Friday, 20 April 2018

Could third time be a charm for Stars at Esso Cup?

Jordyn Holmes, left, and Mackenna Parker hope to enjoy an Esso Cup title.
    Captain Mackenna Parker believes this might the best chance her Saskatoon Stars have of winning the Esso Cup.
    The Stars are making their third appearance in the last four years at the national female midget AAA hockey championship tournament. The Stars open play at this year’s six-team tourney at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre in Bridgewater, N.S., in the event’s first game on Sunday against the Brampton Canadettes from Ontario.
    Saskatoon has a lifetime 8-6 record at the Esso Cup winning a bronze medal in 2015 and falling in the bronze medal game in 2016. Parker, who is in her 17-year-old and final season of midget eligibility, was with the Stars in their previous two visits to nationals and is pumped to return for a third time.
    “I’m so excited,” said Parker, who topped the Stars in scoring with 33 goals and 27 assists in 23 regular season games. “This time I think that we can actually win or if we are doing our best, we actually have a shot at the gold medal.
    “I wanted it last year too. It is more exciting this year.”
    The Stars have an advantage in the experience. Along with Parker, forwards Jordyn Holmes and Kianna Dietz played in the 2015 Esso Cup along with centre Grace Shirley, who was an associate player call up.
Mackenna Parker will go down as one of the Stars all-time greats.
    Winger Jordyn Gerlitz also suited up for the Stars that season at nationals, but she will be unavailable this year due to breaking her collarbone in the Stars 6-2 win in Game 2 of their Western regional playdown series on April 7 against the Eastman Selects in Steinbach, Man.
    Parker, Holmes, Dietz, Gerlitz and Shirley were all part of the Stars team that appeared in the 2016 Esso Cup along with standout forwards Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala, defensive defender Dana Wood and standout netminder Jordan Ivanco. Parker, Holmes, Dietz, Gerlitz, Wood and Ivanco are all playing out their final midget AAA campaigns.
    On top of that experience, Parker and Shirley were members of Canada’s team that won a bronze medal at the under-18 women’s worlds in Dmitrov, Russia, in January.
    Holmes believes her squad’s experience factor will be a calming influence at Esso Cup.
    “It is going to help a lot, especially with the young ones,” said the gritty defensive forward. “We’ll be able to like show them along and teach them what to do.
    “If they are nervous, we can like help them like try to calm it and know what to do with it.”
    Parker believes the fact that her team has a large group of players that have played together for an extended period of years will be a benefit at Esso Cup as well.
    “I think it will help a lot, because we all know each other and we all like have such good chemistry,” said Parker. “There is so many of us graduating this year that we all want it so bad too.
Jordyn Holmes (#44) has been a standout defensive forward for the Stars.
    “We want to go out with that win and doing the best that we can. Especially being able to do it with them the past four years, I think that will be great.”
    For the 10 members of the Stars who will make their first appearance at the Esso Cup, Holmes said the biggest advice she will pass on is to look after yourself physically. If the Stars make the playoff round, they will ultimately play seven games over seven days.
    “With all the hockey, I would say keep your fluids up and make sure you are stretched out and your body is feeling good every day,” said Holmes. “After cooldown at the rink, do it then, but then also back at the hotel.
    “I suggest like that is what I would think would be better for us.”
    Head coach Greg Slobodzian has guided the Stars to their two previous appearances at the Esso Cup. He noted his team has a calm going into this year’s tournament that didn’t necessarily exist in the previous two visits.
    “It is exciting every time you get to go to anything that is hosted by Hockey Canada,” said Slobodzian. “They do such a good job.
    “The first time obviously you go in wide eyed not knowing what to expect excited and giddy. The second time I think we’re like, “Yeah, you know we can do this.” This time, sure there are a few girls that haven’t been to it, but the whole attitude is like, “Yeah, let’s just go there and do it and take care of business.”
Defensive defender Dana Wood is closing out her career with the Stars.
    “It is a little bit different. We’re not going to be as not necessarily awestruck.”
    While the Stars will only be able to use 16 skaters each game due to the injury to Gerlitz, Slobodzian his players can handle the big volume of games.
    “I’m not really worried about our conditioning,” said Slobodzian, whose team is 8-0 in the post-season and 38-6-1 overall this season. “The girls are in really great shape right now. The layoffs that we’ve had in between series have really helped that.
    “It is not as if we are worn out by no means. It is still a lot of hockey, and we have to make sure that you manage the girls’ minutes properly.”
    Of course with a national tournament like the Esso Cup, the Stars will see teams they haven’t played in the current campaign like the Canadettes. Holmes said the big key will be to adjust on the fly.
    “It is going to be difficult not being able to watch on film and know exactly what they are doing,” said Holmes. “We’ll just have to play our game and adapt.”
    The Esso Cup field is rounded out by the defending champion St. Albert Slash from Alberta, the Pionnieres de Lanaudiere from Terrebonne, Quebec, the Northern Subway Selects from New Glasgow, N.S., and tournament hosts Metro Boston Pizza.
The Stars hope to keep the victory celebrations going at Esso Cup.
    The six teams will play each other in a round robin with the top four clubs advancing to the tournament’s two semifinal games, which will be held on Friday, April 27. The bronze and gold medal games will be held on Saturday, April 28.
    Both Parker and Holmes would love to close out their midget AAA careers with a win in the Esso Cup’s championship game.
    “It would mean so much to me,” said Parker.  “I’ve wanted it for the past four years since I’ve played with Stars.
    “I just want to be able to celebrate and throw my hands into the air and like say that I won the Esso Cup with my team. That would be amazing. I hope we can do it.”
    “It would be indescribable what it would feel like to be able to go out with a win my last year,” said Holmes. “It would just be amazing. I just hope so bad.”

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