Sunday, 30 November 2014

“Willo” and “Mighty Mouse” power Huskies

Kaitlin Willoughby (#28) hits top gear for the Huskies.
            When Kaitlin Willoughby and Kandace Cook get rolling, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team keeps on winning.
            There is no doubt the Huskies have vaulted into first overall in the Canada West Conference with an 11-3-2 record and 32 points in the standings thanks to an outstanding team effort. Everyone on the roster of the defending Canada West champs can look at their individual play and realize how important they were doing their part to get the Huskies where they are.
            Willoughby and Cook add an X-factor dimension that gives the Huskies that much an extra edge in a conference where seven points in the standings is all that separates the teams that sit between first and sixth. Those two forwards are extremely hard for opponents to make game plans for.
            Coming into the season, Willoughby, who stands 5-foot-6, might be the most well-known player on the Huskies roster. Last season, the young Prince Albert product was the CIS rookie of the year for women’s hockey picking up 10 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games. Of course, she netted the double overtime winner to give the Huskies a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the best-of-three Canada West title series back in March over the Regina Cougars.
            In her sophomore campaign, she looks like a faster and more powerful skater than she did as a rookie. The former star of the Prince Albert Bears midget AAA team came into the season with a different challenge.
            Thanks to the accolades she captured last season, Willoughby automatically becomes the centre of attention of every opponent the Huskies face. She will see every team’s best defensive pairing and a host of good defensive forwards.
            Early on, she went through an unthinkable five straight games without recording a point. That changed on Oct. 24, when she netted a goal and two assists in a 4-3 home victory over the Calgary Dinos.
            Willoughby also has points in the Huskies last four games netting three goals and four assists over that stretch. On the season, she has eight goals and seven assists in 16 games.
            Blessed with an abundance of skills, Willoughby was a key figure for the Huskies this past weekend at the Rutherford Rink. On Friday, the Huskies trailed the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars 2-0, and Willoughby went to work.
            She scored twice to even things up at 2-2 and then picked up an assist on the game winner from Kennedy Harris. Hard working defenceman Brooke Mutch picked up the last tally in a 4-2 victory, while Cassidy Hendricks made 15 saves for the win in goal.
            On Saturday after Carlee Hrenkiw put the Huskies up 1-0, Willoughby collected an assist on a deflection goal by Cook to cement a 2-0 victory. Hendricks made 18 saves to earn the shutout in net.
            At the moment, it is possible Willoughby is only scratching the surface of how good she might be. If she keeps focused on working hard on her game, she might get the chance to achieve great things in the future.
Kandace Cook takes a draw for the Huskies.
            Cook is a fearless fifth-year veteran that stands only 5-foot-2, but plays like she is 6-feet tall. She provides both a calming influence to the team and sets the tone for games with her unmatched compete level.
            Pound for pound, she might arguably be the strongest player in the Canada West conference. She is the “Mighty Mouse” of her team. In her team’s sweep of the Dinos in late October, Cook turned heads with the way she was able to physically take Canadian hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser out of the faceoff circle.         
            Cook also stepped up to be a difference maker during an early season turning point. After a 2-3 start, the Huskies faced the always powerful Alberta Pandas to finish off a weekend series at the Rutherford Rink on Oct. 18. The Lloydminster Steelers graduate scored twice including the winner on the power play to give the Huskies a key 3-2 victory and start a five game winning streak.
            She has already tied her career high with six goals this season and also has four assists. An assistant captain, Cook provides leadership by setting an example with her strong play on the ice.
            In the Huskies final game before the Christmas break, head coach Steve Kook had Cook and Willoughby on a line together with Edmonton product Rachel Johnson. That line might have some interesting potential, if it stays together.
            Even if that unit it split up, Willoughby and Cook will definitely be two players to watch after the Christmas break. Their hard work might result in some more cool championship memories in March. 

Heartbreakers in Calgary

Craig McCallum looks for a chance to score for the Huskies.
            The Huskies men’s hockey team ended up stumbling into the Christmas break with a pair of heartbreaking losses to the Mount Royal University Cougars in Calgary.
            On Friday, it turned out the three goals wasn’t enough to power the Huskies to a win. They led 3-1, but the Cougars roared back to tie things up at 3-3 and eventually take the contest 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout.
            Matthew Spafford, Craig McCallum and Sean Aschim all picked up singles for the Huskies, while goaltender Ryan Holfeld made 35 stops over 70 minutes and stopped two of three shooters in the shootout.
            David Stephens, Billy Marshall and Matthew Brown all picked up singles for the Cougars. Brown had the only goal in the tiebreaking shootout. Goaltender Cam Lanigan made 22 stops over 70 minutes and turned away all three shooters he faced in the shootout.
            On Saturday, the Huskies dropped a tough 2-1 decision to the Cougars. McCallum had the lone goal for the Dogs, while Jordon Cooke made 24 stops taking the loss in goal.
            Sebastien Pare and Tyler Fiddler had singles for the Cougars, while Lanigan turned away 25 shots to earn the win in goal.
            The Huskies still sit fourth overall in the Canada West Conference with an 8-9-1 record. 

Not easy being blue

Nelson Nogier in action for the Blades.
            Life in a rebuilding year is definitely not easy for the Saskatoon Blades.
            Even when it seems they are going to get a big victory, one bad shift washes those hopes away. That was the story Friday, when the Blades dropped a 4-3 decision in overtime to the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are a WHL powerhouse club this season, at the Sasktel Centre.
            Saskatoon led 3-2 with less than 30 seconds to play, and fresh players were on the ice to fend off a final Brandon rush to preserve victory. The Wheat Kings entered the Blades zone fairly easily and Brandon forward Tim McGauley had the puck below the icing line to left side of the Saskatoon goal.
            Blades defenceman Adam Henry had a chance to collapse down on McGauley, but the blue-liner froze. McGauley fed a pass to rearguard Ryan Pilon, who pinched down to the slot. Pilon wired home the equalizer with 5.6 seconds to play in the third.
            Brandon scored just 37 seconds into overtime as McGauley banged home the rebound from a Jayce Hawryluk shot.
            After dropping a 4-2 decision to the Warriors in Moose Jaw on Saturday, the Blades are 7-18-2 and are sitting 11 points out of a playoff position. The loss in Moose Jaw was made even more difficult, when the Blades had to stop using centre Alex Forsberg at about the 11-minute mark of the second period.
            Due to a clerical error by a Moose Jaw staffer, Forsberg was not on the gamesheet. He left the game, when the Blades and Warriors were tied 1-1.
            While the Blades are taking their lumps, the team’s fans have to be credited for being understanding. Friday’s loss was witnessed by 4,548 spectators on a night the weather wasn’t very good and the roads in the city were in rough shape.
            The Blades will be out-manned in a number of games, but all they can do is ensure their work ethic is good on a nightly basis. They play their next five games on the road against opponents from the B.C. Division. They open the swing Tuesday against the Blazers in Kamloops.

Grey Cup summed up CFL season

            The 102nd Grey Cup didn’t turn out to save what was a forgettable CFL season.
            In 2014, CFL games were dominated by defensive battles, an excessive amount of penalty calls and very few exciting finishes. Traditionally, the league is well known for wide open exciting battles with lots of passing and kick return yards.
             Sunday’s championship game at B.C. Place in Vancouver saw the Calgary Stampeders prevail over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20-16 in a game that has to rate between average and good.
            The game did have a compelling ending, but not for the reasons the league would like.
            Up by what would be the final outcome of 20-16, the Stampeders punted the ball away to the Tiger-Cats dangerous returner Brandon Banks. Banks started left, reversed his field to run right and returned the kick about 90 yards for an apparent go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
            On the play, Tiger-Cats linebacker Taylor Reed was called for an illegal block on Stampeders linebacker Karl McCartney, which cancelled out the major score.
            Looking at the video, the call was close. There was an angle that made it look like the block was from the side and another angle where it looked like the block was a bit in the back area. The block also came in the fringe area, where it can be argued that McCartney might not have been able to make a tackle.
            It was one of those calls where objectively you can say there shouldn’t be a problem if it was made or wasn’t made. There was enough on video to show it was a penalty. If it wasn’t called, it could still stand up as well.
            It was at the official’s discretion.
            Unfortunately with the way this season has gone, the end result would likely be hard for most non-Stampeders fans to take, because of how penalties have been called for most of this season.
            You can be sure league officials will be looking at rules and how penalties have been called in hopes of opening up the game again. With that said, strong defensive play should have its place to be appreciated as well.
Attendance at the Grey Cup was also 52,056, which was 1,423 short of a sellout. That figure will be another thing that concerns league officials, because you shouldn’t have to bank on the Saskatchewan Roughriders making the Grey Cup to guarantee a sellout due to their fan base.
            The off-season in the CFL will be interesting. Time will tell if what happened in the 2014 campaign was a blip on the radar.

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