Saturday, 21 January 2017

Willo strikes again for Huskies

Star forward delivers a classic finish for U of S

Kaitlin Willoughby, centre, celebrates her OT winner.
    Kaitlin Willoughby played like she was from another world and delivered what was the biggest moment of the season so far for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Willoughby’s Huskies went into overtime locked in a 4-4 draw with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who are ranked first in the CIS top ten rankings. Of the opening faceoff of the extra session, Huskies captain Lauren Zary won the draw to Willoughby who went to work.
    She sped down the left wing into the Thunderbirds zone, cut to the net and sniped the winning goal top corner past diving Thunderbirds defender Kelly Murray and netminder Amelia Boughn. The tally nine seconds into the extra session delivered the Huskies to a 5-4 victory. Willoughby’s winner erased the disappointment in the fact the Huskies saw leads of 3-0 and 4-2 disappear.
    The 21-year-old Prince Albert product also scored the most famous overtime winner in the history of the Huskies women’s hockey program in her rookie campaign back in the 2013-14 season. Her double overtime winner in the series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West championship series against the U of Regina Cougars gave the Huskies a 2-1 victory in that contest and a 2-1 victory in the series.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set to snip her OT winner.
    That shot came from a mid-range distance near the left boards. Her OT winner on Saturday was way more spectacular.
    Actually, Willoughby, who is in her fourth year of eligibility, arguably played the two best games of her university career this past weekend launching herself on to Canada’s women’s hockey team for the FISU Winter Universiade. The event runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Willoughby departs in short order to join the Canadian team to prepare for that event. That means she will miss the Huskies next four games.
    Against the Thunderbirds on Friday and Saturday at Rutherford, Willoughby played with intensity and with a huge chip on her shoulder. She assisted on the Huskies only goal on Friday in their 2-1 double overtime loss to the Thunderbirds. Her OT winner on Saturday was the only point she had in that contest.
    In both games, Willoughby could have had larger nights statistically. On the ice, she seemed a step faster than she normally is and much more powerful physically than she usually is. It felt like she won every one-on-one physical battle or any other battle where she was outnumbered.
    Her passes were that much more crisp and Boughn, who played both nights in net for the Thunderbirds, had to be that much more on her toes to stop Willoughby’s shots. For large stretches especially in Friday’s game, Willoughby basically imposed her will on what was going on and dominated play. If you were at the Ruthy on both nights this weekend, you realized you saw something special, when Willoughby stepped on the ice.
Kaitlin Willoughby celebrates scoring her OT winner.
    Despite her heroics over her career, Willoughby isn’t as big of a star as she should due to all the cuts in the mainstream media. When she scored her OT winner on Saturday, there were no mainstream outlets to spread the news and images of that moment, because they were all concentrated at the home opener of the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League.
    In a past era, mainstream outlets had the ability to staff both events. As far as female athletics go at the University of Saskatchewan, Lisa Thomaidis, who is the head coach of the Huskies women’s basketball team, is the only one who has a far reaching high profile.
    When Thomaidis’s hoopsters won a national title last season, it marked the swan song of fifth-year veteran star post player Dalyce Emmerson, who also happens to be a Prince Albert product. Emmerson, who was a Canada West player of the year in 2014, was well-known on campus, but it never felt like she was a household name in the community of Saskatoon at large.
Kaitlin Willoughby clears the puck out of harms way in the defensive zone.
    Willoughby and her younger sister and Huskies teammate, Morgan, are well-known in their hometown, but the neither are household names in Saskatoon. With her resume of heroics and due to the fact she plays in Saskatoon on a regular basis, Kaitlin Willoughby should be a household name. She is arguably the biggest female star right now in the Huskies Athletics program.
    It seems female athletes need to be on Olympic teams or go to the NCAA to get any notoriety these days. That wasn’t always the case.
    One just has to look at Regina for one example in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team came into national prominence under then head coach Christine Stapleton. The Cougars hoopsters of Stapleton’s era won a number of conference titles and a national title in 2001.
Kaitlin Willoughby breaks into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    During that time, the Cougars women’s basketball team was elevated to a level of importance that matched the Regina Rams football team and the Regina Pats WHL club. Stapleton’s players became celebrities in the community, and are still remembered to this day.
    The Cougars biggest star of that time was Cymone Bouchard, who was viewed in Regina like she was Michael Jordan. Bouchard’s rise through the athletic scene in Regina was well covered, as she was a star in every sport she played growing up and in high school. When she chose to play basketball in university and play for the Cougars, her choices were treated as major news.
    With the Cougars, Bouchard filled weekly highlight reels with unbelievable plays, and would go to the mall and often have to sign autographs for 30 little girls that immediately recognized her. She spent time in Canada’s national team program, and for about three years after she exhausted her eligibility with the Cougars, she was often viewed by girls in Regina and hoopsters in other communities as “the idol.”
Kaitlin Willoughby zips up the left wing for the Huskies.
    Bouchard had the total package. She was attractive and extremely athletic, but more importantly, she immediately elevated the Cougars team by her presence and had an extremely impressive self-confidence. She was also very personable to interact with, which made her the ideal athlete to look up too.
    The Cougars and Bouchard received that elevated platform, because they got a push.
    In the current media slashed era, Emmerson didn’t get that same push, which looking back has to be viewed as a missed opportunity.
    Willoughby has earned the chance to get that same type of push. In her case, it feels like there is another missed opportunity that is falling through the cracks, and she still has another full season of eligibility left to play.
The Huskies mob Kaitlin Willoughby after she scores her OT winner.
    She would perfectly fit the role of household name role model. Anyone would be wise to check out a Huskies game and see her play before she exhausts her eligibility. Willoughby won’t disappoint.
    As far as the other scoring went in Saturday’s U of S win, Rachel Johnson, Emily Upgang, Kori Herner and Bailee Bourassa all netted singles for the Huskies (12-7-3) on Saturday. Cassidy Hendricks turned away 17 shots to pick up the win in the U of S net.
    Nicole Saxvik scored twice for the Thunderbirds (18-3-1), while Kelly Murray and Hannah Clayton-Carroll had singles. Boughn stopped 21 shots to take the loss in the UBC net.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Regina to face the Cougars.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.