Saskatoon advances to SFMAAAHL title series to face Bears
|The Stars celebrate a second period goal from Mackenna Parker.|
The Saskatoon Stars didn’t allow the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats to recover from a devastating overtime loss and swept them out of the post-season.
On Wednesday in Swift Current, the Stars prevailed 2-1 in double overtime on a goal from Grace Shirley to take Game 2 of a best-of-five Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League semifinal series between the two teams. The win gave the Stars a 2-0 lead in the series and a chance to sweep the set Saturday night at the Agriplace Arena.
In Game 3 on Saturday, Shirley knocked in a loose puck at the side of the Swift Current net to give the Stars a 1-0 lead just 91 seconds into the contest. The hosts would motor on from there to pull out a 4-0 victory to sweep the series 3-0 against a Wildcats club that took the ice with 15 skaters, which is three short of the maximum 18.
“I think we played a solid 60 minutes,” said Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian. “We had to be really aware of them in the first four to five minutes of each period, because that is when they are fresh.
|Grace Shirley scored twice Saturday night for the Stars.|
“The first five (minutes) after each ice cleaning was really important for us. I thought we did a really good job defensively then. They would get a little bit tired, and we would capitalize.”
After Shirley scored on the Stars first shot of the game, the Wildcats had a glorious chance to pull even when 15-year-old superstar forward Taylor Lind, who led the SFMAAAHL in scoring, was sprung on a breakaway. Lind was turned away by Stars 16-year-old netminder Jordan Ivanco.
With 1:48 to play in the opening frame, Stars standout offensive defender Willow Slobodzian put the hosts up 2-0 scoring on a brilliant individual effort, where she circled through Wildcats defenders in the offensive zone and wired a shot home.
|Willow Slobodzian gets set to blast home a first period goal for the Stars.|
“She scored some big goals for us,” said Slobodzian. “She comes back so hard into the (defensive) zone.
“She is able to create offence all by herself from behind our goal-line. I thought she played really, really well for us.”
Just over there minutes after Parker’s goal, Shirley potted her second of the night to put the Stars up 4-0.
Ivanco made 20 stops to pick up the shutout win in goal. Harper Davey, who is a 15-year-old rookie, turned away 27 shots to take the loss in goal for the Wildcats, who finished fifth in the SFMAAAHL regular season with an 11-10-7 mark.
|Wildcats superstar Taylor Lind was stopped on a first period breakaway.|
“We started strong, and we finished that way too. Obviously we are pretty happy to be moving on.”
Shirley said her first goal was a lucky one, but she thought it helped set the tone for the contest.
“I think that was pretty big,” said Shirley. “It was kind of good to get the momentum kind of at first.
“I am just happy it went in there for us.”
Slobodzian said the turning point in the series was his squad’s Game 2 win in overtime. Had the Wildcats pulled that contest out, the pressure would have been on the Stars to win Game 3 to hold on to home ice advantage before returning to Swift Current for a Game 4.
Instead, the Stars were returning home to Saskatoon to close things out.
|Mackenna Parker sets up in the offensive zone for the Stars.|
“As soon as that happened, I knew they’d be hard pressed to comeback and beat us three in a row.”
The Stars, who finished first in the SFMAAAHL with a 25-2-1 record, advance to the best-of-five league championship series for a third straight year, and they are trying to win the Fedoruk Cup for a third straight year. They will face their traditional rivals the Prince Albert Northern Bears, who finished second in the SFMAAAHL standings with a 22-6 record.
The Stars and Bears last met in the post-season back in 2015 in the SFMAAAHL championship series, which Saskatoon claimed in a three-game sweep.
During 2016-17 regular season, the Stars and Bears split their four head-to-head encounters. They haven’t met since Dec. 14, 2016, when the Stars pulled out a 3-0 victory at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
|The Stars celebrate their series sweep over the Wildcats.|
“They play a lot like us. I can’t wait. It is going to be just a blast.”
Game 1 of the SFMAAAHL championship series is set for this coming Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Agriplace Arena. The rest of the dates for the SFMAAAHL final are still waiting to be announced.
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