Saturday, 9 December 2017

Blazers bully Blades

Blades D Jackson Caller, left, fights Blazers LW Jermaine Loewen.
    The Kamloops Blazers made the boards at the SaskTel Centre shake harder than at any point in the current WHL season.
    Just seconds into Saturday’s regular season contest against the host Saskatoon Blades, the Blazers dumped puck into the Saskatoon zone, and Kamloops left-winger Jermaine Loewen, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 221 pounds, hammered a Blades defenceman into the boards behind the Saskatoon goal. Loewen’s thunderous check set the tone for the evening before 4,024 spectators.
    As is the case with any team that is guided by Don Hay as head coach, the Blazers came to assert themselves physically. They finished their checks way harder than any opponent the Blades have likely faced all season.
    The physical play of the high tension Blazers was definitely on the edge, and at times it appeared to be over the edge. There were a few instances where a Blades player got hit a second or two after he passed the puck up ice.
Jermaine Loewen threw high-tension hits for the Blazers.
    When the dust settled, the visiting Blazers hammered out a 4-1 victory.
    Due to seeing the Blazers only once a season, the Blades didn’t seem to know what they were in for and played on their heels for most of the game. There aren’t too many teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, which the Blades are part of, who play a hard hitting style like the Blazers do coming out of the Western Conference.
    Saskatoon missed feisty forward Caleb Fantillo, whose agitating type style would have helped counter some of the Blazers play. Fantillo is out six-to-eight weeks with a knee injury.
    Kamloops cranked up the physical play in the first period, and the boards seemed like they were shaking the whole frame. Loewen, whose play was reminiscent of former Vancouver Giants high tension power forward and former Hay charge J.D. Watt, threw a large share of the thunderous checks with a style that was very on the edge.
    At the 11:45 mark of the first period, the 19-year-old Arborg, Man., product hammered Blades overage captain Evan Fiala into the boards drawing the attention of Fiala’s teammate Jackson Caller, who is an 18-year-old defenceman. 
The Blazers and Blades engage in a second period scrum.
    Caller, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 189 pounds, engaged Loewen in a fight, while Fiala slowly left the ice under his own power.
    Caller hung in with Loewen for a little bit, but the larger Blazers forward overpowered the Blades rearguard and worked him pretty good in the bout. Loewen received a charging minor for hitting Fiala and a fighting major, while Caller was given an unsportsmanlike minor penalty and a fighting major.
    With 1:05 to play, Kamloop’s pressure resulted in a goal from 19-year-old right-winger Luc Smith.
Nolan Maier stopped 25-of-28 shots fired his way in goal for the Blades.
    Blades 16-year-old rookie netminder Nolan Maier had a sensational opening 20 minutes robbing Blazers 17-year-old left-winger Brodi Stuart twice on rushes. After the Blazers scored, Maier turned away Blazers Czech import defenceman Ondrej Vala and made a big glove stop on utility player Tylor Ludwar.
    The Blazers switched to a different part of their game in the second. While Hay’s teams traditionally bring the physical game, they can play with speed and skill and get up and down the ice as well.
    At the 1:43 mark of the second, the Blazers buzzed in the Blades zone causing a net scramble situation. The puck popped out to Blazers 17-year-old defenceman Luke Zazula at the left side of the Saskatoon goal, and he popped home his second goal of the season past a fallen Maier to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
Dylan Ferguson kicks out a shot for the Blazers.
    The Blazers went ahead 3-0 at the 11:53 mark of the second, when captain Nick Chyzowski scored on the power play.
    Kamloops netminder Dylan Ferguson, who saw action in one game with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights this season, was at the top of his game in the second, where the Blades had seven shots but four quality scoring chances.
    With the Blazers holding a 2-0 lead, Ferguson made a stop on a dangerous drive by Blades Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek.
    After the Blazers went ahead 3-0, Ferguson kept the Blades at bay making a glove save on overage star centre Cameron Hebig, denying rookie 16-year-old centre Kirby Dach on a screen shot and turning back star overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr in close before heading into the second intermission.
Libor Hajek had the Blades lone goal on Saturday night.
    The Blazers resumed their physical work in the third. Ludwar nailed Blades 18-year-old right-winger Josh Paterson from behind into the boards in the Saskatoon end, but the hit didn’t result in a penalty.
    Shortly after that collision, Blazers 19-year-old right-winger Quinn Benjafield wiped out Blades Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik.
    Saskatoon got life at the 11:21 mark of the third, when Hajek blasted home a mid-range drive to cut the Blazers lead to 3-1.
    The physical play didn’t stop. Blazers 18-year-old defenceman Nolan Kneen nailed Dach with a high hit, and Fiala took down Loewen.
    Fiala was penalized for tripping with 2:06 to play, but the Blades pulled Maier to ice five skaters in order to push for the tie. 
Garrett Pilon, right, celebrates scoring the Blazers fourth goal.
    That allowed Saskatoon product Garrett Pilon to score the rare empty-net, power-play goal for the Blazers with 1:43 to play to round out the final outcome.
    The contest’s tension still seemed high, where the Blazers looked to be going for high hits on three separate occasions but laid off for no contact in the final 1:43.
    Maier turned away 25-of-28 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blades (11-16-2-1). Ferguson stopped 23 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Blazers. The Blazers, who opened the campaign with nine straight losses, are now 14-15-0-1.
    The Blades return to action on Sunday for their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game, when they host their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders (12-11-5-2) at 2 p.m. at that SaskTel Centre.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 8 December 2017

Blades’ Maier shows he isn’t your ordinary 16-year-old

Yorkton product starting to make a mark in Saskatoon’s goal

Nolan Maier is growing with the Blades as a 16-year-old rookie.
    Nolan Maier has had a baptism in fire to start his WHL career.
    The Yorkton, Sask., product was added permanently to the roster of the Saskatoon Blades on Nov. 14 after playing goal for Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held jointly in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. In three appearances, Maier posted a 1-2 record, a 3.02 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout. He had the best save percentage among netminders who started three or more games.
    As a 16-year-old goalie with the Blades, Maier was slated to see apprentice type action playing goal behind 19-year-old veteran Ryan Kubic. Maier had played his first regular season game with the Blades on Oct. 7 against the Pats in Regina, and he made 34 saves and gave up seven goals in a 7-3 loss to this season’s Memorial Cup hosts.
    Still, Maier made some big saves, and you could see why the Blades selected him in the second round and 25th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. During the pre-season and that first regular season outing, you could tell Maier had talent, and all he lacked was experience playing in the WHL. He started the campaign in the junior A ranks with the Yorkton Terriers.
    When WHL clubs have a 16-year-old rookie goalie on their roster, those teams try to get that puck stopper’s feet wet and gradually working him into a more active role. Besides learning the league, 16-year-old goalies like all 16-year-old players are adjusting to living away from home usually for the first time and juggling high school studies with hockey responsibilities.
    WHL teams usually want all 16-year-old rookies to gain experience with the league and temper expectations on those players, especially if they are a high Bantam Draft pick.
Nolan Maier made 48 saves in a shutout of the Portland Winterhawks.
    The Blades best plans took a turn shortly after Maier returned to Saskatoon in November. Kubic went down with a knee injury, and Maier was pushed into the starting role.
    He has started the last eight straight games for the Blades and is blossoming right before the team’s eyes.
    Maier has statistics that are typical for a 16-year-old netminder. In 10 appearances, he has posted a 3-5 record, a 4.03 goals against average, a .890 save percentage and one shutout.
    The quality of his play has improved pretty much each time he has taken the ice to play goal for the Blades.
    The first obstacle was to get Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 168 pounds, his first career win. The Blades accomplished that on Nov. 24 at the SaskTel Centre, when they scored three times in the last 1:56 of the third period to erase a 5-3 deficit and down the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings 6-5.
    With his first win nailed down, Maier’s next challenge came playing every contest on the team’s five-game road trip through the WHL’s U.S. Division. He stopped 171-of-185 shots over those five contests for a .924 save percentage. The Blades posted a 2-3 record, but Maier gave Saskatoon a realistic chance to win every time out.
    His most impressive performance came last Sunday in Portland, when he made 48 stops in a 4-0 win over the host Winterhawks. The Winterhawks top the WHL’s Western Conference with a 20-8-1 record and are rated fourth in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings.
    Maier has played big when the Blades have needed him to, and he performed well beyond what a 16-year-old rookie should. Still, he is a 16-year-old rookie, and he will likely face some adversity. It would still be wise to temper expectations.
Logan Maier has started eight straight games for the Blades.
    Kubic is listed as being out day-to-day with a knee injury, so Maier’s string of starts might be close to an end. If Maier does keep his run of consecutive starts for the Blades going, the team in front of him can feel confident the young netminder is improving rapidly, and he gives the club a chance to win every night even against the toughest teams in the league.
    The Blades (11-15-2-1) return to action on Saturday when they host the Kamloops Blazers (13-15-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. That contest is the team’s “Girls Rock Game,” and it features a girl empowerment talk from Claire Hanna, who is a former member of Canada’s national women’s volleyball team and a sports reporter for Global Saskatoon. Hanna’s talk is slated to run from 5:30 to 6 p.m. pre-game at the SaskTel Centre.
    On Sunday at 2 p.m. at the SaskTel, the Blades host the arch-rivals the Prince Albert Raiders in their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game. Spectators are invited to throw stuffed animals on to the ice surface after the Blades score their first goal.

Blades hand down injury update, make trade

The Blades traded Joel Grzybowski to the Victoria Royals.
    Heading into action this weekend, the Blades posted an injury update on Friday.
    While 19-year-old goalie Ryan Kubic is listed as out day-to-day with a knee injury, the Blades have three forwards on their injury list including 17-year-old Michael Farren (shoulder, day-to-day), 19-year-old Gage Ramsay (groin, slated to return after Christmas break) and 19-year-old Caleb Fantillo (knee, 6-to-8 weeks).
    Big kudos to the Blades for releasing this information. Players usually receive a lot more get well wishes from the fans, when the fans know what a players’ injury is. The players can feel less guarded in letting information slip, and it allows them up to more freely represent the team during community appearances.
    In Fantillo’s case, he is a fan favourite, so news of his injury will give team supporters that much more initiative to wish him a speedy recovery.
    Besides the injury update, the Blades traded 18-year-old netminder Joel Grzybowski to the Victoria Royals for 18-year-old goalie Hunter Arps. Arps, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 165 pounds, was playing in the junior A ranks with the Melfort Mustangs posting a 6-1-1 record, a 2.66 goals against average, a .903 save percentage and one shutout in 10 appearances.
    Grzybowski, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 172 pounds, saw action in six games for the Blades this season posting an 0-1-1 record, a 4.31 goals against average and a .841 save percentage. He appeared in three games with the Battlefords North Stars in the junior A ranks posting a 3-0 record, a 2.32 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.

Huskies quartet to face Canada’s world junior prospects

Kendall McFaull, left, and Jordon Cooke deserve pro shots.
    A quartet from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team are hoping to give the prospects for Canada’s world junior team a stiff test and maybe gain some interest from the professional ranks in the process.
    Netminder Jordon Cooke, defenceman Kendall McFaull, who is the Huskies captain, and forwards Josh Roach and Logan McVeigh will join a U Sports all-star team that will face the prospects looking to crack Canada’s world junior roster in a two game series. The U Sports all-stars will arrive in St. Catharines, Ont., for a training camp beginning on Monday. They will face the prospects for Canada’s world junior team in live game action on Wednesday and Thursday.
    Cooke, McFaull, Roach and McVeigh have all played a key part in helping the Huskies post a 13-2-1 record to sit second in the Canada West Conference. The Huskies are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
    Cooke has posted an 11-2 record, a 2.34 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and two shutouts so far this season. His 54 career regular season victories ranks second on the Huskies all-time career list.
    McFaull is in his fifth year with the Huskies and has posted four goals, three assists and a plus-11 rating in the plus-minus department in 15 games.
    Roach is also in his fifth campaign with the U of S and has posted nine goals, 17 assists and a plus-14 rating to lead Canada West in scoring. His nine goals is a career high and his 26 points matches a career high achieved last season.
    McVeigh is in his third year with the Huskies and has posted six goals, 15 assists and a plus-six rating.
    All four are worthy of earning a professional contract and a spot on the U Sports all-star team. They should give Canada’s best major junior players all they can handle.
    This season’s world juniors run Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Buffalo, New York.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Thursday, 7 December 2017

Tigers clash with Raiders a stellar display for WHL

Max Gerlach (#16) centres a pass for the Tigers.
    The WHL got a gem of a game on Wednesday night at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    Before 1,750 spectators, the host Raiders fell 5-4 after a tiebreaking shootout to the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers in a thrilling contest where both sides jetted up and down the ice. 
    In the immediate aftermath, you miss the fact WHL games are no longer shown on Shaw across Western Canada, because Wednesday’s contest between the Raiders and Tigers was a prime example of how great and entertaining that major junior circuit can be.
    The 2017-18 campaign was supposed to be the final season Shaw showed WHL games under a contract the two bodies had, but the television network bought itself out of showing games in what is now the current campaign.
Goalie Jordan Hollett had a stellar game for the Tigers.
    While the Raiders versus Tigers game wasn’t on television, it should be referred to as a selling feature of how great games in the WHL can be. Whether news of the game spreads by word of mouth or by fans over social media channels, it was a game that is worthy of water cooler chat.
    That contest had so many turning points you could point to almost anything in being the difference in the game.
    Besides the teams getting up and down the ice, the biggest talking point would have been the goalies, who were both outstanding. Ian Scott, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 168 pounds, had a solid night making 34 saves over 65 minutes before the game went to a shootout, where he was beaten twice. The quality of saves Scott made were high, and the Calgary product showed he is one of the circuit’s elite goalies.
Ian Scott of the Raiders showed he is one of the WHL’s elite goalies.
    Tigers netminder Jordan Hollett, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds, was even better turning away 49 shots over 65 minutes and both shooters he faced in the shootout. The Langley, B.C., product, who was the Regina Pats backup goalie last season, proved he is ready for a primetime starting role.
    If video of Hollett’s performance made it down to Regina, you would likely have some Pats fans gripping the 18-year-old puck stopper should have been the goalie the Pats kept in a season where that team hosts the Memorial Cup this coming May.
    The star players came out to play on both sides. Overage centre Jordy Stallard, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 179 pounds, potted a pair of goals to continue to lead the Raiders in scoring with 21 goals and 20 assists in 29 games. Stallard’s play was complimented by Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid post-game.
Jordy Stallard tops the Raiders in scoring.
    “He (Stallard) plays quality minutes,” said Habscheid, whose team is 11-11-5-2 so far this season. “He plays a lot of minutes, but he responds.
    “He has scored some big goals for us, and he has been a good player for us.”
    Tigers overage captain Mark Rassell, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 186 pounds, scored twice, picked up an assist and potted his team’s first goal in the tiebreaking shootout. He leads the Tigers in scoring with 27 goals and 12 assists in 29 games. Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston said Rassell has been another one of those skilled and speedy players the team seems to constantly find that overlooked.
    “He is such a great story for so many young players, and we’ve had a few of them,” said Clouston, whose team is 17-11-1. “He is the next guy who didn’t play at (age) 16.
    “He wasn’t drafted. He was a list player and undersized. He just happened to grow, and now he is one of our bigger guys.
    “He just stayed the course, stayed positive. He was in and out of the lineup at 17 and became a full-time player at 18 and then at 19 tore it up. He has picked up where he left off last year and even taking it up a notch.”
    There were key performances by others. Eric Pearce, who is a 16-year-old rookie centre, tipped home the Raiders fourth goal of the game.
Captain Mark Rassell has been lighting it up offensively for the Tigers.
    The Raiders showed they have a couple of players that can move the puck well from the defence in Vojtech Budik and Max Martin.
    Tigers rearguard David Quenneville might be the best offensive-defenceman in the WHL. The 19-year-old veteran picked up his 10th goal of the season on Wednesday to go with his 24 assists in another outstanding campaign.
    Right-winger Max Gerlach showed he still has one of the best shots in the league, when he wired home the shootout winner.
    No matter who you cheered for on Wednesday night, the clash between the Raiders and the Tigers was a showstopper, and it is always worthy of discussion.

Goalies rule Canada West women’s hockey

Huskies goalie Jessica Vance has a .955 save percentage so far  this season.
    The goalies have to be give their due in the Canada West Conference in U Sports women’s hockey.
    With a little over half of the regular season now in the books, goal scoring has been a challenge for the eight teams in the Canada West Conference. Only star forward Venla Hovi of the University of Manitoba Bisons is averaging a point a game with four goals and eight assists in 16 appearances.
    On the other end, five of the conference’s goalies have a save percentage that is .950 or better. Kelsey Roberts of the University of Calgary Dinos has the best save percentage in the conference at .959 to go with her 6-7-1 record, 1.46 goals against average and five shutouts.
    The goalies are straight out just getting it done.
    The Dinos are tied with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for giving up the fewest goals in the conference at 23.
    The Huskies have three second-year goalies who have combined for six shutouts. Jessica Vance has three shutouts, Chloe Marshall has two shutouts and Jasey Book has one shutout.
Vance has the third best save percentage in Canada West at .955 to go with her 4-2 record and 1.18 goals against average.
    To further show just how tough it has been to score in Canada West, Kaitlin Willoughby, who is the third all-time leading scorer in the history of the Huskies, has five goals and five assists in 14 appearances, but sits only four points back of Bisons forward Jordyn Zacharias for the conference’s scoring lead.
    There are a tonne of good goalies in the Canada West Conference in women’s hockey and right now they are a step ahead of the conference’s point producers.

Kish makes a step up with Cougars

Jane Kish has brought her game up another level playing for the Cougars.
    Jane Kish is one of those elite performers who keeps getting better.
    The third-year goalie with the University of Regina Cougars women’s team has brought her game up another level from the previous season. While she had a great campaign in her sophomore season, Kish, who stands 5-foot-4, had a tendency to go down a little early playing the butterfly style and due to her short height, the top part of the net was exposed.
    The book to beat Kish was to shoot the puck high and put it over her shoulders.
    This season, Kish is still playing the butterfly style but is staying upright to take away the top part of the net. Now, the Weyburn, Sask., product has become that much more of a difficult goalie to beat.
    During the Cougars last two games against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, Kish was beaten only once by a gritty net scramble power-play goal. She turned back 54-of-55 shots in those two contests.
    On the season, Kish has posted a 6-4-1 record, a 1.26 goals against average, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts. Her goals against average is the third lowest in the conference and her save percentage is the fourth highest.
    Back in 2014, Kish backstopped her hometown Weyburn Gold Wings to an Esso Cup title for female midget AAA hockey national supremacy. She has the mental toughness to take a team all the way. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she repeated what she did in midget AAA at the university level.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Wow! – Tigers, Raiders burn up the ice in WHL thriller

Medicine Hat claims 5-4 victory after tiebreaking shootout

Tigers captain Mark Rassell (#27) scores in the third period.
    PRINCE ALBERT – It was a WHL game that was made for a national television broadcast.
    On Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre, the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers and the host Prince Albert Raiders tore up and down the ice in a fire wagon type contest, where the goalies on either side also stood on their respective heads. The two clubs went to overtime locked in a 4-4 draw.
    In the three-versus-three extra session, the first whistle came when there was 8.5 seconds remaining in the frame.
    In the tiebreaking shootout, captain Mark Rassell and star right-winger Max Gerlach scored on the first two shot attempts for the Tigers to allow the visitors to take the session 2-0 and escape the overall game with a 5-4 victory before 1,750 spectators.
Centre Jordy Stallard had a pair of goals for the Raiders.
    “That is the thing about junior hockey is these games are always exciting,” said Rassell, who had two goals and an assist in regulation. “There is so much passion in the air.
    “It is just so fun to win those games. Obviously, we’d like to hunker down a little more defensively and not give up as many goals as we did. We’re happy with the two points in the end.”
    The Raiders had the majority of the best scoring chances in the contest as Tigers starting netminder Jordan Hollett made 49 saves thru 65 minutes and turned away both Raiders shooters he faced in the shootout.
    Prince Albert netminder Ian Scott had a strong outing as well turning away 33 shots over 65 minutes before being beaten by Rassell and Gerlach in the shootout.
Mark Rassell (#27) had two goals and an assist for the Tigers.
    The Tigers controlled play in the first outshooting the Raiders 14-8 in the frame. The visitors got the only goal in the first 20 minutes as left-winger Ryan Jevne knocked home a pass across the face of the Prince Albert goal from linemate Ryan Chyzowski for his 10th of the season.
    The contest really opened up in the second with the Raiders outshooting the Tigers 19-11 in the frame, and the host side entered the second intermission holding a 3-2 lead. Overage centre Jordy Stallard scored twice for the Raiders in the second period, while Czech import defenceman Vojtech Budik fired home a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle with 22.7 seconds to play in the frame to break a 2-2 tie.
    Rassell had the lone reply for the Tigers in the second.
    The second period also contained a spirited fight between Jevne and Raiders defenceman Brayden Pachal.
    “I thought both teams started out a little careful,” said Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid. “There wasn’t much tempo.
    “Then as the game went on, it got better. It turned out to be a pretty good hockey game. We had more shots, and I thought we had more chances.
Raiders goalie Ian Scott (#33) stops Tigers forward James Hamblin.
    “In overtime, outside of their one break there, I thought we had numerous chances. I thought their goaltender played real good. He was the difference.”
    At the 3:11 mark of the third, Tigers offensive defenceman David Quenneville fired home his 10th of the season to tie the contest up at 3-3. Rassell potted his second goal of the contest at the 8:28 mark scoring in close at the right side of the Raiders goal to put the visitors up 4-3.
    The Raiders didn’t go away. With 6:58 to play in the frame, 18-year-old defenceman Austin Crossley fired a point shot on goal that was tipped home by 16-year-old rookie centre Eric Pearce to pull the Raiders into a 4-4 tie with the Tigers.
Goalie Jordan Hollett makes an OT save for the Tigers.
    For the past 15 years, the Tigers have built a reputation of playing a type of game where they transition up and down the ice with speed and skill. The Raiders haven’t traditionally played that type of style over that same timespan, but Habscheid believes he has the players to play that type of game.
    “We’ve been trying to play fast,” said Habscheid. “We’ve got some players who have some good feet, so we are able to play that way.
    “We just try to compile something that fits your group. We think we can play a little faster this year.”
    The Tigers just outshot the Raiders 5-4 in an extremely high tempo overtime frame. Raiders 18-year-old right-winger Parker Kelly had two big chances to score the winner at the end of the extra session, but he was denied by Hollett.
    Rassell said it was intense to play almost the entire three-on-three frame without a stoppage.
    “It is nerve-racking,” said Rassell. “Three-on-three and game is on the line.
    “If you are on the ice, you’re the guy they are counting on to stop them from scoring and get it done yourself. With that craziness with no faceoffs, there is no time to rest. There is no time to think.
    “You just have to trust your instincts and play.”
Raiders D Brayden Pachal fights Tigers LW Ryan Jevne.
    The win allowed the Tigers, who sit first in the WHL’s Central Division, to improve to 17-11-1. The Raiders record moved to 11-11-5-2 to hold the second wildcard spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    “They are a good team,” said Habschield. “They play with pace.
    “We had some turnovers, which plays right into them. They got some offence off of that and some energy off of that.
    “I thought we got better as the game went on. As the game went on, I thought our pace was better than theirs.”
    Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston said he wasn’t surprised the Raiders are trying the play an up-tempo style. The veteran bench boss said the Raiders played his side tough last season and you could see the structure and speed the Prince Albert club was developing as a young team. With the Raiders returning a number of players from last year with an extra year of experience, Clouston expected them to be a tougher opponent this season.
    Wednesday’s game marked the first time the Tigers have defeated the Raiders in the current campaign in three head-to-head meetings.
The Tigers celebrate their 5-4 victory after a tiebreaking shootout.
    “We’ll take the win,” said Clouston. “I thought we got tremendous goaltending especially down the stretch.
    “Going into the third being down a goal and coming out with two points is a real positive. I thought we gave up a couple of really quality chances and Holly (Hollett) kept us in there. We probably spent a little more time in the D-zone than we wanted to, but we hung in and blocked some shots.
    “It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but we got through it.”
    The Tigers return to action Friday, when they travel to Brandon to face the Wheat Kings (20-7-0-1). The Raiders host the Kamloops Blazers (13-15) on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser centre in their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Blades fall to Thunderbirds to close U.S. road trip

Seth Bafaro scored for the Blades on Tuesday night.
    The Saskatoon Blades just missed returning from their road trip through the WHL’s U.S. Division with a winning record over that five-game jaunt.
    On Tuesday night at the ShoWare Centre in Kent, Washington, the Blades concluded their five-game road swing with a 4-1 setback against the Seattle Thunderbirds before 4,003 spectators. With the loss, the Blades posted a 2-3 record playing each of the WHL’s five clubs based in the United States.
    Overall, the Blades record fell to 11-15-2-1, while the Thunderbirds, who are rebuilding after winning the WHL championship last season, improved to 13-13-2-1.
    The Thunderbirds got out to a quick start in Tuesday’s encounter as 17-year-old rookie centre Tyler Carpendale scored at the 2:19 mark of the opening frame.
    Just over four minutes later, Blades defenceman Seth Bafaro scored from the point to even the score at 1-1.
    Seattle controlled play in the second outshooting Saskatoon 17-3 in the frame. Due to the stellar play of Blades 16-year-old rookie goalie Nolan Maier, the Thunderbirds only managed to exit the second stanza holding a 2-1 edge.
    Finnish import winger Sami Moilanen potted his 16th over the season at the 2:57 mark of the second frame, and the officials had to go to a video review to confirm Moilanen did indeed score due to the fact he was on the border of the crease of the Saskatoon goal.
Netminder Nolan Maier stopped 31-of-34 shots for the Blades on Tuesday.
    Just 85 seconds into the third, the Thunderbirds went ahead 3-1 on an unassisted goal by 17-year-old left-winger Dillon Hamaliuk. The Blades pushed back holding a 14-12 in shots on goal in the third, but the Thunderbirds salted away victory with an empty-net goal by Blake Bargar in the game’s final seconds.
    Maier turned away 31-of-34 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blades. Matt Berlin made 26 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Thunderbirds.
    The Blades return to action on Saturday, when they host the Kamloops Blazers at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. That contest is the team’s “Girls Rock Game,” where the Blades are partnering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon.
    The Blades have a special ticket offer for girls groups in the city where 20 tickets can be purchased for $100, and it allows the group to attend a girl empowerment talk featuring Claire Hanna, who is a former member of Canada’s national women’s volleyball team and a sports reporter for Global Saskatoon. Hanna’s talk is slated to run from 5:30 to 6 p.m. pre-game at the SaskTel Centre.
    On Sunday at 2 p.m. at the SaskTel, the Blades host the arch-rivals the Prince Albert Raiders in their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game. Spectators are invited to throw stuffed animals on to the ice surface after the Blades score their first goal.

Stars’ Leschyshyn commits to Syracuse University

The Stars’ Anna Leschyshyn has committed to Syracuse University.
    Anna Leschyshyn has verbally committed to play for the Syracuse University Orange Women’s hockey team for the start of the 2019-20 National Collegiate Athletic Association campaign.
    Leschyshyn is a star 16-year-old power forward with the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team. The Saskatoon product sits third in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League scoring race piling up 13 goals and 15 assists helping the Stars jump out to a 13-0 start.
    In 72 career regular season games with the Stars, Leschyshyn, who stands 5-foot-10, has 43 goals and 45 assists. She is the daughter of long time former NHL defenceman and Saskatoon Blades grad Curtis Leschyshyn, who is one of the Stars assistant coaches.
    Anna’s older brother, Jake Leschyshyn, is an 18-year-old centre with the WHL’s Regina Pats. Jake has seven goals and six assists in 24 appearances so far this season with the Pats.
    The Stars resume regular season play on Dec. 16, when they travel to Swift Current to take on the Diamond Energy Wildcats.

Dorsett pens a heartfelt thanks to his supporters

Derek Dorsett, seen here in 2007, penned a heartfelt letter to his supporters.
    Feisty forward Derek Dorsett, who was forced to retire from the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks last week due to a back injury, released a heartfelt thanks to his supporters on Tuesday.
    About a year ago, the Kindersley, Sask., product underwent a cervical-fusion surgery to heal up a damaged disk in his back. About two weeks ago, Dorsett’s doctors in Los Angeles, Calif., discovered another herniated disk near the rebuilt section of his back, and he was advised to not play again. His retirement was officially announced last Thursday.
    Dorsett had gotten out to a great start with the Canucks netting seven goals and two assists in 20 regular season games. After spending his first professional season with the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch in 2007-08, Dorsett started playing in the NHL on a full-time basis with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008-09.
    He appeared in 515 regular season games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Canucks netting 51 goals, 76 assists and 1,314 penalty minutes. Over his hockey career, Dorsett, who stands 6-feet and weighs 192 pounds, became one of the game’s best agitators, but he was also viewed as one of the best teammates no matter where his career took him.
    Dorsett played for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers from 2004 to 2007 and was one of the franchise’s all-time greatest fan favourite players. He recorded 49 goals, 79 assists and 593 penalty minutes in 180 regular season games with the Tabbies.
    His letter to his supporters can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Saturday, 2 December 2017

Huskies grind out win on Vance’s third shutout

The Huskies congratulate goalie Jessica Vance on her shutout.
    Steve Kook hopes the low scoring nail-biter isn’t the norm for his University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    The veteran head coach watched his side squeak out a gritty 1-0 victory over the University of Regina Cougars on Saturday night in a U Sports regular season clash at the ancient Rutherford Rink. So far this season, low scoring battles have been the norm for teams playing head-to-head in the Canada West Conference. Venla Hovi, who is a star forward for the University of Manitoba Bisons, is the only player averaging a point a game with four goals and eight assists in 12 appearances.
    In building a 9-6-1 record to sit fourth in Canada West, the Huskies and the University of Calgary Dinos are tied for giving up the fewest goals in the circuit at 23. The Huskies have only scored a combined 26 goals which ranks fifth in the eight-team conference.
    Kook said grinding out the low-scoring win isn’t the easiest thing to do.
    “I think it is hard on teams to do this every weekend,” said Kook. “I don’t think it is any different than what we’ve gone through every year.
Jessica Vance makes a glove save for the Huskies.
    “The challenge for us is to try to find a way to get more than one person at the net. Goalies are so good in this league you have to find a way to get two people at the net or attack in multiples.”
    The Cougars came at the Huskies hard in the opening 20 minutes outshooting the host side 16-8. Thanks to the stellar goaltending from Jessica Vance, the Huskies entered the first intermission locked in a 0-0 tie.
    Vance’s two best saves in the opening frame included robbing Cougars captain Kylee Kupper on a backdoor play and making a glove stop on fourth-year forward Emma Waldenberger.
    “They came on strong, and it was important to make those first few saves to keep my team in it,” said Vance. “Luckily, my team did a good job by keeping most of the shots to the outside to make it a little easier for me.”
    At the start of the second, Vance made a trio of big saves first on Cougars star forward Jaycee Magwood, then on Kupper and another on Jenna Grube.
    The Huskies found traction, when they went to work on their fourth power-play of the contest. During a net scramble, Huskies star captain Kaitlin Willoughby, who had a solid lunch pail type game, got the puck from a crowd at the left side of the Cougars goal and drove home her fifth tally of the season.
Kaitlin Willoughby scored for the Huskies on this net scramble.
    That goal ultimately turned the tide of the contest in favour of the Huskies. The hosts held a 12-5 edge in shots on goal in the second period.
    The third period was a calm one with both sides not have a whole lot in the way of scoring chances. Vance made a big late save on Magwood in a 27 save shutout performance.
    In six starts this season, Vance has posted a 4-2 record, a 1.18 goals against average, a .955 save percentage and three shutouts.
    “It feels good to have the shutouts, but the most important part is for my team to get the win,” said Vance. “I try not to think about my stats too much and just focus on working together with my team to get the win.
    “A lot can be said for my team’s defence as well for my shutouts as that is a key part of the game.”
    Jane Kish stopped 23 shots to take the setback in goal for the Cougars, who fell to 7-8-1 to remain fifth overall in Canada West.
    During their first 16 games, the Huskies held the edge in shots on goal in six of the seven games they lost.
Kaitlin Willoughby drives into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    A lot of the times, they have outshot their opponents by a comfortable edge, but that work hasn’t resulted in a gusher of goals.
    On the power play, the Huskies are 3-for-55 with a 5.5 per cent success rate on the campaign. Kook said his team is getting chances on the power play, and it is a challenge to keep the confidence up with everyone.
    “The natural thing is to want to try and change something,” said Kook. “I’d be more concerned if we weren’t getting good looks and good scoring chances off the power play.
    “We need to get better at the things we do. We need to tweak a little bit maybe some strong net front presence and a more committed net front presence. For us to make a wholesale change I think is wrong.
Goalie Jessica Vance makes one of her 27 saves on Saturday.
    “We’re getting good scoring looks.”
    The Huskies now head into their exam and Christmas break. They return to action on Jan. 5 in the new year, when they host the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns (7-9-2) at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.
    Kook liked how his team won puck battles on Saturday and wants to see that continue in the second half. He would also like to see his side manage the puck better.
    The bench boss thought his team had lapses in Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Cougars in Regina, where the Huskies did have a 31-19 edge in shots on goal.
    “Literally in the second half, it is a sprint,” said Kook. “We have 12 games over six weeks. Before you know it, it is over.
    “You just have to make sure we are in games like this right off the bat. (Friday night), I thought we didn’t play a very good 40 minutes, and we played a good 20 minutes. That is what we are going to try and focus on.”

Cooke sits alone in second on Huskies career wins list

Jordon Cooke picked up his 54th career regular season win for the Huskies.
    Jordon Cooke hit another major milestone before his U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team departed into the semester break.
    On Saturday at the Co-operators Centre in Regina, Cooke made 23 saves to back the Huskies to a 6-5 victory over the host U of Regina Cougars before 1,020 spectators. The victory was the 54th of Cooke’s regular season career with the Huskies, which places him alone in second spot on the team’s all-time regular season win’s list.
    Cooke sits one victory ahead of former teammate Ryan Holfeld, who won 53 games playing goal for the Huskies from 2010 to 2015.
    Jeff Harvey sits first on the team’s all-time wins list picking up 60 victories playing goal for the Huskies from 2005 to 2010.
    As for Saturday’s contest itself, the Huskies and Cougars battled in a seesaw affair. With the two sides locked in a 5-5 draw, feisty forward Jaimen Yakubowski scored the winner with 1:32 to play to lift the Huskies to a one-goal win.
    Andrew Johnson scored twice for the Huskies, while John Lawrence, Tanner Lishchynsky and Alex Forsberg had singles.
    Corwin Stevely, Colton Sparrow, Zach McPhee, Cody Fowlie and Ian McNulty replied with singles for the Cougars.
    Michael Herringer started in goal for the Cougars turning away 5-of-8 shots before being pulled at the 5:36 mark of the first period. Dawson MacAuley stopped 36-of-39 shots going the rest of the way in relief for the U of R.
    The Huskies, who have won five straight, sit second in Canada West with a 13-2-1 mark. The Cougars fell to 3-11-2 to sit in the basement of the eight-team Canada West Conference.
    The Huskies return to action on Jan. 5 in the new year, when they travel to Lethbridge to face the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns (6-9-1).

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 1 December 2017

Huskies need someone to play hero role offensively

Kish’s 31 saves backs Cougars to 2-0 victory

The Huskies and Cougars scramble in front of the U of Regina net.
    REGINA - The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team needs someone to throw on the superhero cape.
    So far during regular season play, the Huskies have lacked the scoring punch needed to pull off any comebacks. As soon as the opposition gets ahead, it seems like the final outcome is cemented on the scoreboard.
    On Friday night at the Co-operators Centre in Regina, the Huskies put in an effort to get a positive result against the host U of Regina Cougars. Collectively, it seemed like everyone was holding on to their sticks too tightly on the Dogs side and there was no finish.
    The visitors failed to score on four power play chances and fell victim to a 31 shutout performance from Cougars star netminder Jane Kish. That was enough to allow the Cougars to skate away with a 2-0 victory in a U Sports regular season clash.
Tamara McVannel had a power-play goal for the Cougars.
    The Huskies, who have lost four of their last five games, fell to 8-6-1 with the loss to remain fourth in the Canada West Conference. The Cougars improved to 7-7-1 to sit fifth in Canada West and four points back of the Huskies.
    The Cougars scored early when Czech import right-winger Martina Maskova flipped a shot past Huskies netminder Chloe Marshall at the 2:42 mark of the first period. The hosts picked up an insurance marker at the 11:45 mark of the second, when defender Tamara McVannel slid home a power-play goal from the point through a screen.
    Those tallies proved to be enough to cement the Cougars second win in their last eight games.
    Marshall was solid making 17 saves including a breakaway stop on Maskova in the third to take the setback in goal for the Huskies.
    In their seven losses, the Huskies have fallen three times by a single goal and four times by two goals. In 15 games, the Huskies have allowed 23 goals against which ties the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds for the third fewest goals against in Canada West. The Dogs have also outshot the opposition in six of the seven games they have lost this season.
Netminder Jane Kish made 31 saves to pick up the shutout win.
    U of S has scored just 25 goals on the campaign, so offence has been the Huskies biggest struggle.
    In Friday’s loss, the Huskies showed that their power play has been a huge weakness all season. On the campaign, the Huskies are connecting on 2-of-49 power-play opportunities for a 4.1 per cent success rate, which ranks last in the eight-team Canada West. They have allowed one short-handed goal against.
    At any level of hockey, that is just not good enough. To make matters worse for the Huskies, their power play struggles date back to last season.
    To be fair to the Huskies, no one is scoring in the women’s Canada West hockey conference this season.
    The U of Lethbridge Pronghorns have giving up the fewest goals in the Canada West at 21, and the U of Calgary Dinos have given up the second fewest goals at 22. Both those squads sit outside the top five in the conference standings. 
Emily Upgang had some dangerous offensive chances.
    The total goals given up by the Pronghorns are two less than the Huskies have surrendered.
    Venla Hovi, who is a star forward for the U of Manitoba Bisons, is the only player averaging at least a point a game in the conference with three goals and eight assists in 11 appearances.
    When the Huskies have been down, star fifth-year forward Kaitlin Willoughby, who is the third all-time leading scorer in team history, was able to put on the superhero cape and deliver a number of victories in the past.
    The Prince Albert product missed two games due to injury and admitted during a recent mainstream media interview that she has been playing hurt this season. Inside of the final minute of Friday’s loss, she had a glorious chance to score on a net scramble with Kish down but flipped the puck over an open goal.
    It was the type of chance Willoughby, who has four goals and five assists in 13 appearances, usually scored on in the past.
    Willoughby still entered the offensive zone with speed, but she didn’t look like herself in the opposition end often electing to pass the puck and getting only one shot on goal. At the moment, it feels like Willoughby isn’t the threat in the offensive zone that she once was.
Kaitlin Willoughby struggled in the offensive zone on Friday.
    Forwards Emily Upgang, Bailee Bourassa and Brooklyn Haubrich along with defenders Leah Bohlken and Morgan Willoughby, who is Kaitlin’s younger sister, all had effective chances in the offensive zone, but couldn’t bury any of their opportunities. Rookie centre Chloe Smith had a number of strong rushes up ice and seemed to have success creating plays despite not registering a shot on goal.
    At some point in time, the Huskies will need one or two of these players to step into the hero role in close games, if they want to make waves this season.
    Right now, the Huskies are stuck in a funk where basically the first goal of the game wins, and that is a recipe that doesn’t invite long term success.
    The Huskies and Cougars go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink in Saskatoon.

Third period rally boosts Huskies win streak to four

Jordon Cooke picked up his 53rd career win on Friday.
    In Saskatoon on Friday night, the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team needed a third period rally to extend their winning streak to four games.
    The Huskies entered the third period of a U Sports regular season clash locked in a 1-1 tie with the visiting U of Regina Cougars at the Rutherford Rink. At the 3:57 mark of the third, Zak Zborosky scored for the Cougars to give them a 2-1 lead.
    U of S wasted little time in responding. Just 19 seconds after Zborosky’s goal, Jordan Tkatch scored his first of the season for the Huskies to tie the contest up at 2-2.
    Huskies star centre Logan McVeigh netted the winner at the 9:01 mark of the third to deliver his team to a 3-2 victory.
    Jordan Burns scored for the Cougars in the first period to give the visitors a 1-0 lead, while Collin Shirley tallied in the second period for the Huskies to tie the contest up at 1-1.
    Jordon Cooke made 21 saves to pick up his 53rd career regular season win playing goal for the Huskies (12-2-1). Cooke is now tied with former teammate Ryan Holfeld for second all-time on the Huskies career wins list. Holfeld won 53 games playing for the Huskies from 2010 to 2015.
    Dawson MacAuley turned away 34 shots to take the setback in goal for the Cougars (3-10-2).
    The two teams go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Co-operators Centre in Regina.

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