Sunday, 8 February 2015

Thud: Huskies limp into nationals as hosts

Jordan Nowakowski of the Huskies tips home a point.
   It was not the way the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's volleyball team envisioned heading to nationals as hosts.
   Sitting with a 12-8 record going into their final four regular season games, the Huskies appeared to be sitting as a lock to make the playoffs in the always tough Canada West playoffs. Four losses later, the Huskies are sitting on the outside looking in as far as the Canada West post-season is concerned.
   When you are hosting a Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship tournament, at a minimum you want to qualify for the playoffs in your conference. You never want to go in through the back door thanks to having the host berth.
   Consistency has been a struggle for the Huskies all season. They have the ability to beat the best teams in Canada. Back on Jan. 9, the Dogs looked impressive downing the 19-5 Brandon University Bobcats 3-1.
   The Huskies are also not good enough to pull out wins, if they are not firing on all cylinders. If you aren't at your best in the Canada West conference, you will lose. That is the bottom line.
   The season-ending skid for the U of S started in Langley, B.C. The Huskies dropped two games to the Trinity West University Spartans. The Spartans finished second overall in Canada West with a 20-4 record, so those games would be a big measuring stick test for the Huskies.
   Trinity Western took the first encounter 3-1. In the second match on Jan. 31, the Huskies took the first two sets. The Spartans rallied for a 3-2 victory.
   Those results shouldn't have caused any worry, as the Spartans are an elite club. It appeared the Huskies were close to playoff form.
   Finishing the campaign with a pair of losses at the Physical Activity Complex at the U of S to the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack was particularly disappointing.
   On Friday, the Wolfpack, who were playing for their post-season lives, swept the Huskies 3-0 by scores of 30-28, 27-25 and 28-26. All of those sets were marathons, but the Huskies weren't able to summon up the will to pull any of those frames out.
   With both clubs sitting with 12-11 records, Saturday's encounter became for all intents and purposes a playoff game. It was also a spectacularly played match that gave local fans a glimpse of what they could expect when the U of S hosts the CIS championship tournament from Feb. 26-28.
   The Wolfpack took the first set 26-24, but the Huskies rebounded claiming the second and third sets 27-25 and 25-15. The victory in the second set had to be very encouraging as the Huskies found a way to pull out a close frame.
   The urgency on the Wolfpack's side increased. They took the fourth set 25-20 to set up a fifth and deciding set. The final set was a marathon, which saw the Huskies survive a handful of match points before falling 19-17.
Troy Wiebe sets for the Huskies.
   Thompson Rivers' players stormed off their bench running in circles and hugging each other after the 3-2 victory. The players from the school located in Kamloops, B.C., improved to 13-11 and made the Canada West playoffs thanks to an impressive eight-game winning streak. The Wolfpack should be given top marks for their run and will likely be a problem opponent in the post-season.
   The mood surrounding the Huskies, who finished at 12-12, was one of huge disappointment. They will have the next couple of weekends off before returning to action at nationals likely as the eighth seed in the eight-team event.
   On the plus side, the Huskies will be well rested. Also, there isn't a lot of scrutiny around CIS volleyball. The Huskies aren't going to face a whole pile of criticism like the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL did when they were swept out of the first run of the playoffs as Memorial Cup hosts in 2013.
   When it comes time to play the CIS men's volleyball championships, the fact the Huskies missed the post-season won't be on the mind of the players and staff on the team or the fans that come out to support them.
   With strong fifth-year outside hitters like Paul Thomson and Matthew Busse, the Huskies are always a threat to go on a run of winning it all with a series of upset victories. Zak Rempel and Troy Wiebe both provide strength at the setter position, and the Huskies have enough talent at the other positions to get the job done.
   On the other side, teams that advance through their conference playoffs to quality for nationals are more battled hardened. Post-season victories also have the ability to bond teams that much closer together.
   Besides having to face battle hardened opponents, the Huskies head to nationals on the downer of four straight setbacks. The combination of those two facts doesn't inspire confidence.

Roll ends at two for Huskies women's hockey team

Huskies forward Marley Ervine scoots past a Pronghorns defender. 
   The U of S Huskies women's hockey team's first roll of the second semester was a short one lasting two games.
   On Friday night in Lethbridge, the Huskies won their second in a row rallying from a 2-1 deficit to pull out a 3-2 victory over the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns, who dwell in the basement of the Canada West Conference.
   Captain Paige Anakaer picked up the Huskies first goal, while Kandace Cook and Marley Ervine scored power-play goals in the third to pull out the victory. Ervine netted the winner at the 8:24 mark of the third, and Cook's equalizer was her team-leading 10th tally of the season. Cassidy Hendricks made 47 saves to earn the win in goal.
   Delaney Duchek and Chelsea Minor replied with singles for the Pronghorns. Crystal Patterson made 32 saves taking the loss in goal.
   The two teams combined for 28 minutes in penalties in the third period of Friday's contest.
   On Saturday, the host Pronghorns downed the Huskies 2-1. Sadie Lenstra gave the Pronghorns a 1-0 lead in the second period, but fifth-year veteran Chelsey Sundby netted a short-handed marker for the Huskies to even the score at 1-1 early in the third. Cora Place picked up the winner for the U of L with 2:07 to play in the third.
   Patterson made 45 stops to earn the win in goal for the Pronghorns (5-21). Hendricks turned away 36 shots taking the loss in goal for the Huskies.
   The Huskies still sit fifth in the eight-team Canada West Conference with a 13-10-3 record. Since returning from the Christmas Break, the Huskies have won two out of 10 contests.
   The losses have piled up due to the team's struggles offensively. The Huskies 52 goals scored during the regular season is fewest among the six teams heading to the playoffs in Canada West.
   The Dogs have been playing with 17 skaters, which is one short of the full complement of 18. They are short staffed due to an injury to forward Rachel Johnson and forward Chelsea Wilson leaving the club due to family reasons. The Huskies are also without star defender Julia Flinton, who is playing for Canada in the 2015 Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain.
   As the intensity of the opposition has increased and the battles to win games have become that much tougher, one has to wonder how much the Huskies miss their captain from a season ago in Cami Wooster. She was a unique talent who brought a lengthy list of positives to the game including a natural offensive ability you either had or didn't have. That ability would allow her to score on a one-on-three rush.
   You just don't replace that type of player, whose absence is more noticeable when it becomes that much harder to win games. She could put the team on her back and make things happen. Everybody also loved her in that dressing room, so that makes Wooster's absence an even bigger void.
   As the regular season and post-season concludes, Wooster's graduation might ultimately be too much for the Huskies to overcome in the present time.
   The Huskies close the regular season with a home-and-home series against their provincial rivals the U of Regina Cougars, who sit sixth overall in Canada West with a 14-10-2 record. The Dogs sit two points ahead of the Cougars in the standings due to winning nine contests in regulation to better the six wins posted by the Cougars. Regulation wins in women's hockey are worth three points in the standings.
   The two teams meet this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Co-operators Centre in Regina and this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. at the ancient Rutherford Rink.

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