Sunday, 18 January 2015

Roughed up at Rutherford

Kaitlin Willoughby gets in a scrum with two UBC players.
    It was an odd sight to see Kaitlin Willoughby exchanging punches with opponents, but it was something you could see coming.
    On Saturday night at the Rutherford Rink, the Huskies were trailing the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 5-1 late in the third period of a Canada West women's hockey game. The clash featured constant exchanges of chirps and pushes and shoves between whistles. The 5-1 score would be the final outcome, but before the game concluded, the frustration of last season's Canadian Interuniversity Sport rookie of the year took over.
    As she drove to the Thunderbirds net late in the third, you could see in her eyes she was driving to the goal motivated by rage, which isn't uncommon at that point in a chippy contest. You either suspected Willoughby would score on that rush, drive goaltender Danielle Dube into the net or get involved in an altercation.
    Willoughby's shot was stopped as she went to the net hard, and then she got involved with a UBC forward Rebecca Unrau and defender Madison Patrick. Both sides got off two to three serious punches each in the scrum, before the officials broke things up without handing out penalties.
    With that setback, the Huskies dropped their fourth game in a row. They also dropped a 1-0 decision at the Rutherford Rink on Friday. Having sat first overall in Canada West at the semester break, the Huskies have dropped to fifth in the conference and face the biggest stretch of adversity they have encountered all season.
    In the losses to the Thunderbirds (12-4-4), the Huskies (11-7-2) visibly got dragged down over time by all the extra-curricular activities that occurred between the whistles. Out of all the teams the Huskies faced in the tight Canada West conference this season, the Thunderbirds arguably are the best skating team they have encountered. UBC also has a lot of talented players like Rafter and Unrau.
    The Thunderbirds also came into the games playing with a high tension edge, which is similar to that of the NHL's Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. That was a characteristic you hadn't seen to that extent in any other team in the Canada West women's league.
    During Saturday's game, a lot of words were exchanged between whistles. As players went off for line changes, they would usually bump into or shoulder each other as a way to pester each other. A few times, the odd slashes would get traded.
    The Thunderbirds also ran over Huskies netminder Cassidy Hendricks a couple of times early in the contest, which resulted in goaltender interference calls. That also added to the frustration for the home side.
    In some form or other, the exchanges between whistles, be it verbal or physical, will always be part of hockey. The Huskies have to do their best to skate away from that type of activity, because it takes the focus of what they should be doing in the game.
Kandace Cook takes a draw for the Huskies.
    By the sounds of things, that type of activity was even more prevalent in Friday's setback than it was in Saturday's loss.
    Besides the on ice distraction factor, the Huskies need to contend with the fact their offence has dried up, as they have scored only four goals in their four-game skid. Defence has also been the name of the game in the Canada West ranks as only five players are averaging a point or more per game.
    In Saturday's contest Unrau and Tatiana Rafter each scored twice for the Thunderbirds, while Nicole Saxvik had a single. Dube made 27 stops to earn the win in goal for UBC.
    Kandace Cook had the lone goal for the Huskies, while Hendricks made 25 saves suffering the loss in goal for the defending conference champs.
    On Friday night, Thunderbirds forward Stephanie Schaupmeyer had the lone goal of the contest, while Samantha Langford made 25 stops to earn the shutout win in the UBC goal. Hendricks made 25 stops in goal for the Huskies.
    Going forward into their final eight games, the Huskies need to focus on having a good outing in their next outing against the University of Manitoba Bisons (14-5-1). Those two teams meet this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink. There is still lots of time for them to get their game back to the level it was in the first semester before playoffs roll around.

Fourth time a charm for Adolph

Head coach Dave Adolph works the Huskies bench. 
    Dave Adolph finally got the record.
    The head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team became the Canadian Interuniversity Sport leader in career conference wins on Friday night, when his Huskies down the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 4-3 in double overtime in Vancouver. Friday's victory gave Adolph his 378th career conference victory, which passed the old mark of 377 held by legendary University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach Clare Drake. Adolph also holds the record for career games coached in the CIS, which stood at 722 after Friday's action.
    "There's only one Clare Drake," said Adolph to UBC sports information assistant Tim Huebsch. "In my mind, he's responsible for the success of CIS men and women's hockey. I've been fortunate to have coached for a long time, and although records are meant to be broken, Clare Drake remains in a league of his own."
The veteran bench boss had to wait for the record breaker. The Huskies lost their previous three games before pulling out the double overtime victory over the Thunderbirds.
    For a while, it appeared Friday's game would be a fourth straight setback. The Thunderbirds led 3-0 on goals from Nick Buonassisi, Luke Lockhart and David Robinson. Robinson's tally came at the 6:51 mark of the third, and it appeared the game was over.
    The Huskies, who have had trouble scoring goals in bunches this season, stormed back to force a 3-3 tie to send the contest to overtime. Craig McCallum scored for the Huskies on a power play, and Jesse Ross added another goal for the visitors just 33 seconds later to cut the lead to 3-2. Defenceman Connor Cox picked up the equalizer with 5:27 to play in the frame.
    After playing a scoreless four-on-four first overtime period, McCallum scored in the three-on-three second overtime frame to give the Huskies a 4-3 win.
    Ryan Holfeld made 30 saves to earn the win in goal. Eric Williams turned away 22 shots in net for the Thunderbirds.
    The Huskies weren't able to duplicate the comeback heroics one night later falling 5-0 to the host Thunderbirds. Buonassisi, Greg Fraser, Brad Hoban, Joe Antilla and Anthony Bandaro netted singles for the Thunderbirds (11-9-4). Matt Hewitt made 22 saves for the shutout win in the UBC goal.
    Jordon Cooke made 32 saves suffering the loss in goal for the Huskies (10-13-1).
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday and Saturday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the University of Manitoba Bisons (12-12). U of S needs to earn four more points in the standings to lock up a playoff berth.

Mistaken identity

Tigers forward Trevor Cox celebrates a goal. 
    So it appears Connor Cox was in two places at the same time on Friday night.
    Out in Vancouver, Cox had the equalizer for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men's hockey team to tie the UBC Thunderbirds 3-3 in the third period. The Huskies would win that contest 4-3 in double overtime.
    Back in Saskatoon, a Blades online game story from their 5-4 victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers in a WHL clash at the Sasktel Centre gave the Tigers fourth goal to Connor Cox.
    The line in the game story said, "Connor Cox would add to his league-leading points total, scoring just seconds after a Tiger power play ended."
    The story meant to say Trevor Cox, who leads the WHL in scoring, picked up the Tigers fourth goal.
The real Connor Cox manning the Huskies blue-line
    To be fair, I understand how easily the mistake could happen. During his career in the WHL, Connor Cox played 121 regular season games with the Blades from 2010 to 2012. Over that time, Connor became extremely popular in the Blades' dressing room, with the team's staff and the local media that covered the hockey club. He also became a fan favourite as he developed his strong reputation as being a team-first guy.
    You can be sure the staffers with the Blades have a bunch of good memories of Connor, and his name was likely ingrained in the head of the person writing the game story for the web.
    I know for myself I have made my share of errors during my years writing stories. You don't want them to happen, but they do.
    As for the one from the online story, it allows those that know and are friends with Connor to engage in some humour with him.

Blades looking good

The Saskatoon Blades celebrate Friday's win.
    Speaking of the Saskatoon Blades, they played their first home games since the WHL trade deadline and Jan. 10, and the team's young roster impressed.
    Stuck near the bottom of the league standings, the Blades made a bunch of moves leading up to the deadline to build a more youthful roster. Currently the Blades only have two overage players and four players in their 19-year-old seasons.
    On Friday night, they pulled off a major 5-4 upset of the Medicine Hat Tigers, who are once again a powerhouse club in the league. The contest was a back-and-fourth affair, where the Blades ultimately overcame a 4-3 deficit to pull out a one-goal victory.
    Rookie defenceman Nolan Reid scored the winner near the midway point of the third.
    Best part about that win for Saskatoon was the fact the Blades played aggressive the whole game and weren't afraid to make plays offensively. They also received some much needed breaks getting a pair of goals to go in off the skates of Tigers defencemen and capitalized on a giveaway on a short-handed situation.
    On Saturday night, the Blades slipped past the Kootenay Ice 3-2 at the Sasktel Centre. Wyatt Sloboshan played the role of hero scoring the winner for Saskatoon with 10.8 second to play in the third to break a 2-2 tie.
    With three wins in a row, the Blades improve to 12-29-2-1. While the win column has been dry for long stretches of the season, the work ethic has been there for the Blades. The wins should supply some confidence and help the team to continue to set building blocks for the future.

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