Thursday, 9 February 2017

Road to Esso Cup runs through Saskatoon

Stars clinch first in SFMAAAHL for a third straight year

Abby Shirley (#18) is having a career year with the Stars.
    The Saskatoon Stars run of excellence just keeps getting greater.
    On Monday, the Stars locked up first place in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League for a third straight year with an impressive 6-2 victory over Prairie Fire in Melville, who sit second overall in the SFMAAAHL. The win also allowed the Stars to lock up home ice advantage throughout the post-season up until the Esso Cup national championship tournament due to the fact the SFMAAAHL hosts this year’s Western regional playdown series.
    The Esso Cup runs April 23-29 in Morden, Man.
    Against the Prairie Fire on Monday, Stars 15-year-old forward Grace Shirley scored her team’s first three goals and assisted on another to power Saskatoon to victory. Jordyn Holmes, Abby Shirley and Kianna Dietz all added singles for the visitors, while Joelle Fiala had three assists.
Jordan Ivanco made 27 saves to earn the win in goal for Stars, who improved to 21-2-1.
    Megan Leblanc and Heather Fiske replied with singles for the Prairie Fire. Ashlyn Taillon turned away 24 shots to take the loss in goal for the Prairie Fire. The Prairie Fire rebounded from that setback on Wednesday at home downing the Notre Dame Hounds 4-2 to move their record to 19-6-1.
    As the post-season nears, the Stars might have a deeper team offensively than their squads that won the SFMAAAHL title in each of the past two years and advanced to the Esso Cup. So far this season, six members of the Stars are all averaging over a point per game.
    Mackenna Parker leads the way in team scoring with 19 goals and 20 assists. Grace Shirley is second with 17 goals and 15 assists.
    Both Anna Leschyshyn and Fiala each have 30 points. Leschyshyn’s totals come from 14 goals and 16 assists, while Fiala has eight goals and 22 assists.
    In her final season of midget AAA eligibility, Abby Shirley is having her best campaign with 13 goals and 16 assists, which are both career highs. Julia Rongve is also having her best campaign in the midget AAA ranks in her final season of eligibility with nine goals and 17 assists.
    The Stars have four games remaining before beginning post-season play. They travel to Battleford this Saturday and Sunday to face the Sharks.
    The Stars return home on Feb. 18, when they host the Regina Rebels at 7:45 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena. The Stars and Rebels concluded the SFMAAAHL regular season on Feb. 19 at 2:15 p.m. with another showdown at the Agriplace Arena.

First place Huskies tune up for playoffs

Josh Roach breaks into the offensive zone.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team is looking to head into the Canada West playoffs on a high note.
    For the second straight season, the Huskies have locked up first place in the Canada West standings and have home ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs. While the Dogs have been on a roll winning 10 of their last 12 games, they dropped their last outing 4-0 last Saturday to the U of Manitoba Bisons at the ancient Rutherford Rink on the U of S campus.
    U of S locked up first place that night when the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns downed the U of Alberta Golden Bears 4-3 in double overtime in Edmonton.
    The Huskies (19-5-2), who are rated second in the U Sports top 10 rankings, close the regular season on the road traveling to Lethbridge to face the Pronghorns (11-12-3) on Friday and Saturday. The Pronghorns need to earn two more points in the Canada West standings to lock up sixth place and the final playoff berth in the conference.
    U of L should give the Huskies, who will likely try to use all their healthy players this weekend, a stiff test. The two clubs split their games earlier this season at Rutherford.
    On Oct. 21, 2016, the Huskies downed the Pronghorns 3-2 in overtime. One night later, the Pronghorns earned a 5-3 victory over the Huskies.
    The Huskies have a bye into a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series, which they will host Feb. 24 to 26.

Huskies women’s team aims for home post-season series

The Huskies celebrate a goal from Rachel Johnson (#19).
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team is looking to lock up hosting a first round Canada West playoff series for a second straight year, if they can take care of business in their final two regular season games.
    The Huskies (13-10-3) will try to put the skids on a three-game losing streak, when they host the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns (4-19-3), who have lost eight straight, in a two game series. The two clubs face each other on Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.
    The Huskies hold fourth place in the Canada West standings with 38 points collected from nine regulation wins, four extra time wins and three extra time losses. They sit a point ahead of the U of Regina Cougars (13-12-1), who have 10 regulation wins, three extra time wins and one extra time loss. In Canada West women’s hockey play, you earn three points in the standings for a regulation win.
    The Cougars close their regular season by traveling to Calgary to face the U of Calgary Dinos (4-19-3) on Friday and Saturday night.
    The sixth place Mount Royal University Cougars (10-12-4) have an outside shot of leaping both the Huskies and Regina Cougars for fourth place, but Mount Royal must win its final two games in regulation for that scenario a possibility. Mount Royal travels to Vancouver to face the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Friday and Saturday. The Thunderbirds have locked up first overall in Canada West with a 22-3-1 record.
    The Huskies will lock up fourth place and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, if they sweep their series with the Pronghorns with two regulation victories.

Will Willo’s Hockey Canada foray have staying power?

Kaitlin Willoughby breaks up ice for the Huskies.
    When the Huskies women’s hockey team hits the ice this weekend, they will have star forward Kaitlin Willoughby back in the fold.
    Willoughby returned to Saskatoon on Thursday after playing for Canada’s women’s hockey team at the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  On Monday, Canada fell in the gold medal final 4-1 to Russia.
    In five tournament games, Willoughby collected a goal and five assists. During the Winter Universiade, her exploits were followed in a significant way locally on social media.
    A post on this blog from Jan. 21 documenting her heroics scoring the overtime winner in a Huskies 5-4 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds and advancing her departure to the Winter Universiade was extremely well viewed. That post is the fourth all-time most viewed post on this blog.
    Other stories and briefs on Willoughby also popped up in various Saskatoon media outlets and in outlets in her hometown of Prince Albert.
    Now the question is will her Hockey Canada foray have any staying power?
    I personally hope it does. After the Huskies play their final two regular season games and complete their playoff run, Willoughby will have one season of U Sports eligibility remaining. I hope this can further turn into something where she becomes more of a local inspiration for young girls taking up the sport.
    Willoughby’s appearance at this year’s Winter Universiade drew a lot more attention than when recently graduated Huskies offensive defender Julia Flinton helped Canada win silver back in 2015 Winter Universiade in Granada, Spain. Flinton’s appearance seemed to be quickly forgotten outside of anyone that was involved with the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    In December of 2013, Cara (Wooster) Muench was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning team at the Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy, as a recent graduate of the Huskies program. She got to make a few media appearances, but her profile is pretty much forgotten. Her twin sister Cami Wooster is more remembered at least in Saskatoon’s girls minor hockey ranks due to the fact she captained the Huskies to a Canada West title win in her final campaign with the team in 2013-14.
    Breanne George, who is the all-time leading scorer for the Huskies women’s program, was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning team at the 2011 Winter Universiade in Erzurum, Turkey, but you would be really hard pressed to find anyone in the general public that remembers her time at the U of S. Actually, it is a safe bet that a number of the current members of the Huskies women’s hockey team likely don’t know who George is.
    As a rookie, Willoughby scored the double overtime winner in the series deciding Game 3 of the 2014 Canada West championship series against the U of Regina Cougars, and she was the U Sports rookie of the year. Those accomplishments help to further keep her in the public consciousness.
    Here is hoping the momentum she created at this year’s Winter Universiade can keep rolling.

Dach should give Blades an added draw

The Blades recalled Kirby Dach from midget AAA.
    Fans of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades had to be happy to hear on Wednesday that Kirby Dach would be joining the club for the rest of the season.
    Dach, who turned 16 in January, was selected by the Blades in the first round and second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product has appeared in four games on a call up basis with the Blades and has collected an assist and an even rating in the plus-minus department.
    Due to a huge amount of injuries, the Blades recalled Dach from the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers midget AAA team on an emergency basis for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. In 22 games with the Rangers, Dach had six goals and 20 assists.
    The skilled forward, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 170 pounds, recorded 14 goals and 21 assists in 34 games last season playing as an underage player with the Rangers midget AAA squad. Hockey Alberta, Fort Saskatchewan Minor Hockey and the WHL all worked together to accommodate the Blades request to call up Dach.
    In his four appearances with the Blades, Dach dressed for two home games, and spectators generally came away with good impressions. He will be a player that fans will be watching.
    During the 2014-15 campaign in the bantam AAA ranks, Dach turned heads netting 29 goals and 71 assists in 33 regular season games with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers squad at that level.
    Besides the addition of Dach, right-winger Mason McCarty returns to the Blades lineup after having been out with a lower body injury since late last November. He last dressed for the Blades on Nov. 25, 2016 in their 3-2 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Blades (21-26-5-1) return to action Friday when they host the Moose Jaw Warriors (32-15-7-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

Back in the Express with the Leschyshyns

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a big feature story on the Leschyshyn family.
    The story features former NHLer Curtis Leschyshyn watching 17-year-old son, Jake, and 15-year-old daughter, Anna, follow in his footsteps. Jake is a standout centre with the WHL’s Regina Pats, while Anna has been turning heads as a forward with the Saskatoon Stars of the SFMAAAHL.
    The story on the Leschyshyn family can be found right here.

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