Sunday, 26 February 2017

Blades so close, yet so far

Saskatoon blanked 2-0 by Warriors in winnable game

A loose pick sits behind Warriors goalie Zach Sawchenko.
    If the Saskatoon Blades ultimately miss the playoffs, they might look back and regret the final outcomes in games like Sunday’s at the SaskTel Centre.
    Playing their third game in three nights and fourth game in five nights, the Blades dropped a 2-0 decision to the Moose Jaw Warriors in a match where the hosts actually showed some really good jump before a gathering of 3,844 spectators. The Blades played well enough to win, and it seemed they came inches away from obtaining victory.
    The game’s story was pictured in one moment in the second period, when the Blades were working on their second power play of the contest. A point shot from Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek squeezed through the pads of Warriors star goalie Zach Sawchenko and came to rest in the crease of the Moose Jaw goal about a foot in front of the goal-line.
The Warriors celebrate a goal from Luka Burzan.
    The puck sat there loose for what seemed like three seconds, and all the players on the ice stopped what they were doing obviously thinking Sawchenko could see the puck. The referee behind the goal-line was in perfect position to see the puck was loose, so no one blew the whistle. Finally, the players started to move, and Sawchenko had the presence to fall backwards, cover the puck and get a stoppage.
    During that sequence, there were Blades fans sitting behind the Moose Jaw net frantically screaming that the puck was loose hoping someone from the host side would react to those screams. For the fans that saw the loose puck, it had to be a time of agony where they were thinking why one of the Blades players couldn’t shove that puck in.
    It seemed all night the Blades were just inches away from being able to score and get in the game.
Sawchenko was forced to make 29 saves for his third shutout of the season.
    Brock Hamm was solid making 20 stops in the Blades net, and he likely deserved a better fate than getting saddled with another loss to his record. Actually, Hamm has lost his last five starts, but played well enough to be on the winning side in most of those games.
Defenceman Libor Hajek controls the puck at the point for the Blades.
    The power play was a sore spot for the Blades on Sunday, because they failed to score on five opportunities with the man advantage. That was the area where it was obvious the Blades haven’t had a full practice in a while to work out kinks due to the volume of games on their schedule.
    When they tried to transition to the offensive zone or set up in the offensive zone, the Blades looked disorganized. There were times when they would accidently get in each other’s way and even run into each other.
    The Warriors, who improved to 38-17-7-1, made good on a couple of timely opportunities. Just past the midway point of the first period, Warriors rookie centre Luka Burzan put his side up 1-0 scoring from the front of the Blades goal on a good individual effort.
Centre Justin Almeida gets set to blast home a goal for the Warriors.
    With 9:50 to play in the third, sophomore centre Justin Almeida blasted home the Warriors second goal with a shot from the slot to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
    For the last three minutes of the third, the Blades played with Hamm pulled from their net for an extra attacker and had a power play thrown in during that stretch, but still couldn’t put the puck in the Warriors net. The Warriors were pinned in their own zone for lengthy periods of that stretch.
    To add more insult to the situation, the injury bug, which has been awful to the Blades all season, decided to take another bite out of the Saskatoon roster. With 4:10 to play in the second, Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik was on the receiving end from a knee-on-knee hit from Warriors 18-year-old centre Noah Gregor.
    Gregor received a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct. The major penalty call will automatically be reviewed by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
The Blades lost Mark Rubinchik to a knee-on-knee hit.
    Rubinchik was helped by the trainers, but he did skate off under his own power. He ultimately left the game and wasn’t on the Saskatoon bench for most of the third period.
    Blades winger Mason McCarty also received a double minor for high sticking in the third period, and the league will automatically review that play for a possible suspension.
    When everything added up, the Blades fell to 24-31-6-2 and sit two points behind the Calgary Hitmen (24-28-8-2) for eighth place and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. The Hitmen have a game in hand.
    The Blades now have four days off to regroup before hosting the Kootenay Ice (13-38-8-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. With nine games remaining on their schedule, the Blades are down to their last gasp stretch to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
    They need to keep up their effort and find a way to make more of the little inches fall in their favour to avoid once again being on the outside looking in as far as the post-season is concerned.

Huskies season ends in Game 3 heartbreaker

Defender Alyssa Dobler scored the Huskies only goal on Sunday.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team came up one agonizing win short of returning to the U Sports championship tournament for the first time since 2014.
    On Sunday in Vancouver, the Huskies battled the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a series deciding Game 3 in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Haneet Parhar and Kelly Murray.
    With 2:32 to play in the opening frame, the Huskies cut the gap to 2-1 thanks to a goal from fifth-year defender Alyssa Dobler. In a series where goals came at a premium, the Huskies couldn’t find the equalizer.
    Nicole Saxvik scored into an empty net with five seconds to play to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 victory in the game and a 2-1 victory in the series.
    Fifth-year star netminder Cassidy Hendricks stopped 19-of-21 shots playing her final career game in goal for the Huskies. Amelia Boughn turned away 21 shots earning the win in the Thunderbirds goal.
    Besides graduating Dobler and Hendricks, captain Lauren Zary and forward Rachel Johnson also played their final games for U of S in Sunday’s loss.
    The Thunderbirds went into the series as heavy favourites finishing first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 mark and being rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies finished fourth in the conference with a 15-10-3 record, but they split the four head-to-head regular season meetings with UBC.
    With the series win, the Thunderbirds advance to host a best-of-three Canada West championship series against the U of Alberta Pandas. The first game of that series is this coming Friday in Vancouver.
    The Pandas were 21-4-3 during the regular season and rated sixth in the U Sports top 10 rankings. Both the Thunderbirds and Pandas earned berths in the U Sports women’s hockey championship tournament, which runs March 16-19 at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Cassidy Hendricks turned away 19 shots in her final game with the Huskies.
    The Huskies were ultimately done in on two fronts. On one front, they had to rely too much on star forward Kaitlin Willoughby coming through with superhuman games offensively, which is a lot to ask of any player on a night in and night out basis. She was held pointless in the three-game series with the Thunderbirds, and the Huskies only mustered two goals in the entire set.
    U of S’s struggles on the power play also rose to the surface. During the regular season, the Huskies power play ranked second last in the Canada West conference cashing in on only 14-of-132 power-play chances for a 10.6 per cent clip.
    In the Game 3 loss to the Thunderbirds, the Huskies failed to score on six power-play chances, which included four opportunities in the first period. They were also 0-for-12 on the power play in the three game series with the Thunderbirds and 1-for-22 in five post-season games for a 4.5 per cent success rate.
    Despite those deficiencies, the Huskies came up one win short of going to the U Sports championship tournament and had a solid season under first-year interim head coach Robin Ulrich, who performed admirably in her role. She showed she deserves to be a full-time head coach at the university level.
    If the Huskies had another high-end forward that was at Willoughby’s level and a consistent offensive-defender to quarterback the power play, they would likely be advancing in the post-season.     They might be able to recruit those pieces or developing them in one of the returnees next season.
Still, the Huskies took strides forward and are ahead of where they were the past two seasons. That is the big thing that can’t be forgotten in the 2016-17 campaign.

Stars sweep away rebuilding Gold Wings

Julia Rongve had five points on Saturday.
    The Saskatoon Stars returned to the final four of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League after sweeping away the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings 3-0 in a best-of-five opening round series.
    The Stars closed out the series on Saturday at the Agriplace Arena downing the Gold Wings 16-0 in Game 3 of their opening round series. Traditionally, the Gold Wings are one of the stronger programs in the SFMAAAHL, but they are going through a rebuilding cycle.
    Stars veteran forward Julia Rongve, who is in her 17-year-old season, led the way offensively with a hat trick and two assists.
    Jayda Sachs, Brooke Hausermann and Joelle Fiala each scored twice for the Stars. Chance Sperling, Anna Leschyshyn, Jordyn Holmes, Kaitlin Jockims, Mackenna Parker, Abby DeCorby and Grace Shirley all had singles for Saskatoon.
    Jordan Ivanco turned away all 12 shots she faced to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Stars. Myah Battersby turned away 36-of-48 shots starting in goal for the Gold Wings. Meagan Perkins stopped 17-of-21 shots finishing the game in relief.
    The Stars, who were 25-2-1 in the regular season, are looking to win their third straight SFMAAAHL championship and advance to the Esso Cup national championship tournament for a third straight year.
    Saskatoon along with the Prince Albert Northern Bears, who swept away the Battlefords Sharks, are waiting to see who will be their opponents for their respective best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series.
    In the other two best-of-five SFMAAAHL quarter-final series that are still ongoing, the Melville Prairie Fire lead the Notre Dame Hounds 2-1, and the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats had a 2-1 edge on the Regina Rebels.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

McVeigh’s winner gives Huskies sweep of Cougars

U of S to defend Canada West title, earns berth to nationals

Logan McVeigh, top, celebrates scoring for the Huskies.
    Even in the confines of a short series, Logan McVeigh was looking to eliminate any little voices of doubt that might be lurking.
    The sophomore centre led the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team in scoring during the course of a 28-game regular season netting 13 goals and 18 assists. Along with third-year winger Michael Sofillas and fourth-year winger Josh Roach, McVeigh was on a forward unit that became the team’s top line.
    In the Huskies 4-3 victory in Game 1 of their Canada West semifinal series against the Mount Royal University Cougars on Friday at the ancient Rutherford Rink, McVeigh’s line was unable to get on the scoreboard.
    With the Huskies locked in a 2-2 draw with the Cougars late in the second period in Game 2 on Saturday night at Rutherford, McVeigh’s unit was still searching to get on the scoreboard.
Logan McVeigh, left, finishes a check for the Huskies.
    That all changed with 3:39 to play in the second, when McVeigh took a pass from Sofillas, sped down the left wing and roofed home a shot to put the Huskies up 3-2. That tally stood up as the winner in a 3-2 final, which allowed the Huskies to sweep a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series 2-0 and advance to the best-of-three conference championship series.
    “Our line was struggling a little bit to start that game,” said McVeigh. “To get that goal, that game winner, it is huge for us going into next weekend.
    “Just to see that puck go into the back of the net is huge for confidence. We’re looking forward to next weekend.”
    For the second straight year, the series victory allows the Huskies to lock up a berth to the University Cup national championship tournament, which runs March 16 to 19 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Before nationals rolls around, the Huskies will attempt to win the Canada West championship for a second year in a row.
    The Huskies open the best-of-three Canada West championship series this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford against the U of Alberta Golden Bears. The Golden Bears advanced to the Canada West final downing the U of Calgary Dinos 3-2 in Game 2 of their Canada West semi in Edmonton, which allowed U of A to sweep the set 2-0.
    The Huskies and Golden Bears met in last year’s final, which saw the Huskies pull out a 2-0 series sweep.
Winger Michael Sofillas circles in the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    At the University Cup last year, the Huskies finished fourth, and McVeigh was pumped his club had another trip locked up to that event. The Huskies will make their fifth appearance at nationals in the last six years.
    “It is exciting for sure,” said McVeigh. “We have a big job here to do next weekend against U of A.
    “Going back to nationals is huge for our organization, our team. We are excited to get out there (to nationals). We have to take care of Canada West first.”
    Against the Cougars in Game 2, the Huskies showed their resiliency. At the 5:55 mark of the first, Cougars captain Matthew Brown got in alone on Huskies star netminder Jordon Cooke and slipped home the opening goal of the game to give the visitors a 1-0 edge.
Levi Cable (#10) blasts home the Huskies first goal on Saturday.
    Just 49 seconds later, the Huskies responded with the equalizer to force a 1-1 draw when second-year winger Levi Cable blasted home a shot from the front of the Cougars goal past netminder Cam Lanigan.
    At the 13:49 mark of the second, Devin Gannon tucked home the Cougars second goal of the contest past Cooke to put the visitors up 2-1. Just 26 seconds later, sophomore forward Andrew Johnson one-timed a setup pass from rookie linemate Connor Gay to allow the Huskies to tie the contest up at 2-2.
    That set the stage for McVeigh to net his winner.
    “Our team moto is never say die,” said McVeigh. “We always think we have a chance to win no matter what the score is.
    “A tie game like that, we are going for win. We are not going for the tie or overtime.”
Cam Lanigan makes a stop in goal for the Cougars.
    The Cougars came out hard in the third outshooting the Huskies 13-5 in the frame. Cooke stood on his head stopping a breakaway chance from Gannon and another from David Stephens.
McVeigh wasn’t surprised by Mount Royal’s push back.
    “They have a solid team,” said McVeigh. “They work hard every shift.
    “It seems like they are always coming at us. We play defensively very well and of course, we have our MVP goaltender that stood on his head for a couple of breakaways and that helps.”
    Cooke made 29 stops to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. Lanigan turned away 23 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars.
    Mount Royal finished fourth in Canada West with a 15-11-2 record, but lost nine of its last 11 games including action in both the regular season and playoffs.
Jordon Cooke, right, makes a breakaway save for the Huskies.
    The Huskies now turn their attention to their forever rivals in the Golden Bears. The Dogs topped the Canada West standings with a 21-5-2 record and are rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings.     The Golden Bears finished second in Canada West with an 18-8-2 mark and are rated fifth in the U Sports top 10 rankings.
    During the regular season, the Huskies took three out of the four matches against the Golden Bears.
    “We go against U of A every year it seems like,” said McVeigh. “It is a big goal of ours to take care of Canada West first and then go out to nationals and try to win that. For sure, we are going to try and do that.”
    Game 2 of the Canada West championship series is set for Saturday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Rutherford. If a Game 3 is necessary, it will be held Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Johnson, Hendricks keep Huskies women’s team alive

Rachel Johnson, (#19) scored the goal that kept the Huskies alive.
    Rachel Johnson and Cassidy Hendricks made certain their U Sports careers would live to see one more day with the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    On Saturday night in Vancouver, Johnson, who is a fifth-year forward, scored at the 2:56 mark of the opening period on a setup from rookie linemate Bailee Bourassa, and Hendricks, who is a star fifth-year netminder, made 23 saves to power the Huskies to a 1-0 victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Rookie Amelia Boughn turned away 17 shots to take the loss in the Thunderbirds goal.
    The Huskies victory in Game 2 of the best-of-three Canada West semifinal series with the Thunderbirds forces a series deciding Game 3 Sunday afternoon in Vancouver. UBC took Game 1 of the series 2-0 on Friday in Vancouver.
    The Thunderbirds went into the series as heavy favourites finishing first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 mark and being rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies finished fourth in the conference with a 15-10-3 record, but they split the four head-to-head regular season meetings with UBC.
    The winner of Game 3 advances to a best-of-three championship series against the U of Alberta Pandas. The Pandas swept the other Canada West semifinal series 2-0 downing the U of Manitoba Bisons 3-2 in Game 2 of that series on Saturday in Edmonton.
    Besides advancing to the Canada West championship series, the winner of Game 3 between the Huskies and Thunderbirds earns a berth to the U Sports women’s national championship tournament to be held March 16 to 19 at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Thomas comes up clutch for Huskies with two key goals

U of S downs Cougars 4-3 in opener of Canada West semi

Parker Thomas, left, hugs Jaimen Yakubowski after scoring on a breakaway.
    Parker Thomas seems to love playoffs.
    The third-year winger is developing a habit of delivering in big moments for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team in the post-season. At the U Sports national championship tournament held in March of last year in Halifax, N.S., Thomas scored a quadruple overtime winner to deliver the Huskies to a 3-2 quarter-final victory over the Carleton University Ravens.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Thomas delivered two big goals in two big moments to help power the Huskies to a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of their best-of-three Canada West semifinal series with the Mount Royal University Cougars. The Huskies will attempt to go for the sweep when they host Game 2 on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.
    “It is huge,” said Thomas about the win. “It is the first game of playoffs. It is only a three-game series.
    “To get that first one out of the way was big.”
Parker Thomas speeds up ice for the Huskies.
    Thomas’s first goal came with 16 seconds to play in the first period, when he cut across the face of the Mount Royal goal and tucked the puck home to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. The goal helped break some momentum the Cougars had built. Mount Royal held a 14-7 edge in shots on goal over the first 20 minutes thanks to working on a couple of power play opportunities.
    Following Thomas’s first goal, the Huskies proceeded to build a 3-0 lead with singles coming from the sticks of Kohl Bauml and Levi Cable early in the second period.
    Before the second frame ended, Mount Royal answered back with a power-play goal coming from forward Jamal Watson, who tipped home a point shot from Emerson Hrynyk, to cut the Huskies lead to 3-1. Just 1:54 into the third, the host’s edge shrank to 3-2, when Cougars defenceman Maddison Smiley blasted home a power-play goal top left corner through a screen from the point.
Parker Thomas wins a battle in the corner for the Huskies.
    When it seemed the Cougars had all the momentum on their side, Thomas came through in another key moment just before the midway part of the frame. Third year defenceman Jordan Fransoo sprung Thomas on a breakaway with a beauty stretch pass coming from the U of S zone.
    Thomas showed the finesse that made him one of the top scorers in junior A playing for the Selkirk Steelers in Manitoba from 2010 to 2014 faking Cougars goalie Cam Lanigan to the ground and tucking in the puck around the right side of the netminder. The goal gave the Huskies a 4-2 lead and stood up as the winner.
    The Cougars proceeded to throw a scare into the Huskies down the stretch, when third year forward Cam Maclise scored an unassisted goal with 3:31 to play in the third to cut the Huskies lead to 4-3. Shortly after that goal, the Cougars wired a potential equalizer off the crossbar of the U of S net.
    Star netminder Jordon Cooke made 38 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies. Cam Lanigan turned away 17 shots taking the loss in goal for the Cougars.
Netminder Jordon Cooke snags one of his 38 saves in goal for the Huskies.
    The Cougars came off winning a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series 2-1 last weekend in Calgary against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Huskies, who are rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings, had a bye into the semifinal thanks to finishing first in the conference standings with a 21-5-2 record. The Cougars were fourth in Canada West with a 15-11-2 mark.
    Thomas, who was close a couple of times to netting a hat trick, was pleased to pick up a couple of goals, but was more focused on the bigger picture.
    “It was nice, but the win was better,” said Thomas, who didn’t think the shots on goal were indicative of the play Friday. “They are still into it a bit.
    “I think we started well. It is didn’t look like we had a couple of weeks off there.”
    The 23-year-old Winnipeg product was also glad to see his team stayed out of some of the extra-curricular sparring and talking that occurred after the whistle.
    The Cougars had the top power play in Canada West this season clicking at 23.1 per cent, and it looked like there was a visible effort to draw the Huskies into penalties.
Winger Jaimen Yakubowski played a high energy game for the Huskies.
    Thomas’s line containing rookie centre Jordan Tkatch and sophomore winger Jaimen Yakubowski also came through with a number of aggressive and high energy shifts throughout the game that seemed to get the Huskies on track, when they were in a lull. Tkatch and Yakubowski drew assists on Thomas’s first goal, and the trio was arguably the Huskies’ best forward unit on the night.
    “We have a couple of big bodies, so we like to crash and bang,” said Thomas. “We were matched up against one of their bottom lines, so it was good.”
    Including the regular season, the Huskies have now won four of the five head-to-head meetings with the Cougars in the 2016-17 campaign. If the Huskies aren’t able to close out the series on Saturday, they will have another chance on Sunday if necessary in a series deciding Game 3 set for 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Huskies women’s team falls in series opener with Thunderbirds

Netminder Cassidy Hendricks made 17 saves Friday night for the Huskies.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team were blanked in Game 1 in their best-of-three Canada West semifinal series opener on Friday night in Vancouver.
    In a tight checking battle, the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds slowly pulled out a 2-0 win. Second-year forward Mathea Fischer scored at the 7:31 mark of the opening frame, and Madison Patrick scored early in the third to give the host side a two-goal edge. Patrick is the older sister of Nolan Patrick, who is a superstar with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and is pegged as the potential first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in June.
    Fifth-year veteran netminder Cassidy Hendricks turned away 17 shots taking the loss in goal for the Huskies. Rookie netminder Amelia Boughn turned away 14 shots to pick up the shutout win in the Thunderbirds goal.
    The Thunderbirds went into the series as heavy favourites finishing first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 mark and being rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies finished fourth in the conference with a 15-10-3 record, but they split the four head-to-head regular season meetings with UBC.
    Game 2 of the series is set for Saturday night in Vancouver, and the Huskies need to win to stay alive in the series. If a series deciding Game 3 is needed, it will be held Sunday afternoon in Vancouver.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

What if both Huskies hockey teams go all the way?

Home Ice Campaign would get a big push to the finish

The Huskies men’s team celebrates a win earlier this season.
    So what happens if both University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams go all the way?
    You would have to think that would be a golden situation for the Home Ice Campaign, which is trying to raise funds to build a new twin pad rink on campus called Merlis Belsher Place. Actually, you would have to think that should give the finishing push to secure the final $5-million in funds for that project.
    The Huskies hockey program has long links to the Saskatoon community. The men’s team dates back to 1910, and the women’s team has been around in some form since 1912.
    If both Huskies teams won nationals, the emotional rallying point from alums and supporters from the community would be great.
    The respective journeys to get to that point would really pull some heartstrings. Both squads are pretty good at engaging the community either through coaching at camps or making various community event appearances, so most people in Saskatoon and the surrounding area would be pretty pumped for both teams, if they won it all.
The Huskies women’s team celebrates a playoff series sweep over U of R.
    With that said, the odds of one school winning both U Sports national titles in hockey in the same year are long. The last time one school took both U Sports hockey titles came back in 2006, when the University of Alberta Golden Bears claimed the University Cup for men’s supremacy and the U of Alberta Pandas captured U Sports women’s title.
    Actually, U of A is the only program to claim the men’s and women’s hockey titles in a single season also pulling off that feat one other time in 2000.
    The Huskies only national championship in hockey came back in 1983, when the men’s team won it all under head coach Dave King and captain Willie Desjardins. Considering how good both Huskies teams have been over the years, the fact only one national title has been claimed shows how hard it is to win it all.
    Both Huskies teams have the ability to go all the way. With how competitive their respective leagues are, their post-season runs could end in their respective Canada West semifinal series this weekend. Each Huskies team will earn a berth to their respective national championship tournaments if they pull out series wins this weekend.
Huskies netminder Jordon Cooke is the best goalie in U Sports.
    Both Huskies squads also have strong coaching staffs to guide the way on the playoff trail with head coach Dave Adolph leading the men’s side and interim head coach Robin Ulrich steadying the women’s side.
    The Huskies men’s team is one of the favourites to make a possible appearance in the University Cup title game. The University Cup runs March 16-19 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
    U of S’s men’s team is rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings and finished first in the Canada West conference with a 21-5-2 record. They host the Mount Royal University Cougars (15-11-2) in a best-of-three series this weekend at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
    Games 1 and 2 are set for 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night respectively. If a series deciding Game 3 is needed, it will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m.
    The Huskies men’s team has it all from stellar starting goaltending, a forward unit that runs four lines deep and as solid of a defensive unit you will find anywhere in the country. Netminder Jordon Cooke is the best goalie in U Sports and is arguably one of the best goalies in Canada in the amateur ranks from the junior age level upwards.
Kaitlin Willoughby has been unreal for the Huskies.
    Cooke matched his own person record for most wins in a season by a Huskies goalie at 19 posting a 19-4-2 record, a 1.94 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and four shutouts. The Leduc, Alta., product first set his wins record winning 19 games in a regular season in the Huskies Canada West championship campaign last season.
    Up front, the Huskies have a forward unit where everyone can put the puck in the net. Their most potent line was the character unit of second-year centre Logan McVeigh, third-year winger Michael Sofillas and fourth-year winger Josh Roach.
    McVeigh topped the Huskies in scoring netting 13 goals and 18 assists. Sofillas picked up career highs with 13 goal and 14 assists, and Roach also netted career highs with eight goals and 18 assists.
    On the blue-line, the Huskies have a unit that is big and mobile. Third-year Waldheim, Sask., product Jesse Forsberg, who stands 6-feet and weighs 226 pounds, had a breakout year becoming the Huskies top offensive defenceman. He topped all defencemen in Canada West in scoring piling up 11 goals and 16 assists.
    Fellow third-year veteran Jordan Fransoo, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds, also had a strong year offensively netting four goals and 10 assists. Captain Kendall McFaull, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds, is an anchor as a defensive defenceman, and he can also chip in the offence when called upon.
    The Huskies women’s team sits in an underdog role heading into their Canada West best-of-three semifinal series against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who topped the conference standings with a 23-4-1 record and are rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. U of S finished fourth in Canada West with a 15-10-3 mark.
    During the regular season, the Huskies and Thunderbirds split their four head-to-head meetings, and U of S could have conceivably won three out of those four matches. A Thunderbirds victory is not a given.
Jesse Forsberg has quarterbacked the Huskies back end.
    The Huskies women’s team lacks overall offensive depth finishing fifth in the eight-team Canada West conference in goals scored. They do have enough pieces that make them capable of beating anyone and making to and winning the women’s nationals that run March 16 to 19 at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
    Star forward Kaitlin Willoughby has been a one-person wreaking crew for the Huskies at both ends of the ice, and she has taken her game up to an all-world level since returning from the Christmas break. She missed four games to help Canada’s women’s team win silver at the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, earlier this month and still topped the Huskies in scoring with 11 goals and 10 assists in 24 regular season games. The Prince Albert product’s goal total was a career high.
    In a quarter-final series sweep of the University of Regina Cougars, Willoughby almost picked up enough offense by herself sniping four goals in two games to win the series. Willoughby is able to lift her teammates to another level, which makes the Huskies play beyond their abilities.
You wonder if she can keep delivering these spectacular outings game after game, and it looks like she can.
    In goal, Cassidy Hendricks backstopped the Huskies to a Canada West title in 2014 and a bronze medal win at nationals. The North Vancouver product is in her final season and appears set to back her team on one last lengthy playoff run.
Cassidy Hendricks has been money in goal for the Huskies.
    During the regular season, Hendricks posted an 11-9-3 record, a 1.67 goals against average, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts. In the sweep of the Cougars, Hendricks turned away 59-of-63 shots sent her way. She flat out has the ability to steal games.
    If the Huskies can get some extra offense from either fifth-year veterans like Lauren Zary or Rachel Johnson or talented rookie forward Bailee Bourassa, they will really be in business. Defensively, they have a group headed by fifth-year veteran Alyssa Dobler, sophomore Morgan Willoughby and rookie Kayla Kirwan that can shut down anyone.
    On their runs, the Huskies will run into times when it feels like things might be too tough. During those times, all they have to do is remember a catch phrase Desjardins often says in the coaching career he moved on to after playing with the Huskies. He said this phrase guiding the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers to two WHL titles, the Texas Stars to an AHL championship and now behind the bench of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks.
    When the going gets tough for the Huskies teams, Desjardins would likely say, “Guys and gals, it is all going to come down to one thing – how bad do you want it?”
    Expect these Huskies teams to display an effort worthy of wanting to win it all.

Huskies hoops team open playoff runs with wins

Sabine Dukate (#5) dishes the ball inside for the Huskies.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies basketball teams opened their respective post-seasons on winning notes at the Physical Activity Complex.
    In Game 1 of a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series, the Huskies women’s team downed the Abbotsford, B.C., based University of Fraser Valley Cascades 78-55. The Huskies led 25-18 after the first quarter and cruised to victory from there. The Huskies were 15-5 in the regular season, while the Cascades were 12-8.
    Point guard Sabine Dukate led the way for the Huskies with 21 points, while guard Madeline Humbert chipped in 10 points. Forward Shayna Litman topped the Cascades with 21 points.
    The Huskies will try to sweep the series in Game 2 set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday night at the PAC. If necessary, Game 3 will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the PAC.
Summer Masikewich (#11) plays tough on defence.
    The Huskies men’s team slipped past the U of Winnipeg Wesmen 85-84 in Game 1 of their Canada West quarter-final series. U of S was 14-6 in the regular season, while U of W posted a 12-8 mark.
    Forward Shane Osayande topped the Huskies with 26 points and 15 rebounds. Lawrence Moore, Trevor Severinski and Matthew Forbes all hit double digits in scoring for the Dogs netting 15, 13 and 10 points respectively.
    Guard Narcisse Ambanza led the Wesmen with 24 points, while Forward Sean Tarver added 18 points.
    The Huskies will try to sweep the series in Game 2 set for Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the PAC. If necessary, Game 3 will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the PAC.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Pats’ Leedahl hits milestone

Saskatoon product scores 30th goal in win over Blades

Dawson Leedahl, right, was all smiles after hitting the 30-goal plateau.
    Dawson Leedahl had a unique personal milestone night in what could possibly be his last WHL game in his hometown.
    On Wednesday night, the overage winger for the Regina Pats netted his 30th goal of the season against the host Saskatoon Blades. 
    Working on a power play just past the midway point of the second period, Leedahl, who is from Saskatoon, tapped in a puck at the side of the Blades net to put the Pats up 3-0 off a beauty setup from star centre Sam Steel.
    The Pats, who are rated second in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings, built a 4-0 lead and cruised to a 4-1 victory to mostly disappoint the 3,782 onlookers at the SaskTel Centre. A large number of Pats supporters were present at Wednesday’s game. Regina’s domination included posting a 47-16 edge in shots on goal.
Dawson Leedahl, left, battles for the puck behind the Saskatoon net.
    “It is exciting,” said Leedahl, about his 30th goal. “It is a good milestone for sure.
    “I am more happy about the way we played today. We played a full 60 minutes and everyone had a good effort. It made it pretty easy to get my 30th.”
    Leedahl followed a little bit of direction from Steel that resulted in the Saskatoon product’s memorable tally.
    “Before the draw, Sammie (Steel) told me to go backdoor,” said Leedahl, who had an assist on the Pats first goal. “They made a nice play.
“He (Steel) fired the puck backdoor, and I was ready for it. I just tapped it in.”
    Leedahl, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 193 pounds, was acquired by the Pats in a blockbuster trade last July with the Everett Silvertips. In that transaction, the Pats acquired Leedahl and the WHL playing rights to 18-year-old forward Tyson Jost in exchange for 18-year-old winger Sean Richards, a fourth round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft that was acquired from the Red Deer Rebels in another deal, and conditional draft picks that depend on Jost joining the Pats one day.
Pats captain Adam Brooks sniped a goal on Wednesday.
    Jost was a first round selection of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and was a member of Canada’s team that won silver at the world junior championship that wrapped up in early January in Montreal.
    Before joining the Pats, Leedahl played four complete seasons with the Silvertips, and his best campaign came in the 2014-15 campaign, when he netted 14 goals and 19 assists in 52 regular season games. Way back in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, the Silvertips selected Leedahl in the second round and 40th overall.
    As an overager with the Pats, Leedahl has had a breakout season picking up career highs in goals (30), assists (44) and points (74) in 58 regular season games. Unless the Pats and Blades meet in the post-season, Wednesday’s encounter will be the last WHL game Leedahl plays in his hometown.
    “It is pretty crazy,” said Leedahl, who had 10 to 20 family members in attendance on Wednesday. “I was thinking about the first time I came in here when I was 16 with Everett and how excited I was to play in front of the big crowd and my parents and family.
    “It is pretty crazy that it has been five years, and it is gone now. Anytime you have family (in the stands) you want to impress them or just do your best for them. I think we did that.”
Netminder Brock Hamm turned away 43 shots in goal for the Blades.
    Nick Henry, captain Adam Brooks and Braydon Buziak all netted singles for the Pats. Tyler Brown turned away 15 shots to pick up the win in the Regina net.
    Michael Farren had the lone reply for the Blades scoring on a two-man advantage with 6:34 to play in the third period. Brock Hamm was sensational in the Saskatoon goal making 43 saves to keep his team in the game.
    The Pats went 3-for-7 with the man advantage, while the Blades were 1-for-4 on the power play. Regina had Saskatoon pinned in its own zone for much of the contest, and Leedahl said the Pats talked about having a relentless effort.
    “We hadn’t really played a good team game in a little while,” said Leedahl. “We wanted to stick to it.
    “I guess we just played hard and played the right way and things went the right way.”
    With the win, the Pats improved their WHL leading record to 43-9-6-1. Leedahl admitted that his final major junior season has been something out of a dream so far.
Winger Nick Henry, left, looks to drive a shot on goal for the Pats.
    “It has been a lot of fun,” said Leedahl. “There are lots of fun guys and a fun coaching staff.
    “Everyone is just really good at what they do, and it has made it a lot of fun and pretty easy to play here.”
    With the loss, the Blades fall to 23-29-6-2 to sit two points back of the Calgary Hitmen (23-26-8-2) for eighth place and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    The Blades return to action Friday, when they host their arch rivals the Prince Albert Raiders (16-39-4-2) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. The Pats return home to host the Swift Current Broncos (30-18-4-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.

Pats are fitting hosts for 100th Memorial Cup

Some mementoes from when Regina hosted the 2001 Memorial Cup.
    There is a lot of excitement surround the Regina Pats these days, and that excitement hit another level last Saturday, when the Pats were named the host of the 100th Memorial Cup next year.
    Normally, the hosting rights for the Memorial Cup cycles between the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but the CHL elected to open the hosting rights for the 100th tournament to all teams in its member leagues. The Pats are the oldest major junior franchise in the world beginning operation in 1917, so it seemed like a natural fit that they host the centennial edition of the Memorial Cup.
    The Pats are also named for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and will be celebrating their 100th anniversary next season. The 100th Memorial Cup will take place May 17-27, 2018 at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
    The Pats last hosted the Memorial Cup in 2001, and it was a huge success on and off the ice. The WHL champion Red Deer Rebels claimed that tournament winning the championship final 6-5 in overtime against the QMJHL champion Val-d’Or Foreurs. The Ottawa 67s also took part in that Memorial Cup as champions of the OHL.
    In Regina, the Pats, who won the Memorial Cup in 1925, 1930 and 1974, have a huge loyal following due to their history in the Saskatchewan capital. When Regina hosted the Memorial Cup in 2001, there was strong excitement in the year leading up to the event despite the fact the Pats had a bit of an up and down campaign before finishing the 2000-01 regular season with a record of 40 wins, 27 losses, three ties and two overtime losses.
    People in Regina are already highly pumped up for the Pats. The Pats also have a good chance of returning a number of key players from their club this season to next season.
    Expect the 100th Memorial Cup in Regina to be a smashing success.

Back in the Express with Slobodzian

Captain Willow Slobodzian is one of the Stars top stars.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature on Saskatoon Stars captain Willow Slobodzian.
    Slobodzian is playing in her final season with the Stars, and helped them post a team record for points in the regular season standings at 76 coming from 25 regulation wins, two regulation losses and one extra time loss. The Stars topped the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League’s regular season standings for a third straight year.
    In the fall, Slobodzian will join the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Hawks women’s team, who play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
    During her final campaign with the Stars, Slobodzian, who is an offensive defender, equaled her career high in goals (six) and set career highs in assists (21) and points (27) appearing in all of her team’s 28 regular season games.
    On Wednesday, the Stars opened a best-of-five first round SFMAAAHL playoff series by downing the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings 9-0 at the Agriplace Arena. Slobodzian had an assist in that contest.
    In the win over the Gold Wings, Grace Shirley had a hat trick and Anna Leschyshyn had a pair of goals for the Stars. Jordyn Holmes, Mackenna Parker, Abby Shirley and Kaitlin Jockims each had singles for Saskatoon. Abby Shirley also collected three assists.
    Jordan Ivanco made 14 saves to earn the shutout win in goal for the Stars. Meagan Perkins turned away 34 shots taking the loss in goal for the Gold Wings.
    Game 2 of the series is set for Friday in Weyburn, and Game 3 is slated for 7 p.m. in Saskatoon at the Agriplace Arena.
    The Express feature story on Slobodzian can be found here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

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.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

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.”

    If you have any comments you would like to make about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.