Monday, 22 February 2016

Huskies heroic in defeat, but the sting hurts all the same

The Bisons and Huskies shake hands after their playoff series.
    Overtime in hockey is called sudden death for a reason, and the initial sting of losing hurts worse the longer it goes.
    On Sunday night, the ancient Rutherford Rink featured another classic game, but unfortunately for the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, they were able to come out on the winning side. At the 9:02 mark of a fifth overtime period, University of Manitoba Bisons standout forward Venla Hovi broke the hearts of the host Huskies and their supporters scoring the winning goal to deliver her side to a 2-1 victory in a match that finished at approximately 12:01 a.m. Monday.
    Hovi’s goal also ended the Huskies season as the Bisons took a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final playoff series between the two clubs 2-1. The Bisons advance on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport playoff trail to take on the University of Alberta Pandas in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series.
    The Huskies were left to digest the end of their season, which was not an easy thing to do. They dropped what was the longest game ever in Canada West women’s hockey history spanning 139 minutes and two seconds.
    The Dogs were also involved in the match that formerly held the record, which was also another 2-1 setback at the Ruthy coming back on March 1, 2014 against the University of Regina Cougars in Game 2 of the Canada West championship series which lasted 1:30:30.
    That loss drew that series even at 1-1. The Huskies had an opportunity to bounce back the next night, which they did defeating the Cougars 2-1 on a Kaitlin Willoughby double overtime winner to take the Canada West title.
The Bisons celebrate Venla Hovi's winner in the fifth overtime period.
    In the loss to the Bisons, there is no chance to come back and play another game, because it was a series deciding Game 3.
    The effort the Huskies put up in defeat was valiant and heroic.
    They could have folded early on. Just 11 seconds into the contest, the Bisons went up 1-0 on a two-on-one break caused by a Huskies turnover. Hovi set up linemate Lauryn Keen, who put the Bisons up 1-0.
    The early U of M goal seemed to stun everyone in attendance.
    The Huskies push back was incredible. They peppered Bisons goaltender Amanda Schubert with shot after shot, while also playing some of their best hockey of the season. Their team game was solid, and they worked as a unit of five in all three zones.
    Finally at the 10:38 mark of the third period, centre Lauren Zary finally popped home the equalizer to knot the score up at 1-1. When the third period drew to a close, the two teams were going to overtime with the Huskies holding a 30-12 edge in the shots on goal department. In all reality, they deserved to have the edge on the scoreboard at that point.
    Off the two teams went into overtime. In extra time, the Huskies had to overcome some stormy seas. They killed off two Bisons power plays, where each came in the first and second overtime respectively.
Marley Ervine played in her 155th straight game for the Huskies.
    In the third overtime, the Huskies had their chance with the man advantage, but they could not find the winner. They failed to score on five power-play opportunities on Sunday night and were scoreless on 13 total power plays in the post-season. Those misfires came back to ultimately haunt the Dogs.
    The contest had become a duel of goaltenders, with experienced fourth-year veteran Cassidy Hendricks turning away shot after shot for the Huskies and the heart on her sleeve Schubert holding her ground in the Bisons’ goal.
    Hendricks would make 40 stops in the contest, while Schubert turned away 66 shots.
    On the U of S side, everyone had top grade efforts. The future is bright with rookies like defender Leah Bohlken and energetic forwards Rachel Lundberg and Brooklyn Haubrich. In that trio, you can see part of the heart and soul of the team over the next four seasons.
    Veterans who were part of the Canada West winner in 2014 like Alyssa Dobler, Kira Bannatyne, Kori Herner, Kennedy Harris, Rachel Johnson, Hailey Tyndall and Willoughby emptied the tank.
    The now graduating fifth-years in Brooke Mutch, Hanna McGillivray, Julia Flinton, Paige Anakaer and Marley Ervine did everything they could to extend their careers. Ervine, the feisty forward who appeared in all 155 regular season and post season games in her five seasons with the team, was still firing lasers in what was the final overtime frame.
Captain Paige Anakaer battles along the boards for the Huskies.
    Flinton’s end-to-end rushes as an offensive defender were as smooth as ever. Captain Anakaer battled with a heart that was unmatched and made her an inspiration to her teammates. Mutch and McGillivray were rocks as usual on the back end, and they created their own chances to net the winning goal.
    Maybe in a few days, the Huskies will reflect on how special their effort was in the series-deciding Game 3 against the Bisons. They left everything out there and have nothing to be ashamed of. To put it bluntly, “They brought it.”
    In the immediate aftermath of the marathon OT loss, the hurt is real and gut wrenching. When one sees the tears of the fifth year grads upon leaving the rink, even the hardest and most cynical of hearts had to melt.

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