Sunday, 8 March 2015

Rare chance escapes Huskies

Ben Baker quarterbacks an offensive set for the Huskies.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's basketball team were minutes if not seconds away from a dream Saturday night.
    Playing at the Physical Activity Complex before a crowd of 1,802 spectators, the Huskies were trying to win their first Canada West championship on home court. For a program that has one modern era Canada West title win and one national championship coming in the 2009-10 campaign, Saturday's conference title game against the University of Victoria Vikes presented a unique opportunity.
    It was obvious from the outset the crowd was energized with hopes of celebrating a title win at game's end. The PAC was alive and rocking way beyond anything that was seen in the regular season, when an average of about 600 people turned out for hoops games. It was a dream those involved with Huskie Athletics had envisioned when the PAC replaced Education Gym as the home of the program's teams in 2003.
    The PAC was full of a large number of members from all the other Huskies teams, whose respective competitive seasons had come to an end. There was also a big representation for the community at large, who were checking the game out intrigued by the excitement.
    The raucous gathering witnessed an epic contest, which showed Canadian Interuniversity Sport hoops at its best. Unfortunately, the home side didn't win.
    The Vikes pulled out a 70-67 victory. When it came time for the banner and trophy presentations, most of the crowd had bolted for the exits.
Matthew Forbes battles in the post for the Huskies.
    By making the Canada West final, both teams earned spots in the CIS men's championship tournament, which starts this coming Thursday and runs through to Sunday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto hosted by Ryerson University. In Friday's Canada West semifinal games, the Huskies knocked off the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 81-75, while Vikes dumped the University of Fraser Valley Cascades 86-61.
    Even with their spots at nationals all locked away, the Huskies and Vikes played like their seasons were on the line.
    The Vikes led by 14 points at one point in the second quarter, but the Huskies roared back to hold a 10-point edge at one point in the third quarter in a back-and-fourth contest.
    Huskies guard Ben Baker, who was the Canada West defensive player of the year, was outstanding in leading the Huskies with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Evan Ostertag came off the bench to provide huge energy for the home side and 17 points.
    Vikes guard Marcus Tibbs had a huge outing for the Vikes leading all scorers with 25 points, while dishing out seven assists.
    The Vikes held a 41-32 lead at halftime, but the Huskies rebounded to hold a 60-56 edge after three quarters. The teams were locked in a 65-65 draw with 3:44 to play in the fourth quarter, when the defences came to dominate on both sides.
    The Vikes outscored the Huskies 5-2 over the final 3:44. The hosts also had a basket taken off the scoreboard due to an offensive charging foul.
    Tibbs put the Vikes up 67-65 with a jumper. Huskies forward Matthew Forbes hit a pair of three-throws to force a 67-67 tie.
    With an even score, Tibbs hit a baseline jumper, which resulted in the game-winning points. Vikes forward Chris McLaughlin, who is the Canada West player-of-the-year, hit a foul shot to give the visitors their 70-67 edge.
    Baker attempted a three in the game's final seconds to try to force overtime, but facing huge defensive pressure, his shot was off target.
The U of Victoria Vikes celebrate a Canada West title.
    Had the Huskies won, they would have been able to soak in the attention from family, friends, classmates and fellow Huskie athletes in the post-game celebrations. The chance for a rare home celebration was gone. They had finished first in the Pioneer Division to earn the chance to host the Canada West Final Four, but those types of regular seasons don't come around that often, even if the team is good.
    With all that said, the Huskies can make the disappointment of not winning the Canada West title go away, if they can capture a second national title. They enter the eight-team CIS tournament as the lowest seed and open against the Carlton University Ravens, who have won the last four CIS titles and 10 CIS titles in total.
    The Huskies will be the underdogs going forward. Back in 2009-10, the Huskies were also the underdogs in a national title run that came virtually out of nowhere. They finished that campaign with 13 straight victories to win it all.
    While winning a national title would make the setback in the Canada West final mostly forgettable, a home court victory party would have been a nice memory to have.

Heartbreak in Vancouver

Kelsey Trulsrud - a heart and soul Huskie.
    A March Madness type finish proved to be the difference in preventing the U of S Huskies women's basketball team from winning the Canada West title for a second straight season.
    On Saturday night in Vancouver, the Huskies led the host UBC Thunderbirds 68-67 with about 15 seconds to play. Huskies guard Kelsey Trulsrud was at the free-throw line for a pair of shots trying to extend the lead for the visitors.
    Trulsrud missed both attempts. Thunderbirds guard Kris Young hauled in the rebound from the second miss, went coast-to-coast and hit a runner off the glass with 7.8 seconds to play to give the Thunderbirds a 69-68 victory. The Huskies couldn't get a shot off with their final possession.
    Young, who was the Canada West player-of-the-year, topped the Thunderbirds with 21 points, while forward Harleen Sidhu added 18 points to aid the winning effort by the hosts.
    Laura Dally had a huge night for the Huskies leading the team with 21 points, which included making 4-of-8 shots from three-point land. Trulsrud, who is one of those heart-and-soul players you need in the dressing room, had a strong outing too recording 15 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. One of the Huskies most unsung players, it was more unfortunate than anything that she wasn't able to make the two foul shots in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
    The Huskies entered the Canada West final riding a 16-game winning streak and had downed the University of Alberta Pandas 77-61 in a Canada West semifinal match on Friday.
    Both the Huskies and Thunderbirds earned spots to the eight-team CIS women's championship tournament that begins Thursday in Quebec City at the Universite Laval.

Schlemko can be a good surprise

David Schlemko at the 2007 Memorial Cup.
    It only took one NHL game for Calgary Flames supporters to know who David Schlemko was.
    In his debut with the Flames, the veteran 27-year-old defenceman scored a spectacular winning goal in a tiebreaking shootout to give Calgary a 4-3 road victory over the Bruins in Boston last Thursday. The tally was replayed on numerous sports highlight shows.
    The Edmonton product is also in the final year of his current contract and has been bounced around this season. He started the season with the Arizona Coyotes. Entering the current campaign, Schlemko had played his entire professional career with the Coyotes organization.
    After recording a goal, three assists and a minus-five rating in 20 regular season games this season with the Coyotes, Schlemko was put on waivers and claimed by the Dallas Stars. He played five games with the Stars before being placed on waivers again, where he was claimed by the Flames.
    Going back to his major junior days with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Schlemko developed a reputation as being an even-keel player with a nice offensive touch and someone who is just an all-around good guy. He also became well known as a shootout specialist, who score goals in the tiebreaking session with an arsenal of moves.
    In the NHL ranks, Schlemko has only received two opportunities in the shootout, and he scored on both of them.
    Before joining the Flames, Schlemko had appeared in 212 NHL regular season games dating back to the 2007-08 campaign. As NHL teams have a tendency to constantly bring in young prospects, it looked like with two waiver placements that Schlemko might get forced out of the league. That happens to a number of players in his situation, even though he could hardly be considered old for a professional hockey player.
    If he is given a fair opportunity and allowed to use his strengths, Flames supporters will likely see their team received a gift in being able to pick up Schlemko. When the Flames campaign does end, the likelihood is very high Schlemko will do enough that Flames management will be convinced to sign him to a new deal.

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