Saturday, 18 April 2015

Stars get going for real at Esso Cup

The Saskatoon Stars celebrate a goal by Jordyn Gerlitz.
    After building up anticipation over 24 off days, the Saskatoon Stars will finally get to play at nationals.
    The local midget AAA girls' hockey team left Saskatoon for Red Deer on Saturday to take part in the six team Esso Cup national championship tournament. Saskatoon opens the tournament Sunday, when they take on the Sudbury Lady Wolves. That match happens open the overall schedule for the tourney.
    Sudbury is making its second straight appearance at the Esso Cup after repeating as Ontario provincial champs. The Wolves were 16-5-1 during the regular season and won a bronze medal at last year's Esso Cup.
    The Stars are participating in the Esso Cup for the first time in team history. They have had a memorable season winning the Mac's tournament for the second time in team history and capturing their first Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title. Including action in the SFMAAAHL regular season and post-season and the Mac's, Saskatoon enters the Esso Cup sporting a 40-3 overall record.
    The contest between Saskatoon and Sudbury contains a classic rest versus rust storyline. The Stars, who have the youngest team at the Esso Cup, haven't played a game since downing the Prince Albert A & W Bears 2-0 in the final contest of the SFMAAAHL championship series on March 25. The Wolves only had a break of about seven days since winning the Ontario final.
Sophia Shirley has been invited to a Hockey Canada camp in May.
    Saskatoon was led in scoring by the dynamic duo of Nara Elia and Sophia Shirley, who were first and second respectively in SFMAAAHL scoring. Elia had 23 goals and 17 assists helping the Stars post a 25-3 regular season record, while Shirley had 22 goals and 17 assists. Both have two years of midget eligibility remaining.
    Shirley was recently invited to Canada's National Women's Program strength and conditioning camp, which runs May 6-10 in Hamilton, Ont.
    The Esso Cup will mark the final games captain Paige Michalenko, Brittany Heuchert, Courtney Cormack and Karlee Fetch at the midget level. Defender Jenna Nash, who has committed to play for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, will also graduate from the midget ranks, but the she will sit out the Esso Cup due to injury with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in one of her knees.
    The six teams at the Esso Cup will play five round robin games each, and the top four teams advance to the tournament's semifinal round on April 24. The bronze and gold medal games close the event on April 25.

Swan song for Tigers overagers

Tyler Lewington, left, celebrates a goal with Marek Langhamer.
    The WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers arguably will miss their three overage graduates more than most teams in the major junior ranks will.
    When the Tigers saw their playoff run come to an end Friday with a 4-3 double overtime loss to the Hitmen in Calgary, the major junior careers of goaltender Marek Langhamer and defencemen Tyler Lewington and Kyle Becker came to a conclusion. All three were key contributors to the Tigers on the ice and in the dressing room.
    Langhamer, who has an NHL entry-level contract signed with the Arizona Coyotes, was with the Tigers for three campaigns posting a 68-42-7 record, a 2.86 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and six shutouts during his regular season career. At the moment, it appears the Czech product will be the last European goaltender to play in the WHL unless the Canadian Hockey League changes its import player rules to allow overseas goalies to play again.
    He again had a big post-season posting a 5-5 record in 10 starts with a 2.28 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.
    Lewington, who has an NHL entry-level contract signed with the Washington Capitals, spent four seasons with the Tigers. He arguably had one of the highest compete levels out of any player in the WHL, and he was the Tigers captain this past season. The Sherwood Park, Alta., product was solid in both the offensive and defensive zones posting nine goals, 36 assists, a plus-25 rating in the plus-minus department and 113 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games this past campaign.
    Becker finished the 2011-12 season with the Tigers playing 11 regular season games and two post-season contests and became a full-time team member for the past three campaigns. The Langley, B.C., product developed a reputation for handling the back end with a calming presence. As an overager, he posted 11 goals, 14 assists and a plus-11 rating in 57 regular season games.
    The Tigers entered the 2014-15 campaign with the potential to go a long way in the post-season. They fell 4-1 in a best-of-seven second round series to the Hitmen.
Kyle Becker, right, clears a puck out from deep in his zone.
    Medicine Hat's undoing in the playoffs was due to the fact the offence dried up. In 10 post-season games, the Tigers gave up 25 goals against but only had 25 goals for. Three of the five games with the Hitmen went to overtime, and Calgary claimed two of those contests, which turned out to be the final two games of the series.
    The overtime results were a key factor in the Hitmen winning the series, and it also showed the Tigers weren't able to get the goals they needed at key times in that best-of-seven set.
    Going forward, Langhamer, Lewington and Becker all have potential to experience longer futures in hockey. The Tigers have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them extend that run to 14 seasons in 2015-16, when the begin play in the new Medicine Hat Regional Event Centre.
    With their playoff elimination, the Tigers time playing games out of The Arena, which is their long time legendary home rink, has come to an end.

Wapple valiant for Pats

Daniel Wapple stood tall in goal for the Pats in the playoffs.
    Daniel Wapple made the Brandon Wheat Kings sweat.
    The Wheat Kings, who topped the WHL's regular season standings with a 53-11-4-4 mark, were heavy favourites to take out Wapple's Regina Pats in the second round of the post-season. Regina appeared to be in a rebuilding phase trading away a number of key veterans before the league's trade deadline, but the Pats surprised many finishing eighth overall with a 37-24-5-6 record.
    The Pats qualified for just their second appearance in the second round since 1998. They swept the Swift Current Broncos 4-0 in the opening round and were playing with house money.
    After the Wheat Kings took the first two games of their series with the Pats, Wapple stepped up to give Brandon all sorts of fits. The Saskatoon product made 39 saves in a 3-2 Pats victory in Game 3 of the series in Regina. Game 4 in Regina went to overtime, and Wapple made 45 saves before Brandon escaped with a 3-2 win.
    In Game 5 on Friday in Brandon, Wapple made 48 stops before the Wheat Kings prevailed again in overtime by a 3-2 score.
    Wapple will likely be back with the Pats for his overage season, which has to make fans in the Queen City feel good about their prospects in the 2015-16 campaign.

Narcisse all-star event set for Saskatoon

A Don Narcisse card from 1999.
    Former Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Don Narcisse has a one-day football kids' camp coming up in Saskatoon.
    The camp is slated for Saturday, April 25, and it is set to run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sasktel Sports Centre. The camp is open for players aged 7 to 18 and the cost is $80 per player plus GST. The fees include a T-shirt and lunch.
    Following the camp, there will be a dinner gala held at the Travelodge Hotel at 6 p.m. with current Roughriders star defensive end John Chick slated to be the keynote speaker. Tickets for the gala dinner are $100 plus GST individually or $750 plus GST for a table of eight. Narcisse has goal to sell 20 tables by Tuesday, and he had six sold by Saturday.
    All proceeds from the camp and the dinner gala go to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon and Area. Registration for the camp or gala can done by phoning 306-652-1487 or by going online through Narcisse's website by clicking here.

Oilers build NHL Draft Lottery dynasty

A memento from the Oilers winning era.
    The Edmonton Oilers accomplished a dubious milestone on Saturday.
    For the fourth time in six years, the Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery, and they will have the first overall selection at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft set for June 26-27 in Sunrise, Florida. The distinction is dubious, because the Oilers also had to finish low enough for a number of consecutive years in the NHL standings to collect those first overall picks.
    The consensus first overall pick this year is viewed as a big prize in forward Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. McDavid, who netted 44 goals and 76 assists in 47 regular season games with the Otters, is being described as the best draft prospect since the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Sidney Crosby back in 2005.
    The Oilers haven't made the playoffs since 2006, when they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals and fell in seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes. Since that time, Edmonton's NHL team has been the butt end of jokes for how bad it has been.
    When it was announced the Oilers had the first overall pick, social media, especially Twitter, blew up. People were in disbelief the Oilers won the pick. There were all sorts of predictions made that the Oilers will find a way to mess everything up.
    Time will tell, but it will be interesting to see how everything plays out over the next two months leading up to the NHL Entry Draft.

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