Sunday, 26 February 2017

Blades so close, yet so far

Saskatoon blanked 2-0 by Warriors in winnable game

A loose pick sits behind Warriors goalie Zach Sawchenko.
    If the Saskatoon Blades ultimately miss the playoffs, they might look back and regret the final outcomes in games like Sunday’s at the SaskTel Centre.
    Playing their third game in three nights and fourth game in five nights, the Blades dropped a 2-0 decision to the Moose Jaw Warriors in a match where the hosts actually showed some really good jump before a gathering of 3,844 spectators. The Blades played well enough to win, and it seemed they came inches away from obtaining victory.
    The game’s story was pictured in one moment in the second period, when the Blades were working on their second power play of the contest. A point shot from Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek squeezed through the pads of Warriors star goalie Zach Sawchenko and came to rest in the crease of the Moose Jaw goal about a foot in front of the goal-line.
The Warriors celebrate a goal from Luka Burzan.
    The puck sat there loose for what seemed like three seconds, and all the players on the ice stopped what they were doing obviously thinking Sawchenko could see the puck. The referee behind the goal-line was in perfect position to see the puck was loose, so no one blew the whistle. Finally, the players started to move, and Sawchenko had the presence to fall backwards, cover the puck and get a stoppage.
    During that sequence, there were Blades fans sitting behind the Moose Jaw net frantically screaming that the puck was loose hoping someone from the host side would react to those screams. For the fans that saw the loose puck, it had to be a time of agony where they were thinking why one of the Blades players couldn’t shove that puck in.
    It seemed all night the Blades were just inches away from being able to score and get in the game.
Sawchenko was forced to make 29 saves for his third shutout of the season.
    Brock Hamm was solid making 20 stops in the Blades net, and he likely deserved a better fate than getting saddled with another loss to his record. Actually, Hamm has lost his last five starts, but played well enough to be on the winning side in most of those games.
Defenceman Libor Hajek controls the puck at the point for the Blades.
    The power play was a sore spot for the Blades on Sunday, because they failed to score on five opportunities with the man advantage. That was the area where it was obvious the Blades haven’t had a full practice in a while to work out kinks due to the volume of games on their schedule.
    When they tried to transition to the offensive zone or set up in the offensive zone, the Blades looked disorganized. There were times when they would accidently get in each other’s way and even run into each other.
    The Warriors, who improved to 38-17-7-1, made good on a couple of timely opportunities. Just past the midway point of the first period, Warriors rookie centre Luka Burzan put his side up 1-0 scoring from the front of the Blades goal on a good individual effort.
Centre Justin Almeida gets set to blast home a goal for the Warriors.
    With 9:50 to play in the third, sophomore centre Justin Almeida blasted home the Warriors second goal with a shot from the slot to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
    For the last three minutes of the third, the Blades played with Hamm pulled from their net for an extra attacker and had a power play thrown in during that stretch, but still couldn’t put the puck in the Warriors net. The Warriors were pinned in their own zone for lengthy periods of that stretch.
    To add more insult to the situation, the injury bug, which has been awful to the Blades all season, decided to take another bite out of the Saskatoon roster. With 4:10 to play in the second, Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik was on the receiving end from a knee-on-knee hit from Warriors 18-year-old centre Noah Gregor.
    Gregor received a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct. The major penalty call will automatically be reviewed by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
The Blades lost Mark Rubinchik to a knee-on-knee hit.
    Rubinchik was helped by the trainers, but he did skate off under his own power. He ultimately left the game and wasn’t on the Saskatoon bench for most of the third period.
    Blades winger Mason McCarty also received a double minor for high sticking in the third period, and the league will automatically review that play for a possible suspension.
    When everything added up, the Blades fell to 24-31-6-2 and sit two points behind the Calgary Hitmen (24-28-8-2) for eighth place and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. The Hitmen have a game in hand.
    The Blades now have four days off to regroup before hosting the Kootenay Ice (13-38-8-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. With nine games remaining on their schedule, the Blades are down to their last gasp stretch to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
    They need to keep up their effort and find a way to make more of the little inches fall in their favour to avoid once again being on the outside looking in as far as the post-season is concerned.

Huskies season ends in Game 3 heartbreaker

Defender Alyssa Dobler scored the Huskies only goal on Sunday.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team came up one agonizing win short of returning to the U Sports championship tournament for the first time since 2014.
    On Sunday in Vancouver, the Huskies battled the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a series deciding Game 3 in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Haneet Parhar and Kelly Murray.
    With 2:32 to play in the opening frame, the Huskies cut the gap to 2-1 thanks to a goal from fifth-year defender Alyssa Dobler. In a series where goals came at a premium, the Huskies couldn’t find the equalizer.
    Nicole Saxvik scored into an empty net with five seconds to play to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 victory in the game and a 2-1 victory in the series.
    Fifth-year star netminder Cassidy Hendricks stopped 19-of-21 shots playing her final career game in goal for the Huskies. Amelia Boughn turned away 21 shots earning the win in the Thunderbirds goal.
    Besides graduating Dobler and Hendricks, captain Lauren Zary and forward Rachel Johnson also played their final games for U of S in Sunday’s loss.
    The Thunderbirds went into the series as heavy favourites finishing first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 mark and being rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies finished fourth in the conference with a 15-10-3 record, but they split the four head-to-head regular season meetings with UBC.
    With the series win, the Thunderbirds advance to host a best-of-three Canada West championship series against the U of Alberta Pandas. The first game of that series is this coming Friday in Vancouver.
    The Pandas were 21-4-3 during the regular season and rated sixth in the U Sports top 10 rankings. Both the Thunderbirds and Pandas earned berths in the U Sports women’s hockey championship tournament, which runs March 16-19 at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Cassidy Hendricks turned away 19 shots in her final game with the Huskies.
    The Huskies were ultimately done in on two fronts. On one front, they had to rely too much on star forward Kaitlin Willoughby coming through with superhuman games offensively, which is a lot to ask of any player on a night in and night out basis. She was held pointless in the three-game series with the Thunderbirds, and the Huskies only mustered two goals in the entire set.
    U of S’s struggles on the power play also rose to the surface. During the regular season, the Huskies power play ranked second last in the Canada West conference cashing in on only 14-of-132 power-play chances for a 10.6 per cent clip.
    In the Game 3 loss to the Thunderbirds, the Huskies failed to score on six power-play chances, which included four opportunities in the first period. They were also 0-for-12 on the power play in the three game series with the Thunderbirds and 1-for-22 in five post-season games for a 4.5 per cent success rate.
    Despite those deficiencies, the Huskies came up one win short of going to the U Sports championship tournament and had a solid season under first-year interim head coach Robin Ulrich, who performed admirably in her role. She showed she deserves to be a full-time head coach at the university level.
    If the Huskies had another high-end forward that was at Willoughby’s level and a consistent offensive-defender to quarterback the power play, they would likely be advancing in the post-season.     They might be able to recruit those pieces or developing them in one of the returnees next season.
Still, the Huskies took strides forward and are ahead of where they were the past two seasons. That is the big thing that can’t be forgotten in the 2016-17 campaign.

Stars sweep away rebuilding Gold Wings

Julia Rongve had five points on Saturday.
    The Saskatoon Stars returned to the final four of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League after sweeping away the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings 3-0 in a best-of-five opening round series.
    The Stars closed out the series on Saturday at the Agriplace Arena downing the Gold Wings 16-0 in Game 3 of their opening round series. Traditionally, the Gold Wings are one of the stronger programs in the SFMAAAHL, but they are going through a rebuilding cycle.
    Stars veteran forward Julia Rongve, who is in her 17-year-old season, led the way offensively with a hat trick and two assists.
    Jayda Sachs, Brooke Hausermann and Joelle Fiala each scored twice for the Stars. Chance Sperling, Anna Leschyshyn, Jordyn Holmes, Kaitlin Jockims, Mackenna Parker, Abby DeCorby and Grace Shirley all had singles for Saskatoon.
    Jordan Ivanco turned away all 12 shots she faced to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Stars. Myah Battersby turned away 36-of-48 shots starting in goal for the Gold Wings. Meagan Perkins stopped 17-of-21 shots finishing the game in relief.
    The Stars, who were 25-2-1 in the regular season, are looking to win their third straight SFMAAAHL championship and advance to the Esso Cup national championship tournament for a third straight year.
    Saskatoon along with the Prince Albert Northern Bears, who swept away the Battlefords Sharks, are waiting to see who will be their opponents for their respective best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series.
    In the other two best-of-five SFMAAAHL quarter-final series that are still ongoing, the Melville Prairie Fire lead the Notre Dame Hounds 2-1, and the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats had a 2-1 edge on the Regina Rebels.

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