Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Stars and Bears championship showdown seemed inevitable

Rivals face off with SFMAAAHL title on the line

The Stars celebrate Jordyn Gerlitz’s SFMAAAHL title clinching goal in 2015.
    It seemed like the Saskatoon Stars and the Prince Albert Northern Bears were destined to meet in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series.
    All season, they were the two best teams in the SFMAAAHL. The Stars finished first in the league with a 25-2-1 mark to set a new team record for points in the standings at 76.
    In the SFMAAAHL, teams are awarded three points in the standings for regulation wins, two points for extra time wins and one point for extra time losses. All of the Stars wins came in regulation.
    The Bears finished second with their best record in team history going 22-6 recording 62 points in the standings from 18 regulation wins and four extra time wins.
    Both teams advanced the league finals with identical 6-0 records in the post-season. The best-of-five SFMAAAHL championship series for the Fedoruk Cup begins Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.
    Saskatoon enters the series in search of a third straight league championship. Since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, the Stars have posted a 74-9-1 regular season record, but their biggest nemesis over that time has been the Bears. The Stars and Bears slip their four head-to-head regular season encounters in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Willow Slobodzian controls the puck at the point for the Stars.
    This season, the Stars won both games in regulation in Prince Albert, and the Bears claimed a regulation and overtime victory in the two encounters in Saskatoon. The two teams haven’t met since Dec. 14, 2016, when the Stars took a 3-0 decision in Prince Albert.
    Of course, the Stars won the three biggest encounters between the two clubs, when they swept the best-of-five league championship series 3-0 in 2015 to capture their first Fedoruk Cup.
    Still, the groundwork has been set for a classic rivalry, which seems to come with the territory when elite hockey clubs from Saskatoon and Prince Albert meet.
    This season, both teams are loaded with star players and have elite level coaching staffs.
    For Saskatoon, Clavet products Mackenna Parker, who is a skilled forward, and Willow Slobodzian, who is a talented offensive defender, have been two of the Stars key core players in each of the last three seasons. During the regular season, Parker netted career highs in goals (24) and points (44) to lead the Stars in scoring. Slobodzian, who is the Stars captain, matched her career high in goals (six), and set new career highs in assists (21) and points (27).
    Forwards Abby Shirley and Julia Rongve have been two other constant keys in the Stars success over the last three seasons, and both had career seasons in their 17-year-old and final midget AAA campaigns. Shirley, who will join the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the fall, had career highs in goals (14) and assists (18), and Rongve also had personal bests in goals (nine) and assists (20).
Mackenna Parker has been stellar for the Stars all season.
    Besides the older veterans coming through with huge seasons, 15-year-old standout forwards Grace Shirley, Joelle Fiala and Anna Leschyshyn also has spectacular campaigns finishing second, third and fourth respectively in team scoring. Shirley piled up 21 goals and 16 assists, Fiala totaled 12 goals and 23 assists, while Leschyshyn netted 15 goals and 18 assists.
    In goal for Saskatoon, sophomore Jordan Ivanco and rookie Arden Kliewer have pretty much split time. Ivanco recorded a 15-1 record, a 1.25 goals against average, a .939 save percentage and six shutouts during the regular season. Kliewer posted a 10-1-1 record, a 1.41 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and two shutouts during the regular campaign.
    Behind the bench, the Stars have been guided by the stellar work of head coach Greg Slobodzian and assistant coaches Curtis Leschyshyn, who was a long time NHL player, and Jason Schneider.
    For the Bears, their biggest star is 17-year-old offensive defender Brooke Hobson, who was a member of Canada’s under-18 women’s team. Hobson appeared in 24 regular season games recording 11 goals and nine assists to lead all Prince Albert blue-liners.
    Prince Albert product Abby Soyko topped the Bears in scoring as a third-year 15-year-old piling up career highs in goals (18) and points (31). Her 13 assists matched a career high.
    Saskatoon product Kate Ball was second in Bears team scoring recording 15 goals and 15 assists as 15-year-old rookie forward. Camryn Amundson, who is a 16-year-old forward from Debden, was third in team scoring piling up 13 goals and 14 assists in being named the SFMAAAHL’s most sportsmanlike player.
Jordyn Gerlitz in the present day might be an X-factor again.
    In goal, sophomore Ryan Fontaine and rookie Brooklyn Elek have split time. During the regular season, Fontaine posted an 11-4 record, a 1.79 goals against average, a .906 save percentage and five shutouts. Elek recorded an 11-2 record, a 1.61 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and four shutouts.
    The Bears also have top rate staff behind the bench in head coach Jeff Willoughby and assistant coaches Tim Willoughby and Gord Hobson.
    The fate of the series might likely rely other players coming to the forefront as X-factors. When these two clubs met in the 2015 SFMAAAHL championship series, Jordyn Gerlitz and Kianna Dietz netted the Stars only goals in a 2-0 series clinching Game 3 win. Gerlitz and Dietz are in their 16-year-old seasons with the Stars having built reputations of performing any role the coaches ask of them.
    This series has the potential to be a classic. Game 2 is set for Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, Game 3 is slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena, Game 4, if necessary, will be held at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert on Thursday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Game 5, if necessary, will be held Sunday, March 26 at 5 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena.

Adolph, Cooke and Forsberg take U Sports honours

Dave Adolph was named U Sports coach of the year.
    Veteran University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey head coach Dave Adolph was able to accomplish a first on Wednesday at the U Sports men’s hockey awards ceremony held in Fredericton, N.B., ahead of the University Cup national championship tournament.
    Adolph was named the winner of the Father George Kehoe Memorial Award as the U Sports coach of the year. He had been named the Canada West coach of the year in 1997-98, 1999-2000 and this season, but this was the first time he was named the coach of the year at the national level in U Sports.
    Adolph’s 421 career Canada West conference victories are the most all-time. This past season, he guided the Huskies to a second straight first place finish in Canada West with a 21-5-2 record. The Huskies advanced to the best-of-three Canada West championship series, where they fell 2-1 to the U of Alberta Golden Bears.
    The long-time Huskies bench wasn’t the only U of S award winner on Wednesday. For the second straight year, Jordon Cooke was named the U Sports goaltender of the year and a first team all-Canadian all-star. Cooke posted a 19-4-2 record, a 1.94 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and four shutouts.
    Huskies offensive defender Jesse Forsberg was named a second team all-Canadian. Forsberg piled up 11 goals, 16 assists and a plus-eight rating in the plus-minus department appearing in all 28 regular season games for the Huskies.
    The Huskies face the York University Lions in a University Cup quarter-final match on Friday.

Back in the Express with Fiala

Evan Fiala is all smiles playing defence for the Blades.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on Saskatoon Blades defenceman Evan Fiala.
    Fiala, who is a Clavet product, arrived back in his hometown area after the Blades made a trade with the Spokane Chiefs before the WHL’s Christmas break in December. The 19-year-old has jumped into doing a lot of the Blades community appearances, and he has become one of the team’s most popular players.
    His family is well-known around local hockey circles. His younger sister, Joelle, is a standout with the Stars and his youngest sister, Jocelyn plays for Clavet’s peewee tier two team.
    The Blades also received a bit of good news on Wednesday as their faint playoff hopes remained alive, when the Calgary Hitmen fell 5-1 to the Rebels in Red Deer.
    The Hitmen (28-32-8-2) lead the Blades (27-34-7-2) by three points for eighth place overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and for the conference’s final wildcard post-season berth. Both teams have two games remaining on their respective regular season schedules.
    The Blades host the Prince Albert Raiders (20-43-5-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. The night’s 50/50 jackpot starts at $50,000. The Blades and Raiders go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    The Hitmen travel to Cranbrook, B.C., on Friday to face the Kootenay Ice (14-44-10-2). The Hitmen and Ice go at it again on Saturday in Calgary. Calgary needs to earn two more standings points to clinch a playoff berth.
    The Saskatoon Express feature on Fiala can be found right here.

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