Friday, 29 April 2016

Patrick seals Eastern Conference title deal for Wheat Kings

Nolan Patrick (#19) had five-points on Friday for the Wheat Kings.
    BRANDON, Man. - Nolan Patrick might have cemented his status as a playoff hero for the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The 17-year-old centre from Winnipeg had a dream game on Friday night. The sophomore posted a hat trick and a pair of assists to power the Wheat Kings to a 5-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels before 5,605 spectators at Westman Place. The win allowed Brandon to win the WHL Eastern Conference championship for a second straight year as they eliminated the Rebels in the best-of-seven set 4-1.
    “It is obviously nice to get those numbers, but my linemates were unbelievable,” said Patrick, who isn’t NHL Entry Draft eligible until 2017 due to a late birthday. “Jayce (Hawryluk) made a great play on my second goal there.
    “John (Quenneville) made a great pass on my third goal there, so I had to pretty much put it into an empty net. They were unbelievable all night, and I think everyone contributed tonight.”
    Patrick came through at timely points in the contest. After Rebels right-winger Jake DeBrusk gave the visitors a 1-0 edge with a tipped in goal at the 7:16 mark of the first, Patrick wired home a wrist shot to tie things up at 1-1 just past the midway point of the opening frame.
    The Rebels, who will host the Memorial Cup championship tournament in May, managed to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission off a gritty goal from left-winger Evan Polei. That tally created another opportunity for Patrick to make an impact.
Nolan Patrick celebrates his hat trick goal with his teammates.
    Just 86 seconds into the second period, he drove hard to the Red Deer goal and converted a nice set-up feed from Hawryluk to tie things up at 2-2. With 3:41 to play in the second, Patrick potted the game winner after receiving a beauty pass from Quenneville across the face of the Red Deer net.
    With 47.2 seconds to play in the second and Red Deer on the power play, Patrick proceeded to set up Quenneville for his 13th tally of the post-season to give Brandon a 4-2 edge.
    In the third, Patrick helped account for the final dagger slipping a beautiful back-door feed to pinching defenceman Kale Clague, who roofed home a marker that put the Wheat Kings up 5-2. The final Brandon goal came during a stretch of four-versus-four play due to offsetting penalties.
    “He (Patrick) was special tonight,” said Wheat Kings head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon. “He was really good.
    “I’m not so sure the nicest play of the night might have been the assist on the fifth goal. It was a great play by Kale Clague to read it. It was a great play by Nolan (Patrick) to get it to him.
    “The goals were really timely. We were down after one, so we needed to get that first one. I thought (Jayce) Hawryluk made a really good play to Nolan (Patrick) on the tieing goal there.”
Jayce Hawryluk (#8)  helped Nolan Patrick have a big night.
    Patrick has a bit of family pedigree that could help foreshadow hockey success. His father, Stephen, was a star right-winger for the Wheat Kings from 1978 to 1981, which included helping Brandon capture a WHL championship in 1979. Stephen played 250 regular season games in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques in the early to just past the middle part of the 1980s.
    Nolan’s uncle, James Patrick, had a lengthy NHL career that spanned 1,280 games from 1984 to 2004 patrolling the blue-line for the Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames and Sabres.
    During the 2015-16 campaign, Nolan Patrick, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 195 pounds, had a break out year in Brandon appearing in all 72 of the Wheat Kings regular season games collecting 41 goals and 61 assists.
    Quenneville was pumped to see Patrick take his game up to another level on Friday.
    “It was incredible,” said Quenneville. “There is no secret of what kind of player he is.
    “He took the game over all by himself, and he was the man. Having a guy like that step up for you is what you need at playoff time and what a job he did tonight.”
    It wasn’t just Patrick’s play that allowed Brandon to advance to the WHL’s championship series. With the Wheat Kings holding on to a 4-2 edge early in the third, 19-year-old veteran goalie Jordan Papirny stoned Rebels captain Luke Philp on a breakaway to prevent the visitors from gaining any traction.
Goalie Jordan Papirny had a key third period save for the Wheat Kings.
    Papirny made 24 stops on Friday to allow Brandon to capture the WHL Eastern Conference title. Rylan Toth turned away 26 shots to take the loss in the Red Deer net. The Rebels are off until May 20, when they open up the Memorial Cup tournament with a clash against the club that wins the Ontario Hockey League title.
    The Wheat Kings, who are in search of their first WHL title since 1996, battled the Seattle Thunderbirds in a best-of-seven league title series. The Thunderbirds, who last appeared in the WHL final back in 1997, swept away the defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets to take the Western Conference title.
    Game 1 of the WHL championship series is set for this coming Friday at 8 p.m. Brandon time.
Patrick believes the Wheat Kings are most battled tested after beating the Rebels this year than after downing the Calgary Hitmen in last year’s Eastern Conference championship series in five games.
The Wheat Kings salute the fans at Westman Place.
    “I think this series was a lot better test than it was last year,” said Patrick. “I know this series was the same 4-1 as last year, but I think the games were a lot tighter this year.
    “That was a better team to play before the finals. They were a great test for us, and hopefully, we can keep carrying this on to the finals.
    “We have a lot of guys that know what it takes to win, and a lot of positive voices in the room who can help us in tight games. We have positive guys to get us through these games.”

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

2016 Esso Cup in Weyburn rates as "good"

Tourney faces challenges common in Canadian amateur sport

Brooklyn Gemmill raises the Esso Cup for the Ice Cats.
    WEYBURN, Sask. – In a lot of ways, a community like Weyburn is the perfect place to hold a tournament like the Esso Cup, but that doesn’t mean the event will be void of difficulties.
    On Saturday, the national female midget AAA hockey championship tournament wrapped up with the Brantford Ice Cats romping to a 10-3 victory in the gold medal game against the Express du Richelieu. The championship game shown before a national audience on TSN didn’t do justice to how close the on ice competition was between the six teams in attendance.
    The four clubs that made the playoff round all sported 3-2 records. Out of the 19 games played over seven days, nine were decided by one goal and six had two-goal spreads.
    In preliminary round play, the Express downed the Ice Cats 5-4 in a match that required a tiebreaking shootout. All six contests over the final two days of preliminary round play were decided by one goal, which showed how the competitive level was cracked upwards when it got to crunch time.
Floriane Dion (#7) tries to hold off Nicole Kelly (#17).
    The event was filled with compelling contests that were made for television, but unfortunately didn’t get any national air time. The 2016 Esso Cup isn’t the first national amateur sport tournament this has happened to, and it won’t be the last.
    Away from the game action itself, the community of Weyburn did have a sense of excitement about the tourney. In midsize large cities like Saskatoon and Regina and definitely in big centres like Calgary, the Esso Cup would be lost among a maze of other events be it sports or entertainment. In a centre like Weyburn that is just shy of a population figure of 11,000, the Esso Cup was a big deal.
    As soon as an out of towner goes to check into a hotel, a staff member would automatically ask out of curiosity if you were there for hockey.
    When you arrived at Crescent Point Place, the staffers from Hockey Canada and the tournament committee were cordial and inviting. It felt like everything ran smoothly. You pretty much wanted to be at the rink.
    Unfortunately when you looked into the stands, the great organization and friendly atmosphere didn’t translate into butts in the seats except for when the host Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings took the ice.
    That right there also shows a pitfall of amateur sport in Canada. In order for a big national championship tournament to be termed a great success or a spectacular success, it often revolves around the performance of the host team. That shows a weakness in the culture of sports in Canada.
Captain Bailee Bourassa and the Gold Wings are loved in Weyburn.
    If sport in Canada was strong culturally, national championship events like the Esso Cup would be a sellout regardless if a home team was present or not. However, the presence of a host team is what local committees need to sell sponsorships, advertising and ticket packages.
    In some years, even the prestigious Memorial Cup tournament, which crowns the champion of major junior hockey, isn’t immune to that fact.
    With that said, you don’t have to be in Weyburn long to find out there is a lot of love for the Gold Wings. There are signs up in various parts of the town showing support for the club and the local Boston Pizza outlet has auctioned off autographed Gold Wings jerseys for the odd fundraiser. You could even bid for a cool looking Gold Wings mini fridge at the Esso Cup’s silent auction.
    The players are always out and about rocking their team jackets. Captain Bailee Bourassa is also like a little celebrity, and that likely started from the fact she scored the winning goal that delivered the Gold Wings a 2-1 Esso Cup championship victory over the Edmonton Thunder in 2014 out in Stoney Creek, Ont.
Madi Solie is well-known in Weyburn.
    Players like Madi Solie, Elise Endicott, Maeve McGauley, Jensen Hammer and goaltender Chantal Burke are all well-known in town.
    The Gold Wings had a solid 18-9-1 regular season record in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, and they fell in an SFMAAAHL semifinal series to the Saskatoon Stars. The Stars went on to win league and Western regional titles to qualify for the Esso Cup.
    Had the Gold Wings made the Esso Cup’s playoff round and found a way to qualify for the tournament final, TSN’s audience would have likely seen a raucous crowd for the championship game. The hosts lost three straight two-goal decisions to open the tournament before rallying to win two straight extra time games to finish at 2-3. The Gold Wings showed a lot of heart marching on after Bourassa broke her arm in their second tournament game and was lost for the rest of the event.
    In a perfect world, the championship game would have been close and compelling like the majority of the tournament was. After 20 minutes, it appeared the title game would be intriguing after Emilie Lavoie scored twice to give the Express a 2-1 lead. The Ice Cats had a slim 9-7 edge in shots on goal.
    No one could have seen the blowout that was about to develop and blowouts will happen in sports even in contests between teams are supposed to be closely matched. The Ice Cats exploded for five goals in the second period to take a 6-2 advantage. The lead would grow to 9-2 by the 7:03 mark of the third before the final 10-3 outcome was cemented.
    Nicole Kelly, Kayla Bailey and Brooklyn Gemmill all had two-goal nights for the Ice Cats, while Paige Rynne, Lauren Martin, Taylor Trussler and Chenelle Caron-Godon had singles. Emma Verbruggen made 16 stops to earn the win in goal.
Chenelle Caron-Godon (#5) had the final goal in the Ice Cats Esso Cup win.
    Eloise Dube had the third period goal for the Express. Carolanne Franc-Brown and Marithe Levesque split time in goal with Franc-Brown originally drawing the start. Franc-Brown turned away 8-of-12 shots fired her way, while Levesque stopped 21-of-27 shots she faced.
    When the dust settled, the Ice Cats had to be credited for establishing a new tournament record for goals in a championship game at 10 and for showing off impressive offensive skill.
    On the media front, the Esso Cup was largely ignored. The biggest media presence came from Hockey Canada’s staff itself, which created the video, still pictures and written content for the organization’s website. There was no national media presence to cover the title game.
    There seemed to be no out of province media members at the event, but there were some local outlets from surrounding areas that stopped in and did the odd feature.
    The lack of media was likely great for the staffers that produced the website for Hockey Canada, because they had the run of doing whatever they wanted for features. What one forgets is that only people interested in the sport of hockey or the Esso Cup itself would check out the Hockey Canada site.
The Ice Cats take a victory lap with the Esso Cup.
    Other media outlets help bring the event’s story to people that might not otherwise take an interest and create a casual follower for a short time. With Canada’s mainstream media owned by a handful of big companies, anything sports related that is not the NHL, UFC, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Raptors are out of luck.
    Weyburn put together a good Esso Cup, and the effort was there to make things great and even spectacular. The uncontrollable forces kept the event from having a more lofty status.
    It would be nice if major amateur sport championship tournaments in Canada could have everything fall in place more often to allow them to reach their potential. Unfortunately, that likely won’t happen any time soon.

Ice Cats' Kelly cleans up on awards

Nicole Kelly won three Esso Cup awards.
    Besides winning the Esso Cup, Ice Cats standout Nicole Kelly cleaned up on the tournament’s major awards.
    The Esso Cup tournament awards were handed out Friday before the start of the playoff round. Kelly took home honours as the tournament’s top forward, most valuable player and top scorer. The underage standout,  who turned 15 in February, netted nine goals and six assists in seven tournament games. In the Esso Cup championship game, Kelly had two assists to go along with her two goals.
    Ice Cats rearguard Paige Cohoon picked up honours as the tournament’s top defender. Kate Lloyd of the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders was named the top goaltender, and winger Leonie Philbert of the Express took home honours as the top goaltender.
    Besides handing out those honours, Gold Wings grad Toni Ross was named the winner of the Isobel Gathorne-Hardy Award for her leadership and commitment to the game. Ross recently wrapped up her post-secondary career playing goal for the University of Regina Cougars women’s team.
    Ross was a first team Canada West all-star this past season with the Cougars, and she was also an academic all-Canadian. The Verwood, Sask., product posted a 17-6-1 record, a 1.93 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts with the Cougars this past season.
    She coaches at goaltender instruction academies in Regina and the Cougars Cubs’ hockey program. Ross is also active with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and Big Sisters program in Regina.
Paige Cohoon was named the top defender at the Esso Cup.
    Besides the awards, the officials that worked the tournament semifinal game on Friday between the Raiders and Express have to be commended for making a tough clutch and correct call in overtime. With the teams locked in a 3-3 tie, the Raiders looked like they netted the winning goal, when centre Breanne Trotter’s dump in from outside the blue-line went into the Express net.
    Referee Michelle Stapleton and linesmen Jessa Drury and Andrea Kosloski had a conference correctly called the goal back due to a delayed offside call. It would have been easy to have let the goal stand as the Raiders were celebrating and one of the Express players made a quiet protest.
    When the game resumed, the Express pulled out a 4-3 victory after a tiebreaking shootout.

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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Stars raise bar for success

Saskatoon’s SFMAAAHL team truly hits elite status

The Stars give a final salute at the Esso Cup.
    WEYBURN, Sask. - In the current day, trips to the Esso Cup national champion tournament seem like a habit for the Saskatoon Stars, but not that long ago those trips were only a dream.
    On Saturday at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn, the Stars female midget AAA hockey season came to an end after they dropped a 3-0 decision to the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders in the bronze medal game of this year’s Esso Cup tournament. The result on the surface feels like a disappointing follow up to the team’s first trip to the national championship tournament a year ago in Red Deer, when the Stars downed the Portage la Prairie based Central Plains Capitals 5-1 to win the bronze medal.
    While the Stars weren’t able to capture a national championship or a medal this year’s Esso Cup, they piled up accomplishments they never achieved during the first eight years of their decade as a member of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
    Before the 2014-15 season started, the Stars only hug one banner at their home rink in Saskatoon, the Agriplace Arena. That banner came from winning the tournament title at the prestigious Mac’s Midget AAA tournament in Calgary during the 2010-11 campaign.
    Saskatoon qualified for three straight SFMAAAHL finals from 2010-12, but were never able to win the Fedoruk Cup. That generation of Stars players included the likes of current Canadian senior national team member Emily Clark, Katie Sigurdson, Lauren Zary, Marley Ervine, Sara Greschner, Kennedy Harris, Brooke Mutch and Alyssa Dobler. The latter five of that group moved on to help the University of Saskatchewan Huskies win their first Canada West conference title coming in the 2013-14 campaign.
Defender Willow Slobodzian drives up ice for the Stars.
    During the three year period from 2010-12, the Stars ultimate bar for success was making the SFMAAAHL championship series with the hope that one day the Fedoruk Cup would come to “the Bridge City.”
    In 2013-14, the Stars were a respectable 13-11-4 and were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats. After that campaign, the Stars reached heights they never thought imaginable.
    Over the course of the past two seasons under head coach Greg Slobodzian, they brought home five more banners to hang in the Agriplace Arena. The 2014-15 campaign saw the Stars capture another Mac’s tournament title, their first SFMAAAHL championship and first Western regional banner. This past season the Stars won their second straight SFMAAAHL title and second Western regional banner.
    They have posted back-to-back 45-win campaigns in the process. To put that in perspective, the rebuilding Saskatoon Blades would almost kill to get back to that point in the Western Hockey League. There are also a few other WHL franchises that are in that same boat.
Captain Danielle Nogier (#15) has provided a lot of grit for the Stars.
    The Stars posted a 45-5 overall record in 2014-15 and followed that up with a 45-13 overall mark in 2015-16.
    A new generation of young standouts took centre stage as the likes of current Canadian under-18 national team member Sophie Shirley, Nara Elia, Emma Johnson, Mackenna Parker, Grace Shirley, Anna Leschyshyn and Willow Slobodzian. The era of the last two seasons is also defined by the gritty determination of this year’s four graduates in captain Danielle Nogier and defenders Rayah DeCorby, Danielle Girolami and Hollie Coumont.
    All of those recent era players likely haven’t hit their peak moments in their hockey careers and unbelievably have the potential to still do much more.
Grace Shirley has become one of the Stars young standouts.
    On Saturday against the Raiders, the Stars fought hard to the end in the bronze medal match of the Esso Cup. They could have very easily exited the first period with a 2-0 lead, as winger Julia Rongve was robbed twice on two great backdoor chances.
    The Raiders slowly started to pull away in the second thanks to a tipped home power-play goal by Hanna Matchett and a tally from Breanne Trotter, which came off an untimely Stars defensive zone giveaway.
    Saskatoon still kept battling, and tried to pull Johnson, who is their money netminder, with 4:13 remaining in the third period. Leschyshyn had a golden chance from point-blank range, but she was stoned by Raiders goalie Kate Lloyd.
    A late third period penalty to Saskatoon forced Johnson to return and remain in the goal. The Raiders sealed their 3-0 win, when Hailey McCallum blasted home a power-play goal to the top corner of the Saskatoon net with 37.6 seconds to play.
Mackenna Parker is one of the Stars top offensive players.
    Johnson turned away 18 shots in the setback and Lloyd turned away 18 shots to earn the shutout.
    In making the Esso Cup in back-to-back years, the Stars have set a new standard of ultimate success that all their future teams will try to emulate. Over the last two seasons, they have almost touched the Esso Cup, and that had to be viewed as impossible at one point in time.
    Winning an Esso Cup has become a very possible reality that future generations of Stars players will strive to achieve.

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Friday, 22 April 2016

Stars fall in Esso Cup semi again

Ice Cats power play too much for Saskatoon to handle

The Stars skate in to console goaltender Emma Johnson.
    WEYBURN, Sask. - The Saskatoon Stars weren’t able to capture the happy ending they so sought in the semifinal of the Esso Cup, because the Brantford Ice Cats power play wouldn’t let them.
    Saskatoon saw its national title hopes in female midget AAA hockey come to a crashing end on Friday afternoon at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn. The Ice Cats cashed in on three of five power play chances to post a sound 4-0 victory to advance to Saturday’s national championship game set for 3:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time. For a second straight year, the Stars were relegated to the bronze medal game, which is slated for Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Saskatchewan time.
    The Stars troubles on the penalty kill started unassumingly late in the first period and late on Brantford’s first power-play chance.
    A point shot from defender Emily Rickwood found its way through a screen and past Stars goaltender Emma Johnson with 6.8 seconds to play in the opening frame giving the Ice Cats a 1-0 edge.
Ice Cats goalie Emma Verbruggen stops a high shot.
    Brantford capitalized on its second power-play chance just 56 seconds in the second period, when defender Paige Cohoon fired home another point shot through a screen to give the Ice Cats a 2-0 edge.
    Saskatoon had a chance to get back in the game shortly after that tally. While on the power play, Stars defender Hollie Coumont swooped in down low and fired a shot that deflected off the post. The Stars failed to score on their three chances with the power play in the contest.
    The Ice Cats went up 3-0 with a third power-play goal coming at the 13:17 mark of the second. During a net scramble, Brantford centre Lauren Martin lifted a shot over top of a fallen Johnson to give the Ice Cats a decided edge.
    While the Stars were still reeling, Ice Cats winger Brooklyn Gemmill potted an even-strength marker just over two minutes after her squad’s third power-play goal to round out Brantford’s 4-0 victory. Ice Cats captain Paige Rynne picked up assists on her team’s final three goals.
The Ice Cats celebrate a power-play goal from Emily Rickwood.
    In the third, the Ice Cats were content to play the trap and just dump the puck in the Stars zone every time they gained possession in the centre ice area.
    Saskatoon did try to find some sort of ground to try and start a comeback attempt. With 5:21 to play in the third, head coach Greg Slobodzian kept pulling Johnson for an extra attacker when the opportunity allowed, but the Stars weren’t able to generate any serious offensive threats. The shots on goal for the final frame were even at 6-6.
    Johnson stopped 22 shots fired her way. Emma Verbruggen made 27 saves to earn the shutout in goal for the Ice Cats.
    The Stars did have a lot of jump in an evenly played opening 20 minutes. Rynne was unable to put a puck behind Johnson on a breakaway opportunity.
    Shortly after that chance by Brantford, Stars winger Abby Shirley had a breakaway opportunity to score. She deked out Verbruggen, but slipped a backhander wide of an open cage.
Stars winger Abby Shirley (#18) tries to poke a puck into the Ice Cats goal.
    A year ago at the Esso Cup in Red Deer, the Stars dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker after a tiebreaking shootout to the host Chiefs. Saskatoon rebounded in the bronze medal game downing the Portage la Prairie based Central Plains Capitals 5-1.
    This year there was no dramatic defeat in the semifinal. The Stars had to painfully soak in finality of their 4-0 loss to the Ice Cats as the final minutes ticked away.
    In a one game showdown to make a championship game, a team can’t slip in any area of its play. Unfortunately for the Stars, their normally strong penalty kill struggled at the wrong possible time, and their national championship hopes were dashed as a result. In a preliminary round game on Wednesday, the Ice Cats just slipped past the Stars by a 3-2 score to show how even these two clubs can match up.
Captain Danielle Nogier will play her final game with the Stars on Saturday.
    While it would be hard for the Stars players accept in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s loss, one tough game doesn’t ruin what was a spectacular season. Even with Friday’s setback, the Stars have a 45-12 overall record in 2015-16.
    On Saturday, Stars captain Danielle Nogier and defenders Rayah DeCorby, Danielle Girolami and Coumont will play their final games of their midget AAA careers. They can’t win a national title, but they can still go out on a good note and make one last memory.
    The Stars will face the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders in the bronze medal match. On Friday, the Raiders dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 decision after a tiebreaking shootout to the Express du Richelieu in the other semifinal match.
    Floriane Dion, Camille Fleury and Joannie Garand scored for the Express in regulation, while Marithe Levesque made 31 stops in goal in regulation and overtime.
    Hailey McCallum, Paige Russell and Kara Kondrat replied with singles for the Raiders in regulation. Kate Lloyd made 28 stops in goal over 70 minutes.
    The Express took the shootout 2-0 getting goals on their first two shots from Eloise Dube and Garand. Levesque turned away both shooters she faced.
    Richelieu will take on Brantford in the gold medal game on Saturday.

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Thursday, 21 April 2016

Stars return to Esso Cup final four

Mackenna Parker scored for the Stars.
    The Saskatoon Stars are returning to the semifinal round of the Esso Cup for a second straight year, but they did it in a more dramatic fashion this time around.
    Entering their final preliminary round game Thursday afternoon at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn, the Stars needed to earn at least a point in the standings in a clash against the Bedford, N.S., based Metro Boston Pizza to earn a semifinal berth. Metro Boston Pizza had to pull out a regulation victory to advance to the final four of the national female midget AAA hockey championship tournament.
    Metro Boston Pizza went up 1-0 in the first period on a goal from Rachel Dorey.
    The Stars rallied to pull out a 2-1 victory after Mackenna Parker potted the equalizer in the second period and Grace Shirley netted the winner in the third. Emma Johnson picked up the win in goal for the Stars making 11 saves.
    Josee Thibeau turned away 33 shots taking the loss in the Metro Boston Pizza net.
    Saskatoon won its first two games of the tournament but proceeded to lose two in a row. As a result, the Stars found themselves in a position, where they could potentially miss the playoff round.
    After pulling out a victory in their final preliminary round game, the Stars improved to 3-2 to finish third in preliminary round standings. They face the Brantford Ice Cats (3-1-1) in a semifinal match slated for 3:30 p.m., Saskatchewan time on Friday.
    The other semifinal features the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders (3-1-1) going up against the Express du Richelieu (3-2) at 7 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
    Metro Boston Pizza finished last in the six-team tournament with a 1-3-1 mark. The host Weyburn Gold Wings won their final two contests to finish fifth with a 2-3 mark.
    Last year when the Esso Cup was in Red Deer, the Stars didn’t need any final day dramatics to make the semifinal round posting a 4-1 record in the preliminary round. Saskatoon dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to the host Red Deer Chiefs in the semifinal after a tiebreaking shootout. The Stars proceeded to win the bronze medal game downing the Portage la Prairie based Central Plains Capitals 5-1.
    With Thursday’s win over Metro Boston Pizza, the Stars improved their overall record to 45-11 to match their overall win total from the 2014-15 campaign, when they went 45-5.
This year’s Esso Cup in Weyburn closes on Saturday with the bronze and gold medal contests.
Willow Slobodzian controls the puck for the Stars.
    NOTES – Parker and Stars defender Willow Slobodzian were invited to a prospects camp for Canada’s under-18 along with 48 other players on Wednesday. The camp runs May 4-8 in Hamilton, Ont.
    Also attending the camp are forwards and former Stars players Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia, who both suited up for the Notre Dame Hounds club that plays in the Junior Women’s Hockey League. Shirley was a member of Canada’s under-18 this past season. Defender Brooke Hobson of the Prince Albert A & W Bears is also heading to the under-18 game.
    Hockey Canada will also hold a 47-player camp for the national women’s development team from May 4-8 in Hamilton, Ont. Saskatoon product Emily Clark, who a member of Canada’s senior national team, will take part in the development team camp. The standout forward and Stars grad plays for the University of Wisconsin Badgers in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rebels face huge challenge in Wheat Kings

Rest gives Brandon an edge in WHL Eastern Conference finals

Adam Helewka and his Rebels will battle the Wheat Kings.
    One of the slogans the Red Deer Rebels have gone by in the 2016 WHL playoffs is “#allheartrebels,” and they are going to need all of that heart and more against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The Rebels advanced to the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference championship series after taking a thrilling and memorable seven-game set against the Regina Pats. Red Deer will be making its first appearance in the conference final since 2004.
    In the Wheat Kings, the Memorial Cup hosting Rebels face their toughest test of the post-season to date. The Wheaties have been resting since dumping the Moose Jaw Warriors 7-3 in Game 5 of a second round series at Westman Place last Friday in Brandon.
    With Brandon hosting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals this Friday, a one week break means the Wheat Kings will be rested, but rust shouldn’t really be a factor. The Wheaties are also deep, and they have one of the best team cultures in the league.
    You can bet there are Red Deer hotel and restaurant staffers who are looking forward to the arrival head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon and his Wheat Kings bunch in the central Alberta centre for Games 3 and 4, because Brandon is known for being one of the best mannered and classiest clubs off the ice. Those off-ice characteristics transfer to success on the ice as well. Brandon finished second overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 48-18-4-2 mark.
John Quenneville had been hot in the post-season for the Wheat Kings.
    Under head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter, the Rebels have traditionally been known for their heart and never quit work-ethic. Those characteristics allowed the Rebels to overcome a talented and spirited young team in the Regina Pats, who will likely be a force for years to come.
    Red Deer is as deep and talented as Brandon due to the fact Sutter loaded up his roster to be strong due to hosting the Memorial Cup in May. The Rebels were sixth overall in the WHL with a 45-24-1-2 record.
    With all things being equal, this series should be a tossup, but it may not be. Since April 13, the Rebels have endured three different eight-hour bus trips between Red Deer and Regina. Red Deer faces a 12-hour haul to get to Brandon.
    The Rebels have only two off days between their 2-1 victory over the Pats in Game 7 of their second round series on Tuesday and the start of the conference finals on Friday. The bus hours and the volume of games played does take its toll on a team.
Haydn Fleury fires a shot on goal for the Rebels.
    If the Rebels are to win the series, they are going to need starting netminder Rylan Toth to steal a couple of games. Toth returned after missing about two months due to a low body injury in a relief appearance in Game 4 of the series with the Pats and has gone the distance since. The Saskatoon product has a 2.31 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in the post-season.
    The 19-year-old entered the season as the Rebels money goalie. Toth is also aided by what has become strong group of starting six defencemen in Haydn Fleury, Kayle Doetzel, Nelson Nogier, Josh Mahura, Colton Bobyk and Austin Strand. That group just has to play smart, and Toth’s job becomes that much easier.
    With that in mind, Brandon’s big offensive players have been rolling in the team’s 11 post-season games, where five players are averaging over a point a game in John Quenneville (7g, 9a), Reid Duke (6g, 10a), Tim McGauley (6g, 7a), Nolan Patrick (5g, 8a) and Jayce Hawryluk (2g, 10a).
    Kale Clague, captain Macoy Erkamps and Ivan Provorov have been dynamite on the back end for Brandon. Jordan Papirny has gone the distance in goal in the playoffs posting 2.65 goals against average, a .898 save percentage and one shutout.
Captain Macoy Erkamps steadies Brandon's back end.
    Adam Helewka (8g, 4a) and Jake DeBrusk (5g, 7a) have topped the Rebels in post-season scoring. Captain Luke Philp, Michael Spacek, Evan Polei, Brandon Hagel and Adam Musil have all added key contributions at different times. Musil had the series winner against the Pats.
    While both teams have good players, the rest factor in Brandon’s favour looms large as a series-deciding intangible. The lengthy series definitely favours the Wheat Kings.

“Retired” Meachem still on WHL beat

    Veteran Red Deer Advocate sports writers and editor Greg Meachem retired, but he didn’t stay out of action for long.
    Shortly after his retirement, the Rebels brought Meachem on board to write web stories on the team on Meachem’s presence ensures the Rebels top the WHL in the best written content on any team website in the league.
    Big props have to be given to Sutter and his staff for ensuring Meachem remained active in covering the team. He is one of the best on the WHL beat. It seems Meachem is enjoying his new role as well.

Back on the cover of the Express thanks to Flinton

Julia Flinton looks to make a setup pass for the Huskies.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week writing the cover story on the duel life of Julia Flinton, who recently wrapped up her career with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    During her playing career with the Huskies, Flinton returned home to Williams Lake, B.C., in the off-season to be a forest firefighter. The 23-year-old will return home to follow that career on a full-time basis now.
    My sit down chat with Flinton ranks up there with as one of my most favourite interviews I have ever done. Flinton topped all Huskies defenders in career scoring with 14 goals and 66 assists in 131 regular season games.
    Flinton was also part of the Notre Dame Hounds squad that won the Esso Cup female midget AAA national hockey championship in 2011. 
    The Saskatoon Express on Flinton can be found here.

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Sunday, 17 April 2016

Leschyshyn delivers for Stars

Saskatoon opens Esso Cup with 2-0 win over Weyburn

Anna Leschyshyn, centre, celebrates scoring for the Stars.
    WEYBURN, Sask. - Anna Leschyshyn is making an ever increasing number of plays when the Saskatoon Stars need them the most.
    In their opening match at the Esso Cup female midget AAA hockey championship tournament on Sunday, the Stars were firing everything including the kitchen sink at Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings goaltender Chantal Burke. With 26.6 seconds to play in the second period, Leschyshyn gathered a rebound during a net scramble and fired the puck five-hole on Burke for a power-play goal while being taken down on the ice.
    Leschyshyn’s goal gave the Stars a 1-0 lead over the Gold Wings, who are the tournament’s host team. Saskatoon added another goal late in the third to skate away with a 2-0 victory at Crescent Point Place.
    “I didn’t really know it went in,” said Leschyshyn. “I was just kind of getting pucks to the net and trying to bang in the rebound and it went in. I was just really excited.”
Anna Leschyshyn (#7) is stopped by goalie Chantal Burke.
    Standing 5-foot-10, you almost forget that Leschyshyn is only 14-years-old. Her smooth skating ability, strong stickhandling and good touch around the net makes her a threat to score every time she is on the ice.
    In 28 regular season games for the Stars, Leschyshyn netted 15 goals and 11 assists to finished third in team scoring in her first full season in the midget AAA ranks. She added another six goals and four assists in 11 games in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs.
    Back on March 26, Leschyshyn potted the equalizer that forced overtime in the Stars 4-3 SFMAAAHL championship series clinching victory against the Diamond Energy Wildcats in Swift Current.
Anna Leschyshyn charges up ice on a rush for the Stars.
    Leschyshyn came through in another key moment in the Stars series clinching win in their Western regional playdown series back on April 2 against the Yellowhead Chiefs in Shoal Lake, Man. The Stars trailed that contest 1-0 until Leschyshyn netted the equalizer 18 seconds into the third period to spark a 3-1 come-from-behind victory.
    Against the Gold Wings on Sunday, Leschyshyn said her side never got discouraged, when Burke kept making save after save. Burke finished the contest turning away 38 shots.
    “We just had to keep getting pucks to the net,” said Leschyshyn. “She (Burke) gives up a lot of rebounds.
    “We just have to crash the net and put those rebounds in.”
    Despite Leschyshyn’s goal, the Gold Wings did push back in the third. Stars standout goaltender Emma Johnson came up with a big 22-save effort to record her fifth shutout of the post-season.
Saskatoon netted a key insurance goal at the 16:50 mark of the third, when Joelle Fiala and Grace Shirley combined to set up Abby Shirley off a hard rush into the offensive zone.
    While the Stars had the majority of the scoring chances, the Gold Wings had a number of opportunities of their own to steal victory. Gold Wings star left-winger Bailee Bourassa, who has committed to joining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team in the fall, was robbed by Johnson on three different breakaway chances, which included two short-handed opportunities in the second period.
Emma Johnson makes one of her 22 stops for the Stars.
    Leschyshyn potted the winner shortly after Bourassa was turned away on her second short-handed breakaway chance.
    When the dust settled, Leschyshyn said her team was pleased with their tournament opening victory noting the experience of playing at last year’s Esso Cup in Red Deer, where the Stars won a bronze medal, was a big help as well.
    “We are really happy to get the tournament started off with a good win,” said Leschyshyn. “I think we knew what was coming.
    “We had to get the first win out of the way and have a good start to the first game.”
    The Stars return to action on Monday, when they face the Express du Richelieu from Quebec at 3:30 p.m. The host Gold Wings take on the Brantford Ice Cats from Ontario at 7 p.m. All Esso Cup games are being played at Crescent Point Place.
    In other Esso Cup action from Sunday, the Express downed the Bedford, N.S., based Metro Boston Pizza 1-0, and the De Winton, Alta., based Rocky Mountain Raiders slipped past the Ice Cats 2-1.

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Saturday, 16 April 2016

The WHL at its best

Rebels and Pats have delivered a spectacular series

Adam Brooks (#77) of the Pats battles Rebels captain Luke Philp.
    It is almost sad that the WHL playoff series between the Red Deer Rebels and Regina Pats has to end.
    While the Victoria Royals and the Kelowna Rockets have been engaged in a thrilling second round series played in front of the Shaw TV cameras out west, the series out east between the Rebels and Pats has been the WHL at its best.
    The Rebels lead the best-of-seven set 3-2 with Game 6 set for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Brandt Centre in Regina. Game 6 sold out on Saturday afternoon. From a pure hockey fan standpoint, you almost hope a series deciding Game 7 would be needed, which would be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer.
    The Rebels versus Pats series has had everything. You have seen the odd tight defensive game, a lot of stellar offence, red hot work on the power play, great goaltending and the odd interesting storyline. You also have two buildings that have been rocking, which has added to the overall atmosphere.
    With all the action that has taken place, you almost wish the series could go on forever.
Haydn Fleury is strong in all situations.
    The main storyline that has come out of the last two games has been the return of Rebels starting goaltender Rylan Toth, who had been out with a lower body injury since the middle of February. He was in a walking boot just before playoffs started.
    Trevor Martin took over the starter’s role and ran with it. During the playoffs, the Ardrossan, Alta., product started out playing like a money goalie, and he was a key reason the Rebels took Games 1 and 2 against the Pats.
    The Pats, who have a lot of gifted players, started to get more and more pucks past Martin, when the series shifted to Regina. “The Queen City Kids” took Game 3 by a 6-3 score and Game 4 by 6-4 count.
    In Game 4, the Rebels pulled Martin at the 12:18 mark of the second period after he stopped 18 of 22 shots. Toth entered in relief stopping nine of 10 shots fired his way before the Pats added an empty netter.
    The Rebels started Toth for Game 5 on Friday in Red Deer and the Saskatoon product turned away 28 of 29 shots fired his way in a 5-1 victory. Now the question becomes can Toth continue to deliver.
    During the series, a lot of players have delivered. Rebels captain Luke Philip has two goals and five assists to top his team in scoring for the series. Brandon Hagel has delivered too with a goal and five assists for Red Deer.
    Others like Adam Musil have come through at key times, like when Musil tipped home the power-play game winner in the Rebels 4-3 victory in Game 2.
    Defenceman Josh Mahura, who missed 70 regular season games with a serious knee injury, has been a force recording two goals, two assists and a plus-five rating in the plus-minus department. He has shown signs of being an elite player.
Connor Hobbs has been a rock on the Pats back end.
    Mahura's play has almost overshadowed the fact that Rebels star rearguard Haydn Fleury, who has been a member of Canada world junior team, has continued to handle himself well playing in all situations.
    For the Pats, Adam Brooks and Cole Sanford have been the offensive stars they have always been. Brooks, who led the WHL in scoring during the regular season, has a goal and seven assists, while Sanford has three goals and four assists.
    Overage captain Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs have been dynamite on the back end for Regina. Williams, who is from Regina, has a goal and four assists, while Hobbs, who is from Saskatoon, has two goals and three assists.
    Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn, who is in his 16-year-old rookie season, has come through in key gritty moments in Regina picking up a goal and two assists in the series.
    The power play success for both sides has been off the charts. Red Deer has connected on 7-of-19 chances for a 36.8 per cent success rate. Regina has cashed in on 11-of-30 chances for a 36.7 per cent success rate.
    In the stands, the Rebels have drawn crowds of 5,845, 4,802 and 6,185 in their three home dates. The Red Deer fan base is loyally behind Rebels head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter, who has always been a strong community minded person in that centre. Sutter and his family are enduring figures in the hearts of the Rebels faithful.
The Pats and Rebels battle for the puck along the boards.
    The Pats have drawn crowds of 6,247 and 6,171 in their two home games. As the oldest junior hockey franchise in the world dating back to 1917, the Pats have an entrenched and loyal following in Regina. The passion gets cranked up a few notches in the post-season making the Brandt Centre a tough place to play for the opposition.
    This series has been one to remember, but someone has to win it and advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series to face the defending conference champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
    For now, fans in both Red Deer and Regina should enjoy the present and the remaining action of this series while it lasts.

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Friday, 15 April 2016

Esso Cup = unfinished business for Stars

Saskatoon shoots for gold at female midget AAA nationals

Joelle Fiala (#27) celebrates scoring a goal for the Stars.
    The heartbreak from a year ago was always in the back of the minds of the Saskatoon Stars.
    In the 2014-15 campaign, the Stars enjoyed a season that came out of a dream. They won the championship at the prestigious Mac’s tournament in Calgary for a second time, captured their first Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship and made their first visit to the Esso Cup national championship tournament. At Esso Cup, they fell 2-1 to the host Red Deer Chiefs in a semifinal match after a tiebreaking shootout.
    Saskatoon proceeded to down the Portage la Prairie based Central Plains Capitals 5-1 in the bronze medal match to complete the campaign with a 45-5 overall record.
    For the 14 players that returned from last season, the memory of the semifinal loss still stings. On March 26, the Stars won their second SFMAAAHL title downing the Diamond Energy Wildcats 4-3 in overtime in Swift Current in Game 4 of the best-of-five league championship series. After that win, Stars captain Danielle Nogier said that her team had its sights on making a trip to Weyburn for this year’s Esso Cup.
Mackenna Parker (#11) led the Stars in scoring.
    “It just fuels our fire winning this, and we are just ready to move forward and go back and get some redemption at the Esso Cup,” said Nogier.
    Unlike a year ago, the province of Quebec decided to send a team to this year’s Esso Cup, which meant the Stars had to travel to Shoal Lake, Man., for a best-of-three Western regional series against the Yellowhead Chiefs. On April 2, they swept that series capped by a 3-1 victory in Game 2.
    With a berth now locked up at the Esso Cup in Weyburn, Stars goaltender Emma Johnson echoed her captain’s statement after the series victory over the Chiefs.
    “I think we want a bit of redemption,” said Johnson. “Last year, we didn’t like the way that we went out losing in a shootout, so it is nice to go back and have a chance to set things right.”
Defender Willow Slobodzian is one of the Stars most dynamic players.
    The fact that the Stars players are talking about redemption is a good thing, because it shows they really believed in their hearts they should have won it all.
    In the overall big picture, the semifinal loss didn’t dampen the story that was the 2014-15 campaign. The Stars in 2013-14 were a respectable 13-11-4 and were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Swift Current. No one could have seen the special season that was to follow.
    Going into this season, the Stars lost their two best players, when 16-year-old forwards Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia elected to join the Notre Dame Hounds club that plays of the Junior Women’s Hockey League. Both are a couple of the best midget aged players in Canada. Shirley would also become a member of Canada’s under-18 team, and she went to a camp with the senior national team.
    Had both or even one of those two players returned, there would have been high expectations for the Stars to return to Esso Cup. With Shirley and Elia no longer in the fold, there were question marks regarding the Stars chances to make it that far. The SFMAAAHL had a number of strong teams, so winning a league title was viewed as a difficult task.
Emma Johnson has been a force in goal for the Stars.
    The Stars still put together an impressive 42-9 overall record to date including action at the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in Wilcox, Sask., and the Futures Hockey Winter Classic tournament in Winnipeg. They topped the SFMAAAHL regular season standings with a 24-4 mark.
    The remaining players stepped up for Saskatoon. Mackenna Parker, who is a 15-year-old sophomore forward, finished second in SFMAAAHL scoring netting 14 goals and 21 assists in 25 games. Grace Shirley, who is Sophie’s younger sister, finished second in team scoring with 18 goals and 14 assists in 28 games.
    Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala took flight as 14-year-old rookie forwards. Leschyshyn potted 14 goals and 11 assists in 28 games, while Fiala had six goals and 14 assists in 28 games.
    Offensive defender Willow Slobodzian, who turned 16 in January, still controlled things at the back end leading all Stars rearguards in scoring with three goals and 12 assists.
    The rest of the team’s scoring was spread out through the lineup.
Danielle Nogier aims to lead the Stars to a national title.
    In goal, Johnson was stellar in her 16-year-old campaign posting a 13-4 record, a 1.47 goals against average, a .942 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season. In the post-season, she showed she was still in money goalie form, especially in the sweep at the Western regional in Shoal Lake stopping 52-of-54 shots fired her way. Many of those stops were of the game-saving variety.
    During the season, the Stars had to show perseverance. They suffered setbacks in the SFMAAAHL semifinal and championship rounds, but didn’t allow those losses to derail their run. In the SFMAAAHL title clinching game, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a 4-3 victory.
    In the series clinching game at the Western regional, they were down 1-0 after 40 minutes, but found a way to pull out a 3-1 win backed by a 32- save performance by Johnson in goal.
    Saskatoon opens Esso Cup on Sunday taking on a familiar foe in the host Southern Range Gold Wings at 7 p.m. local time at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn. The Stars eliminated the Gold Wings from the SFMAAAHL playoffs in the semifinal round taking a best-of-five series 3-1. Including action in the regular season, post-season and tournament play, the Stars won six of nine matches with the Gold Wings, who were 18-9-1 in the regular season.
    Captain Bailee Bourassa is a huge offensive threat leading the Gold Wings in scoring with 21 goals and nine assists in 26 games. Defender Madison Solie, who stands 6-feet tall, controlled things on the back end and topped all Gold Wings rearguards in scoring with four goals and 16 assists in 25 games.
Grace Shirley was the Stars second leading scorer as a 14-year-old rookie.
    Saskatoon product Chantal Burke is more than capable of stealing a game in net for the Gold Wings posting a 14-8 record, a 1.58 goals against average, a .935 save percentage and four shutouts in the regular season.
    The six-team field at Esso Cup will play each other once in preliminary round play. The top four teams advance to semifinal matches that are slated for Friday, April 22. The bronze and gold medal games are set for Saturday, April 23.
    The Stars are the only team returning to Esso Cup from a year ago. If they maintain their grit, a national championship might come their way.

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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Martin comes up clutch for Rebels

Career WHL backup goalie becomes playoff star in Red Deer

Goalie Trevor Martin celebrates a win with his Rebels teammates.
    RED DEER, Alta. - Not that long ago, the idea that Trevor Martin would be a money goaltender in the WHL playoffs was unthinkable.
    At best, it seemed like he would hold a career backup role in the major junior ranks. Entering this season, Martin has played in 20 career regular season games all coming in his 18-year-old campaign with the Saskatoon Blades and Red Deer Rebels.
    Back on Jan. 5, 2015, the Blades traded Martin to the Rebels in exchange for defenceman Kolton Dixon. In 19 appearances with the Blades, Martin posted a 3-10-2 record, a 4.16 goals against average and a .886 save percentage. Anyone familiar with major junior hockey knows those type of numbers usually don’t help a goaltender last long at that level of play, especially when the individual is slated to be a 19-year-old sophomore.
    Fast forward to Sunday night in Red Deer, Martin came through with a huge 35-save performance to back the Rebels to a 4-3 victory over the visiting Regina Pats before 4,802 spectators at the Enmax Centrium in Game 2 of a second round playoff series. The win allowed the Rebels to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 3 in Regina on Tuesday night.
    The only tally Martin could have been faulted on came on Regina’s third goal. With the Rebels trying to kill off a Pats power play, Martin fumbled a point shot from Pats defenceman Connor Hobbs, and WHL scoring champ Adam Brooks potted home the rebound with 0.3 seconds to play in the second period.
Trevor Martin makes a shoulder save on Cole Sanford.
    Brooks’ goal forced a 3-3 tie, but Martin made a number of key stops on odd man rushes to allow the Rebels to win the game.
    “He (Martin) was solid,” said Rebels head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter. “In the third period, he just shut the door.
    “He made some big saves in the third as he did throughout the whole night. You need that. You have to have goaltending at this time of year.
    “You have to have good goaltending. There is a lot of parity in this league. You get to this stage teams are good hockey teams, and you are going to need saves from your goalies.”
    Martin was the Rebels backup until a lower body injury knocked 19-year-old starter Rylan Toth out of the line-up back in the middle of February. Toth was in a walking boot just before the playoffs started. With Toth out for an extended time, Martin became the man for the Rebels, and he has made the best of his opportunity.
    In the regular season, he posted an 18-8-2 record, a 2.63 goals against average and a .911 save percentage in 38 appearances. The Ardrossan, Alta., product has been even better in his seven post-season starts posting a 6-1 record, a 2.29 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and one shutout - the first in his WHL career.
    Martin played a key part in the Rebels 3-2 victory over the Pats in Game 1 of their series on Saturday. He made 20 saves to pick up that win, and almost half of the stops were high quality. Red Deer’s defenceman made a number of giveaways in that contest, which resulted in Martin making a number of bailout saves.
Trevor Martin holds the fort during a net scramble.
    In Game 2, Martin was still making bailout and game changing stops. Early in the second, he turned away Pats left-winger Austin Wagner with a kick save on a breakaway chance. Martin late stoned Pats star sniper Cole Sanford from in close later on in the frame with a shoulder stop.
    During the third period, Martin was key in helping the Rebels kill off a double minor penalty assessed to star defenceman Haydn Fleury for high-sticking. Martin also made a robbery stop on Pats standout Sam Steel and denied Brooks in the final seconds of the frame to preserve the Rebels fifth consecutive win in the post-season.
    Rebels 18-year-old defenceman Josh Mahura gave Martin huge credit for the success the team has had.
    “When (Rylan) Toth came out there, he (Martin) stepped in and has been unbelievable for us,” said Mahura. “He is a backbone obviously in the net there. He has been playing unbelievable this playoffs.”
    When Toth went down, one had to wonder what the Rebels fate would be in the post-season and what their chances would be as hosts of the Memorial Cup tournament in May.
Trevor Martin makes a sprawling kick save on Riley Woods.
    Martin has become that clutch goalie every team needs to have success in the playoffs. When a netminder comes through with bailout saves like Martin has, it energizes a team.
    With Toth nearing a possible return to the Red Deer line-up, Sutter has told the Red Deer media that Martin will remain the team’s starter for the foreseeable future. At the moment, Martin has the Rebels two wins away from their first WHL Eastern Conference finals appearance since 2004.
    In Sunday’s clash, the Rebels went ahead 4-3 at the 11:18 mark of the third, when Adam Musil deflected home a point shot from Mahura. Mahura, Michael Spacek and Adam Helewka all netted singles for the Rebels, who were 2-for-4 with the power play.
    The Pats netted all their goals with the man advantage going 3-for-6 on the power play. Steel and Sanford had the other power-play markers for Regina. Tyler Brown made 28 stops to take the loss in goal for the Pats.
Trevor Martin makes a glove save in the Rebels goal.
    In Martin, the Rebels found their clutch playoff goaltender in an unexpected way. He has become one of the most uplifting individual stories in the league. When the dust settles, Martin might be the piece that allows the Rebels to go all the way in possibly winning both a league title and the franchise’s second Memorial Cup championship.

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