Thursday, 19 March 2015

Stars battle Bears for provincial crown

The Stars celebrate a goal in the SFMAAAHL semifinal round.
    The Saskatoon Stars and Prince Albert A & W Bears appeared destined to face each other for the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title.
    During the regular season, they were the two top teams in the league. The Stars finished first with a 25-3 record, while the Bears were second with a 20-6-2 mark. They also split four regular season meetings.
    They will now battle in a best-of-five series for the Fedoruk Cup to become SFMAAAHL champions. Game 1 is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Agriplace Arena in Saskatoon. Game 2 follows at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    The Stars have had their most memorable season to date in team history. The 2014-2015 campaign marked the first time they ever finished first overall in the regular season standings. They also won their second Mac's tournament title in team history and are currently 37-3 counting regular season, post-season and Mac's tournament action.
    Saskatoon is making its fourth appearance in the league final having lost in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
    The Stars are led by a young dynamic duo in Nara Elia and Sophia Shirley, who both have two years of eligibility remaining in midget hockey. Elia topped the SFMAAAHL scoring race with 23 goals and 17 assist. Shirley was second in SFMAAAHL scoring with 22 goals and 17 assists.
    Elia was injured after being on the receiving end of a head hit in Game 1 of the Stars three game sweep of the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in the league semifinal round. Odds are good that she will be available at some point for the league championship series.
Willow Slobodzian controls the point for the Stars.
    Rookie Willow Slobodzian was Saskatoon's top scorer on defence recording six goals and 13 assists in the regular season. Paige Michalenko, the Stars 17-year-old captain, had three goals and six assists in 21 regular season games and is strong at controlling play in the defensive zone patrolling the back end.
    Netminders Karlee Fetch and Emma Johnson split time in goal for the Stars during the regular campaign. Fetch, who is a 17-year-old veteran from Prince Albert, posted and 11-3 record, a 1.79 goals against average, a .916 save percentage and five shutouts. Johnson, who is a 15-year-old Saskatoon product, won all 14 of her starts posting a 1.28 goals against average, a .933 save percentage and three shutouts.
    The biggest absence from the Saskatoon roster is 17-year-old veteran defender Jenna Nash, who suffered a season ending injury while playing for the Saskatchewan provincial team at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., in February. She had two goals and nine assists in 24 games.
    The Bears last won the league title back in 2009. Loaded with a number of key veterans, they love knock off the Stars to return to the top of the SFMAAAHL heap.
    Madison Casavant and Tylor Lindsay, who are both 17-year-old forwards topped the Bears in team scoring with 26 points each. Casavant had 14 goals and 12 assists, while Lindsay had 12 goals and 14 assists.
    Brooke Hobson, who is a 15-year-old defender, topped all Prince Albert blue-liners in scoring with six goals and 17 assists. Prince Albert's back end received a huge boost when 17-year-old veteran Morgan Willoughby returned from injury. She had two goals and four assists in 15 regular season games and was a steady presence in her own zone.
Captain Paige Michalenko anchors the back end for the Stars.
    In goal, the Bears are backed by 17-year-old standout Jessica Vance, who is the SFMAAAHL's all-time career leader in regular season wins with 48. Vance had an outstanding campaign in her final midget season posting a 13-6 record, a 1.60 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and four shutouts.
    With how the regular season meetings played out between the Stars and Bears, the provincial championship series between the two teams has a big chance of going the distance. Victory is not a guarantee for either side. A break or two will likely decide the final outcome.
    Game 3 of the series is slated for Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena in Saskatoon. If necessary, Game 4 follows on Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. If a series deciding Game 5 is required, it will be held on Saturday, March 28 at 3 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

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