Saturday, 25 March 2017

Stars had magical three-year run, now guard starts to change

Saskatoon graduates trio that were key to success

From left, Julia Rongve, Willow Slobodzian and Dana Wood reflect on a loss.
    It feels like an era is transitioning to a close for the Saskatoon Stars.
    On Tuesday, the Stars 2016-17 campaign came to an end with a 4-2 loss to the Prince Albert Northern Bears at the Agriplace Arena in Game 3 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series. The Bears swept the best-of-five SFMAAAHL championship series 3-0 and captured their second league title in team history.
    Saskatoon saw its two-year run of winning consecutive league titles and advancing to the final four of the Esso Cup national championship tournament come to an end. From 2014 to 2016, the Stars posted a 90-18 overall record, won two SFMAAAHL titles, two Western regional banners and a Mac’s Tournament title.
Julia Rongve jets up ice for the Stars.
    In 2016-17, they topped the SFMAAAHL standings for a third straight year after posting a 25-2-1 mark. The Stars also set a new team record for most points collected in the standings at 76.
    Saskatoon made the final of the Mac’s Tournament in Calgary falling 5-4 in overtime to the Alberta based Rocky Mountain Raiders, while posting a 5-1 record at that event in the process. 
    The Stars won six straight playoff games sweeping the Weyburn Southern Range Gold Wings in a quarter-final series and the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in a semifinal series. The run of success came to an end against a talented and well-coached Prince Albert side.
    One of the cool things about female midget AAA hockey is you get to build teams where you can have a core group of players around for like three years. In midget AAA hockey on the boys side, you usually only return on average six players from the previous season due to losing players to the major junior ranks and the junior A ranks.
    While the Stars can return most of the players from their team this past season, they will lose three key pieces from their run of success to graduation in forwards Julia Rongve and Abby Shirley as well as offensive defender Willow Slobodzian. Those three were the consistent cogs throughout the whole run of success the Stars had the past three seasons and their departure feels like a chapter in team history is coming to a close.
Abby Shirley played with grit and skill.
    Rongve played an unsung hero role for the Stars for four seasons appearing in 112 career regular season games posting 24 goals and 52 assists. During her 15-year-old season in 2014-15, she was the third part of a dynamic scoring line that includes Sophie Shirley and Nara Elia, who both moved on to play for Canada’s under-18 women’s team.
    Rongve’s efforts were often overshadowed by the spectacular performances of her linemates, but she still netted six goals and 17 assists in 28 regular season games. Her production didn’t drop after Shirley and Elia left the Stars. In her final campaign with the Stars, Rongve, who stands 5-foot-8, picked up career highs in goals (nine) and assists (20), and she appeared in all 28 regular season games for a fourth straight campaign.
    She was still often overshadowed by the work of one of her other teammates, and you almost took it for granted that she would come out and give a strong performance. No matter who was on the Stars team, Rongve was always one of the club’s top six forwards.
    Abby Shirley grew into one of the Stars top offensive threats during her three campaigns with the team. The Delisle product appeared in 77 career regular season games posting 31 goals and 32 assists.
    In her final campaign with the Stars, Shirley dressed in 25 regular season games and set career highs for goals (14) and assists (18). On the ice, Shirley played with great speed and tenacity. She wasn’t afraid to battle in the corners and the hard areas, even though she stands just 5-foot-5.
    She often displayed great skill, when she worked in the offensive zone. 
Willow Slobodzian was one of the Stars most dynamic players.
    With her combination of grit and finesse, Shirley will be a good addition to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the fall.
    Slobodzian, who the Stars captain this past season, was arguably the team’s most exciting player, and she was worth the price of admission to watch on a night in and night out basis. She helped control the blue-line for the Stars for three seasons appearing in 84 career regular season games collecting 15 goals and 46 assists.
    In her final campaign with the Stars, Slobodzian, who stands 5-foot-7, appeared in all 28 regular season games for a third straight year, matched her career high in goals at six and set a new career high in assists at 21. 
    Slobodzian was named the top defender in the SFMAAAHL in the 2015-16 campaign, and she made creative plays no one else could make through her entire career.
    An extremely smooth skater on the ice, Slobodzian might be the most polite and well-manner person you could meet off the ice. 
The Stars celebrate an SFMAAAHL semifinal series win. 
    Those characteristics are very prominent when you talk with her. She will no doubt be a great addition to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s hockey team in the fall.
    The Stars will still have a good team next season returning a number of players possessing high-end talent. Potential returnees include forwards Mackenna Parker, Grace Shirley, Joelle Fiala, Anna Leschyshyn and Kaitlin Jockims, veteran grinders Jordyn Gerlitz, Kianna Dietz and Jordyn Holmes, defenders Abby DeCorby, Chace Sperling and Ashley Messier, and goaltenders Jordan Ivanco and Arden Kliewer.
    Still, the dynamics of the team will be different without Rongve, Abby Shirley and Slobodzian. It will up to the returnees to carry the torch that is being passed on.

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