Saturday, 18 February 2017

Where there’s a Willo, there’s a way

Willoughby delivers first round series sweep to Huskies

Kaitlin Willoughby (#17) celebrates her series-winning goal for the Huskies.
    Just when everything seemed dark, Kaitlin Willoughby brought the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team into the light.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies went into Game 2 of their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final playoff series looking for a sweep of the University of Regina Cougars. In the third period of Saturday’s clash, things were looking bleach for the home side.
    The Huskies went into the third period holding a 1-0 lead, but the never-say-die Cougars came out hard and were throwing everything including the kitchen sink at Huskies goalie Cassidy Hendricks recording the first 12 shots on goal in the frame.
    At the 9:33 mark of the third, the Cougars finally broke through as fourth-year defender Jolene Kirkpatrick found the equalizer on her side’s 13th shot of the period to force a 1-1 tie. The Huskies for the most part were unable to get out of their zone, and it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before the Cougars went ahead on the scoreboard.
Kaitlin Willoughby starts her drive on her game-winning goal rush.
    When all hope seemed lost, Willoughby stepped up and stormed into the Cougars zone on a spectacular individual rush. The Prince Albert product wired home the winning goal top corner on Cougars netminder Jane Kish to put the Huskies up 2-1 with 3:35 to play.
    The Huskies came to life to close out the 2-1 victory in Game 2 and sweep the series 2-0.
    “I think when they scored, it was kind of just like you just feel like so upset,” said Willoughby, who had a hat trick in the Huskies series opening 4-3 win on Friday night at Rutherford. “You just have to make sure everyone on the bench is ready to go.
    “We’re not going to let that bother us. I kind of said to everyone like let’s make sure this doesn’t affect us. We got to go out and keep doing what we are doing, because it is going to come our way. It did.
    “I am so proud of how our team played this weekend. If we play like that from here on out, we will be doing good things.”
Defender Jolene Kirkpatrick had the equalizer for the Cougars.
    During the first two periods of Saturday’s game, it seemed like the Huskies would steadily push to a low-scoring win. With 2:09 to play in the first period, Bailee Bourassa accounted for the Huskies first goal thanks to a positive bounce. Huskies sophomore forward Courtney Cormack flipped a shot high on the U of R goal, and it deflected off Bourassa into the net to give the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    After 40 minutes, the Huskies seemed to have control of the game holding a 17-14 edge in shots on goal and having spent long stretches in the U of R zone. In the third, the visitors came in waves, but Hendricks, who is the Huskies fifth-year money netminder, was up to the challenge of holding her team in the game.
    “It was a really hard period,” said Hendricks. “Luckily, there were a lot of faraway shots, so I could control it pretty well.
    “I just had to focus on staying like calm. I just had to focus on making saves and controlling my rebounds. It worked out for the most part.”
Cassidy Hendricks makes one of her 31 saves for the Huskies.
    Hendricks ultimately made 31 stops to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. She admitted she got pretty pumped, when Willoughby put the hosts ahead.
    “I am just so glad to have Willo on the team,” said Hendricks. “She just always performs when she needs to, especially with last night’s three goals.
    “She is just a huge player. I love her on the team.”
    Kish turned away 21 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars.
    The series win was a first for Huskies interim first-year head coach Robin Ulrich, but the bench boss wasn’t overly concerned about that fact.
    “More important, the team got the win,” said Ulrich. “That is all I really care about. Overall, I think it was a real good series for us.
    “Those were a couple of excellent games for us as a team. Tonight, was a big test. Regina came with everything they had.
    “I really like the game that we brought tonight.”
    With the series win, the Huskies advance to play the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series. Game 1 is set for this coming Friday in Vancouver.
The Huskies salute the crowd at Rutherford after their series sweep.
    The two clubs split their four encounters in the regular season. The Thunderbirds finished first in Canada West with a 23-4-1 record and are rated first in the U Sports top 10 rankings. The Huskies were fourth in Canada West with a 15-10-3 mark.
    Willoughby can’t wait to take on the next challenge in the post-season.
    “I think it is going to be awesome going to UBC,” said Willoughby. “We’re not going to take them lightly, but at the same time, we know that we can beat them.
    “We just have to go do the things we’ve been doing all year that had success against them before. It will be an exciting series that’s for sure, but I think it will be good.”

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