Friday, 17 February 2017

Willo’s Huskies legend keeps growing

Star forward powers U of S with hat trick in 4-3 playoff win

Kaitlin Willoughby, right, celebrates one of her three goals.
    The presence of a couple of former teammates helped give Kaitlin Willoughby an extra kick to play at an all-world level.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the 21-year-old star forward with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team could peer into the alumni box to see her former linemates Cami Wooster and Marley Ervine were in attendance for Game 1 of a best-of-three playoff series against the rival University of Regina Cougars. 
    When Willoughby was a rookie in the 2013-14, the trio played an extremely important part in helping the Huskies win their first Canada West title.
    That season, Wooster was the super talented captain in her fifth and final year of eligibility, while Ervine was a third-year heart and soul feisty forward. Together, they had a huge influence in helping Willoughby become the U Sports rookie of the year, and their influence continues help Willoughby be the spectacular player and person she is to this very day.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set for an offensive zone faceoff.
    “They always text me before games too saying they are going to be cheering me on,” said Willoughby, who helped Canada win silver at the FISU Winter Universiade earlier this month in Almaty, Kazakhstan. “That means a lot to like have those girls there just knowing what we’ve done together in the past.
    “It is just awesome to see them there.”
    The Prince Albert product proceeded to put on a show her former teammates could be proud of. She netted a hat trick to power the Huskies to a 4-3 victory before a three-quarters full house at Rutherford.
    Willoughby’s first goal came short-handed on a setup from defender Brooke Patron to put the Huskies up 1-0 early in the second period. After the Cougars went up 2-1, she rocketed home a power-play goal top corner to force 2-2 tie heading into the second intermission.
Kaitlin Willoughby wires home her hat trick goal.
    At the 4:52 mark of the third, Willoughby wired home her third goal of the night to put the Huskies up 3-2.
    “My first goal was pretty lucky there,” said Willoughby. “I just threw it on net.
    “That is what happens when you keep grinding it out. The second two shots I was actually aiming.”
    The contest was also a physical one, and Willoughby didn’t shy away from that aspect of the game either. Besides winning a number of individual battles, she turned heads in the second, when she knocked Cougar defender Krista Metz to the ice. Metz stands an imposing 5-foot-11, and she has a height advantage of five inches on Willoughby.
    Willoughby said her side got locked into the game when Cougars sophomore forward Jaycee Magwood went hard to the net on a rush and nailed Huskies goaltender Cassidy Hendricks early in the first.
Kaitlin Willoughby does a flyby celebration after one of her three goals.
    “I think right off the start we were just like OK we are not letting them have anything tonight,” said Willoughby. “We are not letting that happen again.
    “We beared down, and we battled through.”
    The Huskies lead increased to 4-2, when speedy fourth-year forward Kori Herner scored just two minutes after Willoughby netted her hat trick tally.
    Magwood capitalized on a Huskies giveaway to cut the host’s edge to 4-3 with 3:42 to play. That set the stage for Willoughby to add her final impact on the win.
    With under 35 seconds to play, she broke up ice with the puck and was tripped by Cougars rookie forward Merissa Zerr. That infraction helped put an end to the visitor’s comeback hopes.
    Huskies interim head coach Robin Ulrich said Willoughby definitely stepped up in the series opener.
    “That is an example of what an exceptional player she is and just a difference maker in the game,” said Ulrich. “She is a game breaker, and that is why she is one of the best players in the league.
    “She can make the difference.”
The Huskies celebrate their 4-3 Game 1 victory over the Cougars.
    Tamara McVannel and Magwood both replied with singles for the Cougars.
    Hendricks turned away 28 shots to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. Jane Kish turned away 25 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars. Kish hadn’t given up a goal to the Huskies in two regular season starts.
    The win puts the Huskies in position to sweep the series in Game 2 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.
    The overall intensity of Game 1 was fairly high, and Willoughby expected it to be that way that night and for the rest of the series.
    “We go into the game thinking that it is going to be like an intense game,” said Willoughby. “We don’t take anyone lightly.
    “We went out there, and we had some fun with it. I think things just bounced our way tonight.”
    If a series deciding Game 3 is needed, it will be held Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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