Saturday, 2 April 2016

DeCorby, Johnson blast Stars back into Esso Cup

The Saskatoon Stars celebrate Rayah DeCorby's game-winning goal.
    SHOAL LAKE, MAN. ­-- Rayah DeCorby has developed a habit of scoring timely post-season goals for the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA hockey team.
    The 18-year-old defender drove home a point blast through a screen with 6:41 to play in the third period to give the Stars a 2-1 edge on the host Yellowhead Chiefs at the Shoal Lake Communiplex on Saturday. DeCorby followed that up by firing home an empty-net tally with 38.7 seconds to play to cement a 3-1 victory for the Stars in Game 2 of best-of-three Western regional playdown series.
    The win allowed the Stars to sweep the series 2-0, claim the Lanchbery Family Trophy and advance to the Esso Cup national championship tournament for a second straight year. Saskatoon took Game 1 of the series with the Chiefs by a 2-1 score on Friday in Shoal Lake. This year’s Esso Cup runs from April 17 to 23 in Weyburn. 
    In Saturday’s victory over the Chiefs, DeCorby was pleasantly surprised to find out her point blast to put the Stars up 2-1 found its mark.
Stars goalie Emma Johnson kicks away a shot on goal.
    “I didn’t know it went in at first,” said DeCorby. “I was just trying to get shots on net, get it through hoping to create some options for everyone else in front of the net.”
    She was elated to be able to help her squad return to the Esso Cup.
    “I am beyond excited,” said DeCorby, who is playing out her final year of midget eligibility. “It is a great way to finish it off.”
    Back on March 26, DeCorby netted the first tally that sparked a three-goal surge to allow the Stars to rally from a 3-1 deficit to down the Diamond Energy Wildcats in Swift Current 4-3 in overtime to clinch the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series.
    On Saturday, the Yellowhead Chiefs scored first, when forward Sam Geekie fired home a power-play goal top corner through a screen at the 11:14 mark of the second period. The Chiefs outshot the Stars 19-8 over the first 40 minutes and could have had a larger lead if not for the stellar play of Saskatoon goaltender Emma Johnson. Johnson made 32 saves on Saturday, which included a series of nice glove stops.
Rayah DeCorby wheels with the puck behind her net.
    For large stretches of Saturday’s contest, the Chiefs had the Stars pinned in their own zone. The hosts were good at chipping the puck in deep and coming in hard on the forecheck to create turnovers. On average, the Chiefs were a little bit physically bigger than the Stars, which helped the hosts win a lot of one-on-one battles down low.
    Despite the pressure, Johnson stayed composed making big save after big save.
    “She’s been absolutely stellar,” said Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian. “We’re a little bit worried about workload.
    “She’s never played this much before, because we’ve always rotated through the season. We’ve been running with her, and she’s handled it so well.
    “She’s had a few ups and downs, and she’s handled everything like a professional. She’s just been outstanding.”
    Despite all the Chiefs chances, Saskatoon tied things up just 18 seconds into the third, while working on the power play. Mackenna Parker and Julia Rongve combined to set up gifted 14-year-old forward Anna Leschyshyn, who popped home the equalizer to knot the score at 1-1.
    That set the stage for DeCorby to come through with her two late tallies in the third.
    “We didn’t play extremely well in the first two periods, but I think after the second period we knew that we had a lot more to give,” said Johnson. “It was nice to come out and come together as a team and be able to pull that off.”
    Emma Greenwood turned away 13-of-15 shots taking the loss in goal for the Chiefs.
Stars forward Abby Shirley (#18) tried to battle her way down the boards.
    While Saturday’s game was a tough one for the Stars to win, Slobodzian was pleased with the resilience his players showed.
    “The girls, I just can’t say enough about them,” said Slobodzian. “They just find ways to do it, and it is just a sign of a great team.
    “Even though we didn’t play pretty hockey, we did all the little things that we needed to do, and we got it done. It felt great.”
    Slobodzian was pumped the Stars will return to the Esso Cup for a second straight year.
    “As soon as that buzzer rang, I looked at the coaches and it was like we’re going back boys,” said Slobodzian. “To be able to do it two years in a row from our league, that is saying a lot.
    “We come from such a great league, and Manitoba is a great league. Whoever comes out of this region has such a good chance, and it is because the league is such a good league.”
The Stars celebrate with Lanchberry Family Trophy and banner.
    The Stars won a bronze medal at last year’s Esso Cup. For the returning players, the sting of a 2-1 extra time semifinal loss after a tiebreaking shootout to the host Red Deer Chiefs still remains. Johnson said the aim was to go all the way this time.
    “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.”

    If you have any comments to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. Check out Stars game and celebration photos on Twitter @StanksSports.