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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