14) and assists (18). On the ice, Shirley played with great speed and tenacity. She wasn’t afraid to battle in the corners and the hard areas, even though she stands just 5-foot-5.
    She often displayed great skill, when she worked in the offensive zone. 
Willow Slobodzian was one of the Stars most dynamic players.
    With her combination of grit and finesse, Shirley will be a good addition to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the fall.
    Slobodzian, who the Stars captain this past season, was arguably the team’s most exciting player, and she was worth the price of admission to watch on a night in and night out basis. She helped control the blue-line for the Stars for three seasons appearing in 84 career regular season games collecting 15 goals and 46 assists.
    In her final campaign with the Stars, Slobodzian, who stands 5-foot-7, appeared in all 28 regular season games for a third straight year, matched her career high in goals at six and set a new career high in assists at 21. 
    Slobodzian was named the top defender in the SFMAAAHL in the 2015-16 campaign, and she made creative plays no one else could make through her entire career.
    An extremely smooth skater on the ice, Slobodzian might be the most polite and well-manner person you could meet off the ice. 
The Stars celebrate an SFMAAAHL semifinal series win. 
    Those characteristics are very prominent when you talk with her. She will no doubt be a great addition to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s hockey team in the fall.
    The Stars will still have a good team next season returning a number of players possessing high-end talent. Potential returnees include forwards Mackenna Parker, Grace Shirley, Joelle Fiala, Anna Leschyshyn and Kaitlin Jockims, veteran grinders Jordyn Gerlitz, Kianna Dietz and Jordyn Holmes, defenders Abby DeCorby, Chace Sperling and Ashley Messier, and goaltenders Jordan Ivanco and Arden Kliewer.
    Still, the dynamics of the team will be different without Rongve, Abby Shirley and Slobodzian. It will up to the returnees to carry the torch that is being passed on.

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Friday, 24 March 2017

Blades inch closer to being playoff participant

The Blades celebrate a 4-2 win over the Red Deer Rebels on Feb. 4.
    For the fourth straight year, the Saskatoon Blades will not take part in the WHL playoffs, but this year’s post-season miss is more painful than the previous three.
    The Blades season game to an end last Saturday with a 5-1 setback to the archrival Raiders in Prince Albert. Saskatoon finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 28-35-7-2 record to sit five points behind the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) for eighth overall in the WHL’s Eastern conference and the conference’s second and final wildcard berth for the post-season.
    Entering their fifth last game of the season, the Blades were three points ahead of the Hitmen for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Blades won only one of their final five contests, while the Hitmen went on a tear winning five of their final six outings.
Braylon Shmyr led the Blades in scoring with 66 points.
    When the WHL post-season began on Friday, the Blades were again on the outside looking in.
    Had maybe two or three more breaks gone the Blades way, they may have very been participating in the post-season for the first time since 2013. The biggest obstacle the team faced was the injury bug, as a number of the club’s top players spent lengthy stretches on the shelf with various ailments.
    The most noticeable absence was star centre Cameron Hebig, who missed the entire campaign with an upper body injury. The local product was the Blades second leading scorer in 2015-16 netting 26 goals and 43 assists in 59 regular season games. Had Hebig been available for all or parts of this past season, the Blades likely would have sat comfortably in a playoff position.
    On top of Hebig’s absence, Braylon Shmyr, who topped the Blades in scoring with 35 goals and 31 assists in 66 appearances, missed time due to a concussion. Overage centre Jesse Shynkaruk missed about 14 games with an upper body injury. The local product still finished second in team scoring with career highs in goals (31) and assists (25) appearing in 58 games.
Jesse Shynkaruk potted a career 31 goals with the Blades.
    Right-winger Mason McCarty was out for about 35 games with a leg injury and he managed to record 21 goals and 16 assists in 45 appearances. That just scratched the surface of the Blades injury woes for the campaign. Injuries were a big factor in the Blades scoring the third fewest goals in the league at 190.
    Big credit has to be given to head coach Dean Brockman and assistant coaches Ryan Keller, Bryce Thoma and Jerome Engele for holding the ship together. Still, Brockman has visions of bigger things.
    “We fought through a lot of injuries and adversity, and we never used that as an excuse, and I still don’t want to use it as an excuse,” said Brockman. “I am proud of our team for what they accomplished.
    “Did we get to where I want to get to? Every year I want to win a championship to be honest with you. If you don’t do that I don’t find it successful.
    “Is a bit unbelievable to think that way all the time? You have to have something to strive for.”
Logan Flodell was named a WHL second team Eastern Conference all-star.
    Brockman is taking the right approach. At the start of the season, you want to have winning a championship as your goal, because it helps give the team clarity of purpose. When teams work their hardest to achieve that goal, it helps create conditions were players seem to achieve things beyond their abilities.
    Due to all the injuries, the Blades were constantly having to place younger players higher on the depth chart and have them play roles they weren’t expected have yet or in some cases maybe ever have. Players like forwards Chase Wouters and Michael Farren, who were in their 16-year-old seasons, performed beyond their limits and gained experiences that will help them in the future.
    The same goes for forwards Josh Paterson and Logan Christensen and defenceman Jackson Caller, who all completed their 17-year-old seasons.
Libor Hajek signed an NHL entry-level contract with Tampa Bay.
    Forward Kirby Dach impressed in his call ups from the Fort Saskatchewan Boston Pizza Rangers midget AAA team netting six goals and four assists in 19 contests with the Blades. The second overall selection in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft will play his 16-year-old rookie season with the club in the upcoming campaign.
    As far as guiding the improvement was concerned, Blades general manager Colin Priestner loved how Keller handled the skill development and power play. Priestner applauded how Thoma handled the defence. On top of everything, the general manager was impressed how calmly Brockman handled the difficulties.
    “He (Brockman) had adversity every day to deal with, and didn’t make excuses,” said Priestner. “He really had that next man up philosophy.
Chase Wouters is one of the Blades youngsters that has a bright future.
    “If we lose a player for a month, six months or whatever it was, he wouldn’t show that despair to the players. He kept a very even keel with the players and the coaches. I think that allowed us to be successful.”
    The individuals that had the biggest success were goaltender Logan Flodell and import defenceman Libor Hajek. Flodell established himself as a legitimate number one starter during his 19-year-old campaign. The Regina product was named a second team WHL Eastern Conference all-star posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    Hajek signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning after netting four goals and 22 assists in 65 games with the Blades this past season in his 18-year-old campaign. 
Jackson Caller logged a tonne of minutes as Blades rookie defenceman.
    The Lightning selected Hajek in the second round and 37th overall in last year’s NHL Entry Draft. He is currently with the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate the Syracuse Crunch.
    At the moment, the Blades have a glut of possible overagers returning next season with six players battling for three spots. The potential returnees include Flodell and fellow netminder Brock Hamm along with defenceman Evan Fiala. Shmyr, McCarty and Hebig are also in that mix.
    The obvious man out is likely Hamm due to the stellar campaign Flodell had.
    With that said, the Blades will return three really good overagers next year. If they can find players or a way to generate more goals next season, a post-season appearance has an extremely high likelihood of being a reality.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

U of S Huskies men’s hockey team had a great run

The Huskies celebrate at playoff victory at the Rutherford Rink.
    Despite coming up short in the national final, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team’s season has to be considered a success.
    On Sunday, the Huskies appeared in the title game of the University Cup national championship tournament in Fredericton, N.B., and they dropped a 5-3 decision to the host University of New Brunswick Reds, who claimed their sixth U Sport title in the last 11 years. Of course, there was some disappointment the Huskies fell short of winning their first national title since 1983, but the entire season can’t be cannibalized over one or two games.
    Since that last national championship win in 1983, the Huskies have fallen in the U Sports final in 1987, 2005, 2014 and last Sunday. 
    Under veteran head coach Dave Adolph, this marked the 13th time the Huskies made it to the University Cup, but they still haven’t brought the championship trophy back to the U of S.
Jesse Forsberg sets up on the point for the Huskies.
    With all that said, the Huskies had one of the best teams in Canada in the amateur hockey ranks. Any time one could attend a game at the ancient Rutherford Rink you got to see a treat. 
    The Huskies posted a 21-5-2 record to finish first in the Canada West conference for a second straight year, and they were usually rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings.
    On the national level, netminder Jordon Cooke was named the U Sports goaltender of the year and a first team all-Canadian all-star for a second consecutive season. He posted a 19-4-2 record, a 1.94 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and four shutouts during the regular season.
    Adolph was named the winner of the Father George Kehoe Memorial Award as the coach of the year in U Sports. He had been named the Canada West coach of the year in 1997-98, 1999-2000 and this season, but this marked the first time he was named coach of the year on a national level.
    Defenceman Jesse Forsberg was named a second team all-Canadian all-star after having a breakout campaign in his third season. He piled up 11 goals, 16 assists and a plus-eight rating in the plus-minus department appearing in all 28 regular season games.
Levi Cable scored a University Cup quarter-final OT goal for the Huskies. 
    The Huskies entered the University Cup on a down note having dropped a series deciding Game 3 in the Canada West final 6-3 to their forever rivals the U of Alberta Golden Bears.
    U of S rebounded nicely at the University Cup, which is played in an elite eight single elimination format. Under that format, a team can easily be eliminated thanks to one bad game or even one bad break.
    In a quarter-final contest last Friday, the Huskies displayed some overtime magic, when sophomore forward Levi Cable snuck home the contest’s only goal just 61 seconds into the extra session. The tally gave the Huskies a 1-0 victory over the York University Lions. Cooke turned away 24 shots to earn the shutout.
    The Dogs arguably had one of their best outings of the season in an 8-0 romp over the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men. Logan McVeigh scored twice for the Huskies, while Forsberg, Cable, Carson Stadnyk, Parker Thomas, Wyatt Johnson and Connor Cox all had singles. Cooke made 26 stops to pick up the shutout.
Huskies netminder Jordon Cooke plays the puck behind his own goal.
    In the championship final, the Huskies were done in by a star player, who had a hot night. Varsity Reds standout Cam Braes, who played for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes and Moose Jaw Warriors from 2007 to 2012, fired home four goals. Mark Simpson had the other lone tally for UNB, while Etienne Marcoux made 18 stops to pick up the win in goal.
    Connor Gay, Jordan Fransoo and Kohl Bauml all had singles for the Huskies, while Cooke turned away 31 shots taking the loss in goal.
    The Huskies trailed 4-1 at one point in the second period, but cut the deficit to 4-3 in the third. Braes proceeded to pick up his fourth goal that that point on a power play, which turned out to be a key insurance marker.
    U of S did pretty much everything this season but win its last game. They fell in the national final to great team, and there is never any shame in that.
    While it would have been nice for the Huskies to win it all, the reality in sports is that it sometimes will just not happen no matter how many times you reach the national championship tournament or the national final. You just have to try again next season.

Towriss heading to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Brian Towriss, right, will be inducted Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
    Legendary U of Saskatchewan Huskies football head coach Brian Towriss didn’t have to wait long to get named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
    Just a little over three months after resigning his post as Huskies head coach on Dec. 19, 2016, Towriss was named part of the 2017 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class on Wednesday in Regina during an announcement hooked into a league promotion called CFL Week. Towriss enters the Hall as a builder along with former Calgary Stampeders president Stan Schwartz.
    Also entering the Hall are a quartet of the league’s all-time great players in Anthony Calvillo, Geroy Simon, Mike O’Shea and Kelvin Anderson.
    Towriss played defensive tackle from 1974 to 1977.  He was an assistant coach with the Dogs from 1980 to 1983 before becoming head coach in 1984. As a head coach, Towriss compiled a 196-118-1 overall record, guided his team to 11 Canada West titles and three Vanier Cup championships.
    The formal induction of the Hall of Fame class will occur on Sept. 15 in Hamilton, Ont.

Blades’ Flodell named WHL all-star

Blades goalie Logan Flodell was named a WHL second team all-star.
    Saskatoon Blades goaltender Logan Flodell was rewarded for his stellar season by being named a WHL Eastern Conference second team all-star on Wednesday.
    The Blades acquired Flodell in a trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds before the start of the regular season. The Regina product, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 166 pounds, appeared in 48 regular season games posting a 22-20-4 record, a 2.81 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts.
    He played a major role in almost pushing the Blades into the WHL playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Blades finished ninth overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a 28-35-7-2 record to sit five points back of the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) for the conference’s final wildcard berth.
    One of Flodell’s best performances came on Dec. 10, 2016, when he made 39 stops in a 2-1 overtime road victory over the powerhouse Pats in Regina. He is eligible to return to the Blades as an overage player next season.
    The WHL also held its annual WHL Bantam Draft lottery on Wednesday, and the Blades draft position didn’t change in the first round. They currently hold the fifth overall position and the 10 overall pick, which was acquired in a trade with the Victoria Royals. In the subsequent rounds, the Blades usually pick in the fifth spot.
    Also on Wednesday, Saskatoon product Connor Hobbs was named the WHL’s Eastern Conference nominee as the top defenceman and was named a first team Eastern Conference all-star. Hobbs, who can return as an overage player next season, had an outstanding 2016-17 campaign for the Regina Pats netting 31 goals, 54 assists and a plus-30 rating in the plus-minus department. The Pats topped the WHL’s overall standings with a 52-12-7-1 record.

Nogier makes NHL debut with Jets

Former Rebels D Nelson Nogier made his NHL debut with the Jets.
    Tuesday ended up being a proud night on a personal front for my family as my young cousin Nelson Nogier made his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets.
    The 20-year-old defenceman had 12 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time making three hits and getting one shot on goal. The Saskatoon product, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 191 pounds, has always been known as a sound defensive defenceman who is tough to play against in his own zone. Nogier was solid in his role as the Jets pulled out a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
    He was selected by the Jets in the fourth round and 101st overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Before Tuesday’s game, Nogier had spent most of the season with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, where he has collected two goals, 11 assists and 33 penalty minutes in 57 regular season games.
    Before moving to the professional ranks, Nogier spent four seasons in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades and Red Deer Rebels, where he appeared in 235 regular season games collecting eight goals, 42 assists and 196 minutes in penalties. He played for the Blades in the 2013 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon and the Rebels in the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sweet title sweep for Bears

P.A. turns tables on Stars from 2015, wins Fedoruk Cup

Bears captain Brooke Hobson holds the Fedoruk Cup during a team picture.
    Winning a league championship was all that much more sweet for Brooke Hobson, because she remember all too well what it was like to be on the other side.
    The captain for the Prince Albert Northern Bears has way too many bad memories about how tough it was to be swept out of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series losing the series clinching game to the host Saskatoon Stars at the Agriplace Arena two years ago. 
    Fast forward to Tuesday night and Hobson and her Bears were back at the Agriplace Arena in the SFMAAAHL final looking to sweep away the Stars, who were the two-time defending league champs.
    The Bears pulled out a 4-2 victory to sweep the best-of-five series 3-0 and capture the Fedoruk Cup for the second time in team history before a packed house. Prince Albert last won the SFMAAAHL title back in 2009.
Captain Brooke Hobson is the Bears grizzled vet.
    “It is awesome,” said Hobson. “This is my fifth year trying to run for the title and getting it in my last year definitely means a lot to me.
    “I have been working hard since my first day on this team, and this finally came to pay off here. The emotions are definitely flipped upside down here from losing. Having beat the team that beat us that last year we were in the finals definitely means a lot.”
    Hobson, who was a member of Canada’s under-18 women’s team, is the most battled hardened out of all the Bears players. The 17-year-old defender, who is in her final season of midget eligibility, has appeared in a team record 128 regular season games piling up 41 goals and 45 assists. She has appeared in an SFMAAAHL record 46 playoffs games posting five goals and 24 assists.
    In Game 3 on Tuesday, Hobson had a key role in manufacturing her side’s biggest goal of the season. With the Bears locked in a 2-2 draw with the Stars in the third period, Hobson fed a pass to forward Jasper Desmarais to spring a two-on-one break.
    Desmarais fed a perfect pass across the front of the Saskatoon net to linemate Camryn Amundson, who calmly tucked home the championship winner at the 12:19 mark of the frame.
Brooklyn Anderson jets up ice for the Bears.
    “She (Amundson) comes out shinning whenever we need her,” said Hobson. “I am super proud of her and my whole team. She is awesome.”
    Amundson, who is in her second season with the Bears, was pumped to be the finisher on what she thought was some great work by her teammates.
    “It was the perfect pass,” said Amundson. “Jasper (Desmarais) gave me the perfect pass, and if I missed it, I would have been so disappointed.”
    “It wasn’t that great of a shot, but it snuck through. I am just glad it did.”
    The Stars came out with the big jump, when forward Brooke Hausermann scored at the 3:21 mark of the first period on her team’s third shot of the contest to give Saskatoon a 1-0 lead. The hosts held a 10-5 edge in shots over the opening 20 minutes and carried the majority of the play over that time.
    Momentum changed early in the second, when Bears standout forward Abby Soyko scored in her team’s first shot of the period to tie things up a 1-1 just 2:27 in. Brooklyn Anderson proceeded to put the Bears ahead 2-1 scoring just 2:07 after Soyko’s goal.
    Saskatoon regrouped before the second period ended. During a net scramble with 3:24 to play, Jordyn Gerlitz scored to put the Stars on even terms with the Bears at 2-2.
Hannah Koroll (#20) makes a clear for the Bears.
    That set the stage for the play that resulted in Amundson’s series winner. Jadyn Kushniruk added an empty-net tally with 24.7 seconds to play to round out the scoring for the Bears.
    Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby, who is in his sixth season guiding the team as head coach, was proud to see his players win the SFMAAAHL title and quietly admitted it felt good from a personal standpoint.
    “It is like you built a big building,” said Willoughby. “It has been a long time coming.
    “We have seven girls that played in this final two years ago. We had 11 girls that lost a heartbreaker last year in the semifinals.
    “We’ve had our chance to be on the other side, the losing side, so we know what it feels like. It makes this win special.”
    Ryan Fontaine turned away 24 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Bears, who posted a perfect 9-0 record in the SFMAAAHL playoffs. Jordan Ivanco stopped 22-of-25 shots to take the loss in net for the Stars.
Alli Soyko (#22) enjoys victory with a couple of her Bears teammates.
    Willoughby said his players did a good job playing as a unit of five throughout the series, which helped put the Bears in favourable situations.
    “I think from the first game it was our plan to make sure we tried to match them five-on-five, don’t over pursue pucks and cause two-on-one situations for them,” said Willoughby. “I think the girls were resilient doing that.
    “They were consistent, and I think that was the biggest factor.”
    The Bears will now host a best-of-three Western regional playdown series against the Westman Wildcats, who play out of Hartney, Man. Game 1 of that series is set for March 31 at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

The dream is alive like in 2009 for Prince Albert Northern Bears

Stars face elimination in SFMAAAHL championship series

Abby Soyko pats Camryn Amundson on the head.
    PRINCE ALBERT - Often the difference in a championship series is who can come through in the clutch, and Prince Albert Northern Bears forward Camryn Amundson is proving to be a clutch player.
    With the Bears locked in a 1-1 tie with the visiting Saskatoon Stars just over seven minutes into the second period in Game 2 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series, the 16-year-old product from Debden, Sask., came through with the key play that made the difference in the game. 
    While the Bears were killing a penalty, Amundson got in deep on the forecheck in the Saskatoon zone, caused a turnover, and wired home a short-handed goal that Stars netminder Arden Kliewer had no chance on.
    That goal gave the Bears a 2-1 victory a very vocal and appreciative crowd at the Art Hauser Centre. The Stars could never find the equalizer from that point despite their best efforts, which included a frantic scramble in front of the Prince Albert net with about a minute remaining in the third period.
    The victory also gave Prince Albert a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series.
Camryn Amundson (#9) battle Willow Slobodzian  (#20) for the puck.
    The Stars, who have won the SFMAAAHL title in each of the last two years, will try to avoid elimination in Game 3 back at the Agriplace Arena in Saskatoon on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
    Prince Albert will be attempting to its second league championship. The Bears last championship win came back in 2009.
    Amundson, who was named the SFMAAAHL’s most sportsmanlike player this season, was also money in two critical moments during the Bears 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the league title series on Thursday in Saskatoon. In that contest, the speedy forward set up Story Navrot’s game-winning short-handed goal.
    Later in that same contest, Amundson fired home a knuckleball shot that gave her team a 4-1 lead and solid command of that contest leading to a 5-1 win.
    Sunday’s Game 2 clash in Prince Albert was fairly evenly played with a few momentum swings. At the 7:51 mark of the opening frame, the Bears opened the scoring when star centre Abby Soyko netted a power-play goal.
Stars centre Kianna Dietz (#12) puts a backhand shot on goal.
    The Stars answered back 93 seconds later with an even strength point-shot goal from Chace Sperling to force a 1-1 tie.
    Saskatoon had two huge chances to go ahead before the opening frame ended. First, centre Kianna Dietz had a close in backhand opportunity, but she was robbed by Bears netminder Brooklyn Elek.
    A short time later, Stars forward Anna Leschyshyn broke in alone on the Prince Albert goal, but Elek turned away her drive as well.
    Early in the second, Dietz rang a shot off the post of the Prince Albert goal. That set the stage for Amundson to net the winner minutes later.
Centre Abby Soyko brings the puck up ice for the Bears.
    Kliewer had a solid outing making 21 saves to take the loss in goal for the Stars. Elek turned away 18 shots to pick up the win in net for the Bears.
    If the Stars came back to rally for three straight wins to take the SFMAAAHL title, they would be only the second club in the 11-year history of the league to accomplish that feat.
    Prince Albert is the only team in the history of the SFMAAAHL to rally back down 2-0 in the best-of-five league final to take the series 3-2. The Bears pulled that off in 2009 against the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats.
    The Stars have the players who have a history of making plays in the clutch to give them the ability to rally back. Saskatoon needs their standouts to come through, or the Bears will be bringing the Fedoruk Cup back to “Hockey Town North.”

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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Raiders deliver big send off

“Hockey Town North” faithful treated to 5-1 season ending win

Captain Tim Vanstone salutes the Prince Albert fans.
    PRINCE ALBERT - “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” was ringing through the rafters of the Art Hauser Centre with over a minute to play in Saturday’s WHL game.
    It was that good of a night for the host Raiders, who downed their arch rivals the Saskatoon Blades 5-1 before a crammed crowd of 2,953 spectators. The Blades got out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, before the Raiders roared back with five straight goals through the final 40 minutes.
    Fitting a traditional clash between the Raiders and Blades, the night also contained a couple of fights and a few scrums. The win allowed the Raiders to finish the regular season with a 21-44-5-2 record, which included posting a 13-13-4 record after the WHL’s trade deadline passed on Jan. 10.
    While the Raiders had been long eliminated from playoff contention, overage captain Tim Vanstone said that Saturday’s win was still a good way for him to go out along with his overage teammates Kolten Olynek and Cavin Leth.
    “I didn’t script it like this for sure,” said Vanstone. “It just shows how much everyone cared.
    “We pulled for each other. It wasn’t just for me, Cavin (Leth) and Olyny (Olynek). It was for everybody.
    “This crest means way more than gold to a lot of those guys in that room. I think the foundation has been set, and they are just going to roll with it next year.”
Captain Tim Vanstone jets up ice for the Raiders.
    Vanstone played all five seasons of his major junior career with the Raiders having been selected in the third round and 52nd overall by the club in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. The Swift Current product appeared in 299 career regular season games collecting 36 goals, 58 assists and 318 penalty minutes. He couldn’t imagine spending his career anywhere else.
    “I think you just look back and put it in perspective I guess the hard times, the good times and the long bus trips,” said Vanstone. “It is all worth it at the end of the day.
    “I think the biggest thing for me is I spent it in the same place. I went to the same places to eat. I saw the people at the same places.
    “No matter how good your game was or how bad your game was, they love you no matter what.”
    During the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s games, the Blades were doing their best to spoil the Raiders home finale. At the 5:39 mark of the opening frame, Blades winger Mason McCarty potted the rebound from a point shot to put the visitors ahead 1-0.
Simon Stransky controls the puck on the power play for the Raiders.
    Momentum changed in the second period, when Czech winger Simon Stransky went to work for the Raiders. He popped home a pair of goals to put the Raiders ahead 2-1.
    He then combined with Leth to set up winger Curtis Miske to score off a backdoor play while working on a power play to extend the host’s edge to 3-1. Miske’s tally was his 20th goal of the season.
    The Raiders kept rolling in the third, when centre Adam Kadlec and defenceman Cody Paivarinta tallied singles one minute and 34 seconds apart from each other.
    Ian Scott made 24 stops to pick up the win goal for the Raiders. Brock Hamm stopped 26 shots to take the loss in goal for the Blades.
    Vanstone ended up engaged with Blades defenceman Evan Fiala in a second period fight and finished his final WHL outing with a plus-one rating in the plus-minus department and 19 minutes in penalties.
    When the Raiders overage players were called out as the game’s three stars, Vanstone took a decent sized lap to salute the fans.
Mason McCarty gave the Blades an early 1-0 lead.
    He said he loved how the fans in Prince Albert always came up to talk to him, ask how he was, ask how the team was doing and offer encouragement. He admitted he was going to miss those interactions saying the community is very close knit being in one of the league’s smaller markets.
    “Everyone in P.A. made P.A. everything to me,” said Vanstone. “I think that is how I can sum it up is absolutely that.
    “I am so grateful for the experience. I am going to be a Raider until I die that is for sure.”
    The Blades fell to 28-35-7-2 with the loss and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year. The Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) finished five points ahead of the Blades for eight overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and the conference’s second wildcard berth.
    After Saskatoon won what turned out to be an emotional final home game on Friday where they beat the Raiders 5-3 and were officially eliminated from playoffs, Blades head coach Dean Brockman said his side had a bit of an expected letdown on Saturday. He said the reality of the fact the season was over hadn’t totally hit him yet.
    “It will hit me when we go to work Monday, and we don’t have to practice,” said Brockman. “There are a lot of things to digest where we went right and where we went wrong.
Adam Kadlec sets to fire a shot on goal for the Raiders.
    “There will be evaluations with our guys, with our management group. Obviously, it is very disappointing we are not continuing our season. Through all the adversity I thought we made some strides this year.”
    Going forward, Brockman believes the Blades have a lot of bright lights in players like forward Michael Farren and Chase Wouters, who concluded their 16-year-old season, and centre Kirby Dach, who will officially enter his 16-year-old season in the upcoming campaign.
    Dach, who was selected by the Blades second overall in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft, finished out this season in Saskatoon as a call up from the midget AAA ranks until getting hurt in the team’s fifth last game of the season.
    “For not knowing a lot about Michael Farren, he did really well,” said Brockman. “I think maybe if there was anything he ran out of gas later in the year.
Parker Kelly celebrates the Raiders win.
    “(Chase Wouters) is just a character kid that works and works and works. Those guys are going to be big cornerstones.
    “Kirby is going to be a good player. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the young guy, but he has got a bright future that is for sure.”
    As for the present on Saturday, the night belonged to the Raiders, and Vanstone was pleased to relish one last memory with the fans from “Hockey Town North.”
    “You can’t teach loyalty, and this city is all about it,” he said.

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Friday, 17 March 2017

A star-crossed home farewell for Blades

Saskatoon pulls out 5-3 win, eliminated from WHL playoff race

Jesse Shynkaruk (#14) salutes the SaskTel Centre crowd.
    After his Saskatoon Blades won their home finale, Jesse Shynkaruk had trouble holding back the tears.
    Before Friday night’s game started at the SaskTel Centre against the visiting Prince Albert Raiders, the Blades were still alive in the WHL playoff race, but they didn’t have control of their own destiny.     The overage centre popped in his team’s first goal off a speedy rush in the first period to force a 1-1 tie with the Raiders.
    The Blades shot out from that point going ahead 4-1 in the second period and ultimately held on for a 5-3 victory.
    To stay alive, the Blades needed the Calgary Hitmen to fall in Cranbrook, B.C., on Friday night to the host Kootenay Ice, who sat last in the entire WHL. While the Blades were pulling out a victory before 10,030 spectators on home ice, the Hitmen were dumping the Ice 6-1.
    With the win over the Ice (14-45-10-2), the Hitmen improved to 29-32-8-2 to lock up eight place overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and clinch the conference’s final wildcard post-season berth.
    The Blades improved to 28-34-7-2 with their victory, but the reality hit post-game that they would play only one more contest in the 2016-17 campaign. The Blades and Raiders, who fell to 20-44-5-2, will both close their regular seasons in another head-to-head encounter on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
Braylon Shmyr brings the puck up ice for the Blades.
    During a post-game media scrum, Shynkaruk stopped once while answering questions, composed himself, apologized and continued to answer queries. Having been released by the Moose Jaw Warriors at the conclusion of last season, Shynkaruk was without a WHL home until his hometown Blades listed him.
    With the Blades, he had by far his best WHL season netting career highs in goals (31) and assists (25) in 57 regular season appearances at the conclusion of Friday’s action.
    “I am going to have to say goodbye to all those guys in a couple of days, and it is going to be really tough,” said Shynkaruk. “(I made) a bunch of friendships that will last forever, and I think that is the part I will miss the most.
    “To be honest, I don’t think anyone gave us much of a chance at the start of the year. With all the adversity we faced with injuries, I think this team over performed amazingly. I am really proud of every single guy in that room.”
    The Blades will miss the post-season for the fourth consecutive year having last made the playoffs in 2013, when they hosted the Memorial Cup. Unlike the previous three campaigns, the Blades were still alive in the race to make the playoffs going into their second last regular season game. During the three previous non-playoff years, the Blades were accustomed to playing out the string at this stage of things.
Michael Farren, left, celebrates his goal with Chase Wouters.
    With Saskatoon up 4-1 heading into the second intermission, Blades head coach Dean Brockman said his side kind of knew that the Hitmen were up big on the Ice in Cranbrook, B.C., even if they didn’t know what the exact score was. The bench boss was still pleased his squad came out with the win in front of their biggest home crowd of the season.
    “Obviously with all these people in the building, you want to put on a show,” said Brockman. “Certainly, our guys they knew what the stake of the game was.
    “We wanted to win it. Certainly, we kind of knew what our destiny was going to be. I give our guys a lot of credit for staying in it as long as they did.”
    Overage winger Cavin Leth gave the Raiders an early 1-0 lead before Shynkaruk netted the equalizer for the host side. In the second period, the Blades exploded out for three straight goals to go ahead 4-1 with singles coming from Braylon Shmyr, Michael Farren and Gage Ramsay.
Blades goalie Logan Flodell deals with traffic from the Raiders.
    The Raiders put a scare into the hosts, when forwards Parker Kelly and Spencer Moe netted singles to cut the Blades lead to 4-3 with 11:21 to play in the frame.
    Josh Paterson sealed victory for the Blades scoring into an empty net with one second to play.
    Logan Flodell turned away 36 shots to pick up his 22nd win of the season in goal for the Blades. Nicholas Sanders started in goal for the Raiders and turned away 11-of-14 shots before being pulled at the 6:21 mark of the second period. Ian Scott stopped 10-of-11 shots finishing the contest in relief and officially taking the loss in goal for Prince Albert.
    Following the game, Shynkaruk went back out on to the ice with overage Blades teammates Bryton Sayers and Markson Bechtold for one final bow.
Jesse Shynkaruk brings the puck up ice for the Blades.
    “We went out there together,” said Shynkaruk. “I saw my family up there and knew that I am not going to be back.
    “A little bit of emotions came. It is tough holding them back.”
    He added he would try to put on one last big effort in his final WHL game on Saturday.
    “Usually the emotions aren’t pouring out of you on game 71,” said Shynkaruk. “(I am going to) go out there and work hard for every single guy in that room for our last game, and hopefully make it a good one.”

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