Monday, 28 November 2016

Stars a hidden gem in Saskatoon’s sports scene

The Stars are all smiles after scoring a goal at the Agriplace Arena.
    They often get overshadowed, but one of Saskatoon’s most successful teams resides in a little rink call the Agriplace Arena in the north end of town.
    Playing mainly in front of family and friends for the majority of their games, the Saskatoon Stars have piled up the wins and made their name known on the national stage. From 2010-12, they made three straight appearances in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series and won the prestigious Mac’s Midget AAA tournament title in the 2010-11 campaign.
    That era of the Stars featured 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.
Willow Slobodzian is a gifted offensive defender.
    Before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Greg Slobodzian took over as the Stars head coach and the team reached new heights. In Slobodzian’s first campaign, the Stars posted a 45-5 overall record, claimed a second Mac’s title, their first SFMAAAHL championship and first Western regional banner. The season finished with a bronze medal game win at the Esso Cup national championship tournament in Red Deer.
    The Stars were powered by the dynamic duo of Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia that season. Both currently play on the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s female prep team, and Shirley has also found a home in Canada’s national team system playing with the under-18 squad last year.
    Shirley and Elia departed after the 2014-15 season and the Stars proceeded to follow up with an amazing 2015-16 campaign. They posted a 45-13 overall record, won a second SFMAAAHL title and second Western regional banner and finished fourth at the Esso Cup in Weyburn.
    This season, the Stars have stormed out of the gates again posting a 10-1-1 record to sit first in the SFMAAAHL.
Skilled forward Mackenna Parker has gifted smarts on the ice.
    On Sunday at the Agriplace Arena, they bombed the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings 11-1, while dominating with a 63-10 edge in shots.
    Their two biggest names led the way in 16-year-olds Mackenna Parker and captain Willow Slobodzian, who both attended Hockey Canada’s selection camp for its under-18 women’s national team in August. Parker, who has gifted smarts, had a goal and three assists, while Slobodzian, a smooth skating offensive defender, rocketed home two goals and added a helper.
    What has to be scary for opponents is that fact the Stars are bunch of talented and hard-working players. In that romp over Weyburn, Anna Leschyshyn had a pair of goals and an assist. Singles came off the sticks of Jayda Sachs, Jordyn Gerlitz, Abby DeCorby, Kianna Dietz, Abby Shirley and Jordyn Holmes. Rookie goalie Arden Kliewer made nine stops to pick up the win in net.
    The list of goal scorers didn’t include standouts Grace Shirley and Joelle Fiala. Both turned heads last season as underage 14-year-old rookies and are just that much better one year later.
Anna Leschyshyn gets open for a pass on the wing.
    Taya McKersie had the Gold Wings (0-14) lone reply, while Loghan Hennes turned away 52 shots going the distance in the Weyburn goal.
    On Monday, the Stars traveled to Melville for a first place showdown with the Prairie Fire and skated away with 5-1 victory. Parker had a hat trick, while Gerlitz and Julia Rongve had singles. Sophomore Jordan Ivanco made 27 stops to earn the win in goal.
    Megan Leblanc replied for the Prairie Fire, who fell to 10-3. Ashlyn Taillon made 23 stops to take the loss in the Melville net.
    With Greg Slobodzian and assistant coaches Curtis Leschyshyn and Jason Schneider, the Stars have a staff that could run the bench of a Western Hockey League team.
    They also have to be excited about the group of players they have to work with. The bench bosses know they had a driven group that wasn’t going to skip any steps in off-season training. The coaches had to be eagerly anticipating how much faster and stronger their girls were going to be when they came to training camp.
    When the Stars returning players hit the ice, the improvement in their physical power was noticeable. Their wide open style became that much more difficult to stop and impressive to watch.
    They do it all without much media attention, but that is something these girls don’t notice. They are humble enough they blush at the attention they do get.
    For now, the Stars get to enjoy the journey of going through another season, where the rink is the greatest place to be. Next up is a two-game series against the Prairie Fire at the Agriplace Arena. The two clubs meet this coming Saturday at 7:45 p.m. and this coming Sunday at 2:15 p.m.
    From Dec. 26, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017, the Stars will again be playing at Mac’s.
    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the final of that event and playing hockey throughout March and April on another long playoff run.

Back in the Express with Dukate

Sabine Dukate sizes up an offensive situation for the Huskies.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express last week with a feature story on Sabine Dukate, who is the starting point guard for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team.
    The 23-year-old, who is in her sophomore season, came to the Huskies from Ventspiils, Latvia. She played a big role in helping the Huskies captured their first ever U Sports national championship.
    In the U Sports title game last March, Dukate nailed four of seven shots from three-point range, recorded 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals to power the Huskies past the Ryerson University Rams 85-71.
    The story on Dukate can be found right here.

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