Monday, 8 October 2018

Bears’ Soyko delivers masterful performance off the ice

Abby Soyko is proving to be a high quality captain for the Bears.
    Sometimes you get a better story when life throws in its curveballs.
    On Saturday, I decided to travel from Saskatoon to Battleford for that night’s Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League regular season clash between the host Battlefords Sharks and the visiting Prince Albert Northern Bears. Abby Soyko needed to collect just one point that night to become the all-time leading regular season scorer in the history of the Bears program.
    Since I have been really focused on covering the Saskatoon Hilltops and their quest to win a fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title, I had been looking for an opportunity to get out to see the Bears and their game with the Sharks last Saturday at the Battleford Arena provided that chance.
    I figured the night would be simple. Soyko would likely get her point and the Bears would win to create a great early season SFMAAAHL story. With the following the Bears have, I knew their supporters would likely appreciate my effort as it was highly likely that no one else in media would be out covering that game.
    I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for that night.
    The Sharks, who have regularly struggled in the SFMAAAHL, came out flying and took a 2-0 lead into the third period. They looked really good. Having covered the circuit since 2014, that was the best I had ever seen the Sharks play.
    The Bears battled back and ultimately won the game 3-2 in double overtime. Soyko did score the Bears first goal, but it was credited to Bears defender Tobi Fontaine.
    Working on the power-play in overtime, Soyko’s hard midrange shot was tipped home by linemate Kate Ball to win the game. Ball was correctly given credit for the goal, but the assist was given to Lauren Willoughby, who wasn’t on the ice.
    I was shooting pictures of the game, and especially for the overtime goal, the still photos on my camera did not match what was said over the public address system.
    I actually had a bit of panic thinking, “Oh my God. What am I going to do now?”
    I basically had a story that was there and not there all at the same time.
    Adding to the craziness was the fact Sharks veteran 17-year-old defender Keera Tiringer left the contest on a stretcher due to being on the receiving end of a hit from Bears forward Jasper Desmarais, when the Sharks led 2-1 in the third. Tiringer had played an outstanding game to that point, and the crowd at the Battleford Arena was hush silent as the medical staff attended to her on the ice.
Abby Soyko (#19) became the Bears all-time leader in regular season points.
    Both teams were sent to their respective dressing rooms until Tiringer was taken off the ice. I found out after the game Desmarais was pretty emotionally distraught, when she realized how bad Tiringer was hurt.
    Desmarais was given a major for boarding and a game misconduct for the hit.
    That marked the first time I saw a player leave an SFMAAAHL game on a stretcher.
    I decided to stick with making my story revolve around Soyko. When I went to see Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby after the game, we had a quick chat before I did an actual interview. The chat involved me figuring out if it was possible to review the scoring plays on the Bears first and third goals or if there was a way to fix the points.
    Willoughby was outstanding through everything right down to the point where he also talked about Tiringer and hoped that she would be alright.
    After that, I talked to Soyko. Before I actually did an interview, we had a chat, because I wanted to ensure I passed on the information about what I knew about her possibly getting a point out of that game.
    What I found out between the two chats is someone on the ice has inform the officials a mistake was made before intermission comes around to get the official scoring on a play changed.
    Soyko and I figured the scoring plays from Saturday night likely wouldn’t be changed. Soyko said she didn’t hear the announcement of the Bears first goal, but did hear the announcement of the overtime winner. She said she told the referee that she was the one that took the shot that Ball tipped home, but wasn’t planning to make much of a fuss due to the fact it was a long night.
    From there, I did the interview, and Soyko really blew me away there. When she said she wasn’t concerned at all about how the points were given and getting the win was the most important thing, you could tell by her body language and the tone of her voice she was genuine about that. I think I was stunned at that moment.
    As the interview went on, it was pretty clear she didn’t want anyone to get thrown under the bus be it officials or scorekeepers because everyone was human and makes mistakes. Soyko said she had lots of time to get her record breaking point.
Abby Soyko, left, drives a shot on goal for the Bears.
    That was great to hear. Looking back on the time I’ve covered the SFMAAAHL, it is amazing how much the officials and scorekeepers get things right without the aid of being able to roll back video to correct a scoring play. It not the norm for officials to make errors on scoring plays.
    Soyko gave a tonne of credit for how well the Sharks played, and said her side didn’t have the right mindset thinking they were going to get an easy win. Soyko, who stands 5-foot-5, said that was something her side had to correct.
    When we were talking, my mind couldn’t believe I was talking to someone aged 16 who will turn 17-years-old by the end of the month.
    I know in some circles there is a feeling that the SFMAAAHL is a league where you aren’t supposed to conduct those types of interviews that could be awkward or tough. There is a feeling the players should be treated like they were much younger at like age eight.
    During that moment, I learned more about Soyko than I did watching her play on the ice over a number of years. It is easy to guide the ship when the sun is out, the wind is steady and you can bask in the sun. Real character comes out when things aren’t straightforward, and they might even be a little rough as adversity hits.
    Soyko was outstanding in handling that tough moment. She definitely handled that better than a number of current NHLers would, if they were placed in the same spot.
    Along with the fact her outstanding character showed through, you could tell she received great guidance from Willoughby and his coaching staff. Soyko is now in her fifth full season with the Bears having spent two seasons with the club as an underage player.
    As fate would have it, the scoring play was changed for the Bears overtime goal after they left the rink, where Soyko was correctly credited with an assist and Lauren Willoughby, who is Jeff’s youngest daughter, didn’t get a point on the play.
    I suspect the on-ice officials did hear Soyko and likely made the change after filling out a referee’s report regarding the major penalty that was accessed to Desmarais. So Soyko did end up with her 102nd career regular season point to become the Bears all-time regular season scoring leader.
    Kelly Regnier held the old mark recording 50 goals and 51 assists for 101 points in 83 career regular season games played from 2010 to 2013.
    Looking back on the post I wrote from that night, I saw a piece that coaches from any sport could use as a teaching point for their players. The piece could definitely be used as a teaching point for team captains about what the expectations are supposed to be of them. I can think of a couple of coaches at levels of hockey above the SFMAAAHL that might do just that.
    On Sunday at the Battleford Arena, the two sides played another great contest, which the Bears won 3-1 to improve to 4-0, while the Sharks fell to 0-1-1.
Captain Abby Soyko and the Bears celebrate an OT win on Saturday.
    Tori MacDonald, Paige Dawson and Miranda Heidt netted singles for the Bears, while rookie Scout Anderson turned away 26 shots to pick up the win in goal.
    Sydney Rowley replied for the Sharks, while Haylie Biever turned away 37 shots to take the setback in goal.
    Soyko picked up an assist in that win as well. In 112 career SFMAAAHL regular season games, Soyko now has 53 goals and 50 assists for 103 points.
    Before the game, the Sharks announced that Tiringer had been released from hospital and was resting back at home, so that was great news.
    The Bears are now off until Oct. 27, when they travel to Regina to take on the Rebels.
    As the season goes on, Soyko will continue to climb the SFMAAAHL’s career regular season scoring list. She is currently ranked 18th on that list.
    Her MVP performance off the ice on Saturday night showed there is much more to her than what happens on the ice, and that should never be forgotten.

Soyko takes Bears scoring record in stride

    After I found out Soyko did indeed get credit for an assist on the Bears overtime goal on Saturday night to become the team’s all-time career leader in regular season points, I send her an email asking what it was like to have that accomplishment in her SFMAAAHL career.
    She took that accomplishment in fine fashion.
    “Honestly, it’s something I never thought was going to happen,” said Soyko. “I’m thankful for my coaches and teammates that have helped me achieve this goal.”

Merlis Belsher Place opens to rave reviews

    Merlis Belsher Place, which is the new twin pad hockey facility on the University of Saskatchewan campus, has received stellar reviews over the social media and regular media lines since it opened.
    Both University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams have moved into their new home leaving the ancient Rutherford Rink behind. The Huskies women’s team was the first to hit the ice for regular season games this past weekend.
    Leading up to the Friday’s regular season opener against the University of Alberta Pandas, the Huskies put out an all-out advertising blitz for the game. Going around Saskatoon, I ran into a few people that don’t follow hockey that knew about the weekend games for the Huskies women’s team.
    Late in the first period of Friday night’s game, Huskies veteran fourth-year defender Leah Bohlken became the first player to score a goal in the history of the new rink, when she blew a shot past Pandas netminder Dayna Owen on a two-on-one short-handed break.
    That was the only tally of the night as the Huskies came away with a 1-0 victory.
    Star netminder Jessica Vance turned away 24 shots to record the first shutout in the history of the new rink and the 10th shutout of her career.
    Owen stopped 23 shots for the Pandas.
    A total of 1,064 spectators took in that first game marking a new single game attendance record for the Huskies women’s team. The largest crowd that ever came out to see the Huskies women’s team play at Rutherford was 791 back on March 1, 2014, when the Huskies dropped Game 2 of the Canada West Championship series 2-1 to the University of Regina Cougars in quadruple overtime.
    The final configuration for Rutherford only allowed for 845 tickets to be sold for hockey games, while Merlis Belsher Place is operating with about 2,500 seats. When all the seats for the main rink are installed, Merlis Belsher Place will seat 3,437 spectators.
    On Saturday night, Bohlken gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead early in the second period. The Pandas pulled out a 2-1 victory in that contest with Kennedy Ganser and Autumn MacDougall netting singles after Bohlken’s tally in the second frame.
    Vance made 32 saves to take the setback in goal for the Huskies (1-1). Kirsten Chamberlin turned away 25 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Pandas (1-1).
    A total of 815 spectators came out for Saturday’s contest.
    The attendance figures for the first two nights were definitely very encouraging. Hopefully, those in attendance like what they saw and keep returning.
    I did run into a lot of people in Saskatoon over the years, who said they would go see the Huskies hockey teams play when they left Rutherford for a new rink. That seemed to play out true on the opening weekend.
    The Huskies men’s team receive their first game action in Merlis Belsher Place this coming Friday, when they host the University of Calgary Dinos at 7 p.m. The Huskies and Dinos both sport 1-1 regular season records in the early part of the campaign.
    The Huskies women’s team travels to Calgary this coming Friday to take on the University of Calgary Dinos (0-2).

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