Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Adversity will make Slobodzian stronger

Expect Stars grad to “bring it” at Hockey Canada camp

Willow Slobodzian controls the puck at the point for the Stars.
    Over the past 12 months, it seemed like adversity piled up on Willow Slobodzian, but you can expect it to help her in hockey.
    Growing up in Clavet and playing her minor hockey in the Saskatoon area, Slobodzian made the game look easy. The offensive-defender skates beautifully and effortlessly, has vision on the ice to see a game no one else sees and can fire home the puck with a gift of a deadly accurate shot.
    There might not be a sweeter sight than Slobodzian going coast-to-coast and wiring home a goal past a startled netminder.
    As she progressed to play with the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, tales started to rise up from the local rinks about how good Slobodzian was growing up, and you don’t know if they are true or not. There were a number of stories of her going to all-boys hockey camps growing up and coming away with the camps award as the best defender.
Willow Slobodzian looks to make a pass in the offensive zone.
    Slobodzian, who turned 17 in January, never confirmed those stories when asked about them. She would smile, laugh and shy away from the queries.
    Off the ice, Slobodzian was the most perfect well-manner teenager you could ever meet. During interviews and interactions with others, she carried herself in a fashion similar to the way Wayne Gretzky did in his iconic NHL playing days.
    Slobodzian spoke with politeness, insight and class. She always had great things to say about her teammates, coaches and opponents.
    It seemed like she would have a charmed life in hockey.
    Last summer, new doors started opening in the sport for her. In July of 2016, she attended a women’s high-performance camp hosted by the International Ice Hockey Federation in Finland.
    In August of 2016, she took part in Hockey Canada’s under-18 women’s team selection camp. From that camp, Slobodzian was selected to play for Canada in a three-game series against the United States later on that month, but she was left off the roster for the under-18 worlds held in January in the Czech Republic.
Willow Slobodzian gets set to make a pass to her defensive partner.
    That marked the first time Slobodzian, who stands 5-foot-7, had been cut from any hockey team she tried out for. After the initial shock, she didn’t let that get her down.
    She returned to play her third and final season for the Stars and was named the team’s captain for her final campaign. Saskatoon romped through the regular season with a 25-2-1 record and advanced to the SFMAAAHL title series for a third straight year. The Stars won the Fedoruk Cup in 2015 and 2016 and earned a berth in the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament in both those years.
    This time, the Stars season ended in March after they were swept 3-0 in a best-of-five series by a stellar Prince Albert Northern Bears side.
    Shortly after that series ended, Slobodzian’s life was turned upside down, when she discovered she would have to find a new post-secondary hockey home.
Willow Slobodzian sneaks in from the point.
    She had committed to joining the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s hockey team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but the team was folded in a shocking announcement on March 29.
    Global’s sports department in Saskatoon localized the story, and Slobodzian spoke to them about the situation shortly after it happened. Often in today’s media landscape in Canada, it is starting to be more common place that teenagers in sports are almost viewed as little kids, and they don’t get asked about tough subjects very often.
    The way Slobodzian handled her interview after the Fighting Hawks folded at age 17 showed more maturity than most adults have especially when you consider that tough situation was totally out of her control.
    Slobodzian caught on with the NCAA’s Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team a short time after the Fighting Hawks women’s team folded and will join the Big Red in Ithaca, New York, for the upcoming season.
    Having graduated from Clavet High School in June, Slobodzian is heading back for a second shot to make Canada’s under-18 women’s team. She will take part in Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase that runs from Aug. 5 to 13 in Calgary.
    Slobodzian is one of 42 players that are part of the under-18 camp. The invitees include now former Stars teammates and forwards Mackenna Parker and Grace Shirley along with SFMAAAHL defenders Hannah Koroll from the Bears and Taylor Kirwan from the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats.
Willow Slobodzian helped the Stars win two SFMAAAHL titles.
    The players will be dived into two teams that will play two intrasquad games against each other. Each will team will also play two games against an under-18 team from Russia. Besides game action, the players at camp will participate in several practices, off-ice dryland training, fitness testing and classroom sessions.
    From the selection camp, 23 players will be selected to play for Canada’s under-18 team in a three-game series against the United States that runs from Aug. 17 to 20 in Lake Placid, New York. Following the series, Hockey Canada scouts along with the team’s coaching staff will continue to evaluate players to choose Canada’s roster for the 2018 under-18 women’s world championships, which will be held Jan. 6-13 in Dmitrov, Russia.
    Going into this year’s under-18 Hockey Canada camp, Slobodzian will be motivated. In sports, athletes often have to rise past disappointments, and Slobodzian has another golden chance to show she can persevere.
Willow Slobodzian gets set to drive a shot on goal.
    During her three seasons with the Stars, she never missed an SFMAAAHL regular season or post season game. Between the SFMAAAHL regular season and playoffs, Slobodzian appeared in 113 career games collecting 25 goals and 59 assists.
    In the 2015-16 campaign, Slobodzian was named the SFMAAAHL’s top defender and a first team all-star. She was an SFMAAAHL first team all-star this past season.
    She is also physically tough, which might be one of her most underrate traits. One time while playing on Saskatchewan’s provincial team, she was hammered hard into the boards by a member from the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team during an exhibition game.
    Slobodzian injured her shoulder, but she played through the injury and was still effective. Besides already being a great player, that moment made her a warrior.
    Slobodzian has always achieved great things, and you can expect she will continue to achieve great things. Her dream and goal is to play for Canada women’s team at the Olympics, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those hopes become a reality one day.

Shirley, Willoughby and Magwood off to Summer Showcase

Sophie Shirley (#8) helped the Stars win an SFMAAAHL title in 2015.
    Sophie Shirley, Kaitlin Willoughby and Jaycee Magwood will all be participating in Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase.
    Shirley, who has been part of Canada’s under-18 women’s team for the past two seasons, will be one of 25 players skating as part of Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp. They will be competing for spots on the Canadian team that will compete at the 2018 Nations Cup in Fussen, Germany in January.
    Besides her time with Canada’s under-18 women’s team, Shirley, who is an 18-year-old forward, officially dressed for her first two games with Canada’s Senior National Women’s team in December of 2016 as part of a two-game series in Sarnia, Ont., and Plymouth, Mich.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set to drive a shot on goal.
    The Saskatoon product also played 36 games last season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s female prep team based out of Penticton, B.C., collecting 32 goals and 28 assists.
    Shirley helped the Saskatoon Stars win their first SFMAAAHL title in the 2014-15 campaign and earn a bronze medal at the Esso Cup national female midget AAA championship tournament. She was named the SFMAAAHL’s most valuable player that season.
    The players at the development team selection camp will participate in several practices, intrasquad games, off-ice dryland training, fitness testing and classroom sessions.
    They will also play two games against a national team from Japan and two games against a team of all-star players from the U Sports women’s league.
Jaycee Magwood sets to unload a turnaround shot.
    The roster of the U Sports team was announced on Tuesday and it includes Willoughby and Magwood, who both helped Canada win a silver medal at the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan in February.
    Willoughby is a star centre with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team. She led the Huskies in scoring last season despite missing time due to her Team Canada commitments recording 11 goals, 10 assists and a plus-nine rating in the plus-minus department in 24 regular season games.
    Her goal total and plus-minus rating were both career highs, and in four seasons, the Prince Albert product has piled up 41 goals and 51 assists in 106 regular season games.
    Magwood is a star forward with the University of Regina Cougars women’s team. She led the Cougars in scoring recording 12 goals, 12 assists and a plus-eight rating. In two seasons, the Killarney, Man., product has posted 23 goals and 27 assists in 52 regular season games.
    The U Sports all-star team consists of 21 players, and they will also the national team from Japan twice.

Amundson commits to Mount Royal

Camryn Amundson drives into the offensive zone for the Bears.
    Speedy Prince Albert Northern Bears forward Camryn Amundson has found a post-secondary home following the completion of her midget AAA career.
    On Monday, the Bears set out a tweet that said Amundson had committed to joining the Mount Royal University Cougars women’s hockey team in U Sports. Last season, Amundson piled up 13 goals and 14 assists in 27 regular season games with the Bears.
    She played a key role in helping the Bears win their second league title recording five goals and three assists as Prince Albert rolled through the SFMAAAHL playoffs to capture the Fedoruk Cup with nine straight wins. The Bears swept a best-of-three Western regional playdown series 2-0 against the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats to advance to the Esso Cup national female midget AAA championship tournament for the first time.
    Amundson will play her 17-year-old and final season of midget AAA eligibility with the Bears in the fall.

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