Saturday, 5 March 2016

The sweetest of title sweeps

Huskies capture 17th Canada West crown with emotional win

Marty Smuk, Matthew Spafford, Stephanie Vause and Darla Smuk all rock.
    To say the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team was playing with heart may be the biggest understatement ever.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Dogs weren’t going to be denied a Canada West title. Trailing their “Forever Rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears 1-0 entering the third period, the Huskies stormed out and scored three straight goals before a raucous sold out crowd of 1,066 spectators. U of A managed to pot one reply with seven seconds to play, but all that did was make the final on the scoreboard 3-2 in favour of the host Huskies.
    In the record books, the Huskies go down as sweeping the Golden Bears 2-0 in the best-of-three Canada West men’s hockey championship series. With their 17th conference title win in team history, the Dogs will travel to Halifax for the University Cup, which is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport final eight championship tournament, along with the Golden Bears. That tourney runs from March 17 to 20.
    What the statistical sheet won’t show was that the Huskies were playing for something more. Besides playing for the logo on the front of the jersey and for the pride of the school and Saskatoon as a city, these Huskies were playing to honour the memory of a former teammate and alumnus.
Logan McVeigh, left, got the Ruthy jumping with a third period goal.
    After a battle with cancer that lasted over a year, Cody Smuk passed away in late June of 2015. The gritty forward, who played for the Huskies from 2010 to 2014, was known for his hard work and being the ultimate glue guy in the dressing room. Words can’t do justice to the impact he had on the Huskies athletic program and the community of Saskatoon.
    The Huskies men’s team retired Smuk’s #24 on Oct. 24, 2015. All season, they have warmed up with all players wearing his #24 jersey. Smuk’s father, Marty, mother, Darla, and fiancée, Stephanie Vause, have been to every home game.
    When it came time for the team picture with the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy and the championship banner, Huskies captain Kendall McFaull and third-year forward Josh Roach helped bring Marty, Darla and Vause on to the ice to be part the photograph. As the group approached the team, they received an ovation from the players, coaches and staff.
    Fifth-year forward Matthew Spafford teared up talking about his good friend and former teammate after the contest. His thoughts drifted to the 2014 University Cup championship tournament in Saskatoon, where Smuk played his final games with the Huskies. The Huskies made it to the championship game falling 3-1 to the Golden Bears at what is now known as the SaskTel Centre.
    “He (Smuk) is the driving force,” said Spafford. “I screwed up and didn’t get him one in my third year.
    “I know he is looking down on us right now, and he is helping us win, so it means everything.”
Levi Cable slips home the Huskies third goal of the night.
    Fifth-year defenceman Zak Stebner also couldn’t help but think his side might have had an extra boost. For Stebner, Smuk, who was nicknamed “Marty,” was a big part of the Huskies success in the 2015-16 campaign.
    “We are always playing for Marty,” said Stebner, “It is a big part of why we work so hard.
    “We try to work as Marty did, and he was a hard working dude. We figured if we could match just a fraction of how hard he works we will be successful, and I think that we exemplified that tonight.”
    At first, it looked like the Golden Bears were going to play spoilers. James Dobrowolski scored at the 3:31 of the first period to put U of A up 1-0. The goal only silenced the crowd for a short time, and it didn’t stall the Huskies.
    The Dogs responded with a big push back. Their efforts to net the equalizer also helped accidently create a pair of second period breakaways for Golden Bears forwards Brett Ferguson and Jordan Hickmott.
Zak Stebner hoists the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy.
    Huskie goaltender Jordon Cooke, who was named Canada West’s most outstanding player and goaltender of the year, stoned both chances. Cooke’s stop on Hickmott came late in the second and seemed to help add to the belief that the Huskies would rally.
    Early in the third, the Huskies push back resulted in the host side scoring two goals just 15 seconds apart from each other. Jesse Ross got the first tally, Logan McVeigh potted the second tally, and the Ruthy was rocking louder than it had at any point in the season.
    At the 11:57 mark, Levi Cable slipped home a low shot from a bad angle past Golden Bears goaltender Luke Siemens to increase the Huskies edge to 3-1.
    U of A rearguard Jordan Rowley, who was named Canada West’s top defenceman, netted the contest’s final goal with seven seconds to play.
    Cooke made 26 saves to earn the win in goal for the Huskies, who are rated third in the CIS top ten rankings. Siemens stopped 28 shots in net for the Golden Bears, who are rated fourth in the CIS top ten.
    While the Golden Bears played tough in both games of the series, the Huskies weren’t going to be denied in penning another cool chapter of a special season.
The Huskies are the 2016 Canada West champions.
    Even the rookies on the Huskies can feel something great has been happening. McVeigh, who is playing his first year with the Huskies after finishing his Western Hockey League career with the Kamloops Blazers, can feel the positive impact Smuk has had after his death.
    “It feels good just to get a win for him and his family,” said McVeigh. “It feels great to get them involved with our picture and come on the ice. It was great.”

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