Saturday, 24 November 2018

Kushniruk rises from nowhere to be key member of Bears

17-year-old forward set to play at U of Regina next season

Jadyn Kushniruk became a Bears assistant captain this season.
  PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Jadyn Kushniruk was a diamond in the rough the Prince Albert Northern Bears found.
    During her 13-year-old season, Kushniruk was playing female house league bantam hockey in Saskatoon, where she was discovered by Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby. Willoughby liked Kushniruk’s skating and physical strength and invited her to come to training camp with the Bears.
    From that invite, Kushniruk hasn’t looked back. She made the Bears, who are one of the top teams in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, as a 14-year-old underage player in the 2015-16 campaign.
    As a 15-year-old sophomore in 2016-17, Kushniruk recorded 11 goals and seven assists appearing in all of the Bears 28 regular season games.
Bears C Jadyn Kushniruk, left, checks Wildcats F Carissa Hogan.
    She helped them win the SFMAAAHL title, a Western regional playdown series and appear in the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
    Kushniruk, who stands 5-foot-4, had a solid third season posting 10 goals and five assists in 26 regular season games with the Bears. This past summer, she committed to playing for the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks starting in the 2019-20 campaign.
Currently in her 17-year-old and final midget AAA season, Kushniruk is helping lead the Bears as one of their assistant captains.
    “It is awesome,” said Kushniruk. “I love being here.
Jadyn Kushniruk smiles after scoring a first period goal.
    “Spending my fourth year being a leader on the team is really awesome. I am hoping to have the young girls look up to me and just do my best and leave my mark on the team as I am graduating.
    “Before I came, I played a lower level of hockey that I shouldn’t have, and Jeff (Willoughby) found me. It was really nice that he showed confidence in me early, and it is helping me to build confidence as I go on through my last year and move on to next year.”
    On Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre, Kushniruk gave the Bears a 1-0 lead against the visiting Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in a SFMAAAHL regular season clash just 3:10 into the first period. She drove hard to the net on a rush into the offensive zone and tipped home a beauty setup pass from linemate Alli Soyko on the backdoor of the Swift Current goal to put the Bears ahead.
Alli Soyko (#22) set up the Bears first goal by Jadyn Kushniruk.
    That quick start helped propel the Bears to a 5-2 victory.
    Kushniruk broke an eight-game goalless drought with her tally against the Wildcats.
    “It was really nice,” said Kushniruk. “I had been looking to score a goal for a couple of games now.
    “Alli (Soyko) made a perfect pass, a perfect feed and I couldn’t have asked for a better setup to start the game.”
    Kushniruk has four goals and five assists appearing in all 11 of the Bears regular season games in the current campaign. Willoughby is pleased to see how far his hard-working forward has come in her midget AAA career.
Rhea Peterson scored the Bears third goal on Saturday.
    “She is not the typical bantam AA that moves on to (midget) AAA,” said Willoughby. “To see her from start to finish committing to Regina now, it is just a real good feel good story. You don’t hear them all the time.
    “We’re just proud of her. Everything she has gotten she has earned. She is just one of those consistent players that just sets a good example every night.
    “We’re lucky to have her.”
    The Bears expanded their lead to 2-0 with six minutes remaining in the first on a near identical play to Kushniruk’s goal only with 16-year-old forward Brookyn Anderson sending a beauty feed to linemate Kailey Ledoux, who notched her third goal of the campaign.
    Anderson set up the Bears third goal at the 6:13 mark of the second hitting sophomore forward Rhea Peterson with another backdoor setup pass to give the Bears a 3-0 edge.
Brooklyn Anderson had two assists for the Bears on Saturday.
    “We’re happy with the start we’ve had,” said Willoughby, who team’s previous game was a 3-2 overtime loss to the Stars in Saskatoon back on Nov. 11. “Obviously, we were off for a couple of weeks.
    “We didn’t know how the feel would be, but I think the girls made a connection right away, made some nice passes, had some puck possession and scored a couple of quick goals. I think that just helped set the table for the rest of the game for us.”
    The Wildcats answered back just 23 seconds after Peterson’s tally, when 16-year-old forward Sara Kendall roofed a shot past Bears netminder Lexi Beuker to cut the Bears lead to 3-1.
    Before the second period ended, sophomore 15-year-old forward Paris Oleksyn tipped home a point shot from defender McKenzie Mayo to give the Bears a 4-1 edge. Bears star forward Kate Ball expanded that advantage to 5-1 scoring 79 seconds into the third period.
    The Wildcats rounded out the game’s scoring with 12:33 to play in the third period with a short-handed goal coming from Crystal Wale.
Taylor Lind picked up assists on both Wildcats goals on Saturday.
    Beuker made 24 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Bears (6-4-1). She made a least three huge saves on Wildcats star forward Taylor Lind including a sprawling stick paddle stop on a breakaway with 11.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
    Lind picked up assists on both Swift Current goals.
    Harper Davey turned away 24 shots to take the setback in goal for the Wildcats (3-5-1).
Both teams face each other again on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Looking to the future after this season, Kushniruk is looking forward to playing at the university level with the Cougars. Near the end of this past summer, she received an email from Cougars head coach Sarah Hodges regarding interest about joining the Cougars.
    Kushniruk said she was in right at the start. She was brought in to visit the U of R campus.
Lexi Beuker holds on to one of her 24 saves in goal for the Bears.
    During that visit, Kushniruk went to lunch with Hodges, and the veteran bench boss told the young forward she definitely had a spot on the team and gave Kushniruk time to think things over. Kushniruk said she didn’t need to think things over and wanted to go ahead full steam in joining the Cougars.
    Kushniruk’s mom, Tracey, is originally from Regina.
    “It is exciting,” said Kushniruk. “It will be nice to have the support of my family there.
    “(Bears alum) Ireland (South) is there too, so it will be nice to play back with her again and have a couple of familiar faces on the team that will welcome me in.”
    Before she heads off to join the Cougars, Kushniruk hopes to enjoy a special season to conclude her time with the Bears.
The Bears celebrate their win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
    “We just want to continue to push ourselves to be better and better,” said Kushniruk. “Winning league and Esso is not too far out of our reach, so I think that is what we are all kind of hoping for.”

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