Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Messier, Leschyshyn blast Stars into fourth straight SFMAAAHL championship series

The Stars celebrate Anna Leschyshyn’s game-winning goal.
    The role of classic modest hero seems to suit Saskatoon Stars defender Ashley Messier just fine.
    On Tuesday night at the Agriplace Arena, the 15-year-old Wilcox, Sask., product scored arguably the biggest goal of the season for her team in the current campaign.
    The Stars were trailing the Regina Rebels 1-0 entering the second period of Game 3 of a Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League semifinal series, and the visitors came out of the first intermission buzzing the host side. The Rebels opened the second period holding a 9-1 edge in shots on goal for the frame before their momentum was halted due to a tripping penalty called shortly before the midway point of the stanza.
Ashley Messier had two goals and an assist for the Stars.
    Just 33 seconds into the power play, Messier, who stands 5-foot-2, fired home a shot through a screen to force a 1-1 tie. The 15-year-old defender proceeded to pick up an assist on Anna Leschyshyn’s power-play game-winning goal in the third period and potted an empty-net marker inside of the final minute of the third to seal a 3-1 Stars victory.
    Following the game, Messier actually tried to downplay the importance of her power-play marker that evened the contest up at 1-1.
    “It helps obviously to get tied up,” said Messier. “It is not that I doubted we could have scored after that.
    “It didn’t have to be that power play. I knew that we could do it, and obviously, a goal like that gives a lot of energy and gets momentum going. I think we would have done it anyway.”
Anna Leschyshyn scored on a third period power play.
    The win allowed the Stars to sweep the best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series with the Rebels 3-0 and advanced to the best-of-five SFMAAAHL championship series for a fourth year in a row. They won the SFMAAAHL championship in 2015 and 2016.
    Saskatoon will play the winner of the other best-of-five SFMAAAHL semifinal series between the defending league champion Prince Albert Northern Bears and the Notre Dame Hounds, which is tied 1-1.
    Those two teams face each other in Game 3 in Prince Albert on Wednesday and in Game 4 in Wilcox, Sask., on Saturday. If necessary, Game 5 will be held in Prince Albert on Sunday.
While Messier tried to lighten the impact of her game-tying goal on Tuesday against the Rebels, Leschyshyn was adamant that tally got her team going.
    “The first and the second period we kind of game them life,” said Leschyshyn. “We gave them a bit of hope.
    “We knew we needed to capitalize on the power play and use the power play to our advantage. Ashley (Messier) just shot it from the point, and I think that is what got us going and gave us a bit of momentum to pull off the win.”
Jordan Ivanco makes one of her 24 stops in goal for the Stars.
    The Rebels jumped out to a 1-0 at the 12:58 mark of the first period, when veteran forward Jenna Merk deflected home a power-play goal.
    The visitors started the second with a lot of energy forcing Stars netminder Jordan Ivanco to make a number of big saves to prevent the Rebels from increasing their lead.
    Messier’s equalizer in the second turned the tide in favour of the host side.
    “They had a lot of answers to what we were throwing at them, but we had some really good looks too,” said Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian. “We missed some open nets at the beginning of the first there.
Jenna Merk, left, gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead in the first period.
    “They are a well-coached team. Their goalie really played well, and they were taking things away from us that typically teams don’t. One of the options was for Ashley (Messier) to shoot it from up top.
    “She finally got the courage to do it. She got it through, so it was great.”
    At the 6:55 mark of the third, Leschyshyn roofed home a power play goal past Rebels netminder Chantel Weller to give the Stars a 2-1 lead. The 16-year-old skilled winger felt at ease after putting her team in front.
    “It was really relieving,” said Leschyshyn. “That was when we got to 2-1, and I think that really gave us a lot of momentum and just kept us going.”
    The Stars proceed clamp down defensively for the remainder of the frame, and Messier rounded out the final outcome with her empty-net tally.
    Ivanco made 23 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Weller turned away 33-of-35 shots to take the setback in goal for the Rebels.
The Stars celebrate their return to the SFMAAAHL championship series.
    “It feels great to get the second round out of the way,” said Leschyshyn. “We’re just excited to go back to the finals.”
    “It is like always good to get a sweep,” said Messier. “It gets our confidence up.”
    After the Stars played three games in four days, Slobodzian said the rest period his team will now enjoy will help. While the bench boss plans to give his players some time off, he noted his players are always eager to get back on the ice and sometimes come away disappointed when practice gets cancelled.
    “We have some real hungry girls who love the game, and you can really tell by how they play,” said Slobodzian. “The rest will be nice going into the final. Any time you can sweep a team it is exciting for sure.”

Blades playoffs hopes iced in Brandon

Logan Christensen scored for the Blades on Tuesday night.
    It was a distinction the Saskatoon Blades were hoping to avoid.
    For the fifth straight year, they won’t be taking part in the WHL playoffs.
    On Tuesday, the Blades traveled to Brandon and dropped a 5-3 decision to the host Wheat Kings before 4,715 spectators at Westoba Place. The setback officially eliminated Saskatoon from playoff contention.
    The Blades last made the post-season in 2013, when they hosted the Memorial Cup. They were holding a playoff spot but fell out of the post-season picture posting a 1-6-1 record in their last eight games.
    Saskatoon jumped out to a 1-0 lead in Tuesday’s encounter with Brandon thanks to a goal by third-year centre Logan Christensen at the 7:38 mark of the first period. Just 91 seconds later, the Wheat Kings tied things up at 1-1, when left-winger Linden McCorrister netted his 19th goal of the campaign.
    Marcus Sekundiak, who is a 17-year-old rookie centre, gave the Wheat Kings a 2-1 lead at the 5:50 mark of the second. Blades standout right-winger Max Gerlach potted his 29th goal of the season at the 11:26 mark of the second to force a 2-2 tie on the scoreboard.
    Defenceman Schael Higson scored to give the Wheat Kings a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
Kirby Dach had assists on two of the Blades goals on Tuesday night.
    At the 6:59 mark of the third, Wheat Kings star left-winger Ty Lewis netted his 43rd goal of the season to put the host side up 4-2. Blades left-winger Eric Florchuk potted his 16th goal of the campaign to cut the Wheat Kings edge to 4-3 at the 12:39 mark of the third. Wheat Kings standout right-winger Evan Weinger potted his 30th of the season to round out Brandon’s 5-3 victory.
    Nolan Maier turned away 23 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blades, who fell to 32-33-3-1. Dylan Myskiw turned away 40 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Wheat Kings, who improved to 38-27-3-2 to hold the first wildcard spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    Tuesday’s clash included a second period fight between Blades overage captain Evan Fiala and Wheat Kings star centre Stelio Mattheos.
    Rookie centre Kirby Dach had a pair of assists for the Blades in Tuesday’s loss.
    The Blades have three games remaining on their regular season schedule before they depart into the off-season. They travel to Swift Current to face the Broncos (47-16-4-2) on Wednesday.
    On Friday, the Blades journey to Prince Albert to face their archrivals the Raiders, who hold the second wildcard berth in the Eastern Conference with a 32-25-9-3 mark, for a 7 p.m. clash at the Art Hauser Centre. The Blades close their schedule on Saturday when they host the Raiders at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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