Thursday, 25 February 2016

Huskies look to continue magic in post-season

A Matthew Spafford goal will likely blow the roof off Rutherford Rink.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team was expected to make some noise in 2015-16, but they blew past all expectations.
    In the Canada West Conference pre-season coaches’ poll, the Huskies were voted second behind the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who have won the last two Canadian Interuniversity Sport titles. Early season excitement for the Dogs had be to tempered by the fact they finished sixth in Canada West in 2014-15 with a 10-15-3 record and dropped a best-of-three first round playoff series to the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-1. The losing mark ended a run where the Huskies had recorded winning records for 18 seasons.
    That down year looks like just a weird blip on the radar screen now.
    The Huskies stormed through the 2015-16 regular season campaign matching their club record for wins finishing first overall in Canada West with a 22-6 record. U of S also won 22 games posting a 22-3-3 mark in 1999-2000 and a 22-5-1 record in 1987-88.
    Now they get to enjoy the spoils of fact all their opponents in the Canada West playoffs have to play under the rusty rafters of the ancient Rutherford Rink. After going out to support the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s during a bye week, the Huskies men’s team found out their opponent for a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series will be University of Calgary Dinos, who posted 12-12-4 record in the regular season.
Huskies forward Levi Cable turns the corner on Dinos rearguard Dan Gibb.
    Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Ruthy. Game 2 and Game 3, if necessary, follow on Saturday and Sunday respectively at the Rutherford Rink with a 7 p.m. puck drop set for both nights. The Huskies won all four of their regular season meetings with the Dinos.
    U of C advanced to play the Huskies after taking a best-of-three quarter-final series against the U of Manitoba Bisons 2-1 in Winnipeg.
    One of the big backbones to the U of S success has been the play of sophomore goaltender Jordon Cooke. Cooke set a new Huskies record for wins in a regular season at 19 posting a 19-5 record, a .921 save percentage, a 2.52 goals against average and two shutouts. The old record 18 regular season wins was shared between Jeff Calvert (1998-99) and Ryan Holfeld (2012-13).
    Cooke’s success has also been helped by the fact the Huskies have one of the best group of defencemen in the country. Their top six blue-liners in captain Kendall McFaull, Connor Cox, Jesse Forsberg, Jordan Fransoo, Zak Stebner and David Stumborg have been outstanding.
    The only worry comes on Stebner’s front, as the fifth-year veteran has been out with a knee injury since the Dogs dumped the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 6-2 back on Jan. 23 in Vancouver. Chances are good Stebner will be a go, and the Huskies will gladly welcome back the five goals, 10 assists and plus-14 rating he put up in the plus-minus department in 22 games.
Goalie Jordan Cooke has been huge for the Huskies all season.
    Fransoo topped all Huskies rearguards in offence putting up three goals and 16 assists in 26 games to go along with a plus-14 rating.
    The Huskies, who are rated third in the CIS top ten rankings, were able to take off this season due to huge impact of the rookie forward line of Kohl Bauml, Levi Cable and Andrew Johnson. Bauml and Cable were standouts in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips and Kootenay Ice respectively. Johnson came to the Huskies after a strong season in the junior A ranks with the West Kelowna Warriors after kicking around the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Seattle Thunderbirds and Swift Current Broncos over four-plus seasons.
    The trio appeared in all 28 of the Huskies regular season games. Bauml led the team in scoring with 12 goals and 21 assists, Cable was second with 16 goals and 12 assists, and Johnson was third with 13 goals and 13 assists.
    U of S also received solid offensive contributions from the rest of their forward group including Josh Roach, who had five goals and 13 assists in 25 games, Michael Sofillas, who picked up five goals and 10 assists in 24 appearances, Logan McVeigh, who netted seven goals and seven assists, and Jesse Ross, who had six goals and eight assists in 26 outings.
    The biggest cheers at Rutherford will likely be for fan and campus favourite Matthew Spafford, if he lights up the scoreboard. The fifth-year forward had two goals and an assist in 13 appearances.
Rearguard Jordan Fransoo works the point for the Huskies.
    The Dinos won’t be pushovers, as their roster is filled with former WHL players who are used to navigating the ups and downs of a season in a highly competitive league. Forwards Elgin Pearce and Chris Collins both topped the Dinos in regular season scoring netting 27 points. Pearce had 11 goals and 16 assists, while Collins netted 10 goals and 17 assists.
    Max Ross led all Dinos rearguards in scoring with five goals and 13 assists.
    Dinos starting goaltender Steven Stanford didn’t have one of his best years between the pipes posting a 9-8-4 record, a .881 save percentage, a 3.18 goals against average and two shutouts. The former star of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades returned to form in the Dinos first round series victory posting a 2-1 record, a .932 save percentage and a 1.69 goals against average.
    The last time the Huskies and Dinos met in the post-season came back in 2012, when the Huskies claimed the Canada West championships series with a 2-1 triple overtime victory in a series deciding Game 3 on a winner from Brett Ward.
    The winner of this year’s series will earn a berth to the CIS championship tournament, which runs March 17 to 20 in Halifax. The series victor will also face the winner of the other best-of-three Canada West semifinal series between the Golden Bears and Mount Royal University Cougars in a best-of-three Canada West championship series.
    Four good teams remain in the Canada West post-season hunt. If the Huskies have their way, they will add a few more magical moments at what should be a crazy atmosphere at a packed Rutherford Rink.

Stars set to shine again on playoff stage

Captain Danielle Nogier and the Stars open the post-season on Friday.
  The Saskatoon Stars begin their playoff journey hoping to earn another trip to the Esso Cup.
    The defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champs topped the regular season standings for a second straight year at 24-4, which was just shy of matching their 25-3 record in 2014-15. They open the post-season by taking on the Battlefords Sharks in a best-of-five quarter-final series. The Sharks finished last in the eight team league with a 3-23-2 record.
    It is beyond obvious to say the Stars will be heavy favourites to sweep this series. Game 1 is set for 7:15 p.m. Friday at the Agriplace Arena.
    Mackenna Parker, who is 15-years-old, finished second in the SFMAAAHL scoring race topping the Stars with 14 goals and 21 assists in 25 games played. Grace Shirley, who is 14-years-old, was second in Stars scoring with 18 goals and 14 assists. Offensive defender Willow Slobodzian led Saskatoon’s blue-liners in scoring with three goals and 12 assists.
    Standout 16-year-old netminder Emma Johnson is expected to carry the load for Saskatoon in goal. She posted a 13-4 record, a career best .942 save percentage, a 1,47 goals against average and three shutouts.
    Jordan Kulbida led the Sharks in scoring with five goals and seven assists. Chloe Marshall has been stellar in goal for the struggling Sharks posting a .906 save percentage. Her 2-12 record and 3.62 goals against average are a result from the high volume of shots she faced night in and night out.
    The 2016 post-season will mark the final times 17-year-olds Hollie Coumont, Rayah DeCorby, Danielle Girolami and captain Danielle Nogier will suit up for the Stars as they will all graduate from the midget ranks.
    Game 2 of the series is set for Sunday in Battleford, while Game 3 will be Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

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