Saturday, 22 December 2018

Kushniruk on fire for Stars

Saskatoon forward has points in eight straight games

Makena Kushniruk has 16 points in the Stars last eight regular season games.
    Makena Kushniruk is suddenly all for playing through the Christmas break.
    The 15-year-old sophomore winger for the Saskatoon Stars has been on fire for a little over a month. On Saturday, Kushniruk had two goals including the winner in the third period to lift the defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champions to a 3-2 regular season victory over the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats at Merlis Belsher Place.
    With those goals, Kushniruk has points in her last eight straight regular season games totaling 10 goals and six assists over that period of time. In helping the Stars post an 18-0 regular season record, Kushniruk has piled up 12 goals and 13 assists to sit fourth in the SFMAAAHL scoring race.
Makena Kushniruk (#10) celebrates her winning goal for the Stars.
    She has way surpassed her offensive totals from her rookie campaign last season, where she had three goals and eight assists appearing in all of the Stars 28 regular season contests.
    Kushniruk said her consecutive games point streak has greatly improved her confidence. As a rookie last season, she admitted there were times she was overwhelmed playing on a team that contained numerous standout veterans like Grace Shirley, Joelle Fiala, Anna Leschyshyn and Mackenna Parker. Parker graduated from the squad at the end of last season.
    “Last year was a little intimidating,” said Kushniruk. “I felt like I couldn’t take the puck.
    “I thought I always had to pass it to an older player, because they have more experience. I know now that it is not about that, and that I have the ability to do it.”
    More often than naught this season, Kushniruk has found herself as the trigger person playing on a forward line with Fiala, who is an ultra-skilled playmaker.
Makena Kushniruk, right, clears the puck on the penalty kill.
    With the Stars locked in a 2-2 tie in the third period with the Wildcats, Kushniruk tipped home a sweet set up pass from Fiala to net the winning goal for Saskatoon with 8:38 to play in the frame.
    “It feels just so good,” said Kushniruk about scoring the winning goal. “It doesn’t really matter if it was me or anyone else on the team.
    “It is just that we got the goal in and came out with the win.”
    Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian was pleased to see Kushniruk has found her offensive touch.
Joelle Fiala assisted on the Stars winning goal.
    “She had a real good summer this year, and she really developed,” said Slobodzian. “When she started this season, she came to camp and she was one of our best forwards at camp.
    “She sort of stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t happening, and she started to get frustrated. We just sort of calmed her down a little bit and made her realize you still have put the effort in.
    “As soon as she started moving her feet, she is really smart, good with the puck and has that composure that I talk about all the time, things just started working for her. She has a hot hand right now.”
    Slobodzian said it has been big for the Stars to have another forward breakout offensively outside of the trio of Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala.
    “If you look at the scoresheet the last couple of games, I don’t know if Grace Shirley has a goal,” said Slobodzian. “For us to still come out on top with everyone else chipping in, it is a real good sign that we are building what we need to go deep.
    “Any time those players can start putting the numbers on the board and then consistently like Makena (Kushniruk), what it does is the other teams all of sudden have to look out for another player. It gives more room for those Grace Shirleys and Joelle Fialas.”
Anna Leschyshyn, right, scored the Stars first goal on Saturday.
    On Dec. 9, Kushniruk netted the winning goal in the third period for the Stars in the championship final of the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in Wilcox, Sask. Saskatoon downed the host Notre Dame Hounds 3-1 in the title game.
    Kushniruk said she appreciates the fact her Stars won the Mandi Schwartz Tournament and have started 18-0 in the regular season. The Stars are now off until Jan. 10 in the new year, when they travel to Battleford to face the Battlefords Sharks.
    Kushniruk admits she would have loved to continue playing through the break considering the hot streak she is on personally.
Amaya Giraudier makes one of her 25 saves for the Wildcats.
    “I am a little bit worried coming off from like a two-week break,” said Kushniruk, whose older sister Jadyn plays for the Prince Albert Northern Bears. “I’m probably going to be like going to the ODR (outdoor rink) or something and just like still being on the ice and just always practising whether it is going to the gym or finding some open ice.”
    The Wildcats took a 1-0 first period lead in Saturday’s game on a goal from Layne Hryhoriw.
    Leschyshyn sent the teams into the first intermission locked in a 1-1 tie sniping home a low on ice shot with 21.5 seconds to play in the opening frame.
    Makena Kushniruk scored her first of the contest 16 seconds into the second period to give the Stars a 2-1 advantage.
    Brooklyn Rublee scored the equalizer for the Wildcats to force a 2-2 draw heading into the second intermission.
Ashley Messier gets set in the offensive zone for the Stars.
    With 12:05 remaining in the third period, Wildcats forward Baylee Kirwan was stopped on a penalty shot by Stars netminder Kaitlyn Cadrain.
    That set the stage for Kushniruk to score the winner in the third period.
    Cadrain made 18 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Amaya Giraudier turned away 25 shots to take the setback in net for the Wildcats, who fell to 6-9-1.
    The Wildcats return to regular season action on Jan. 5 in the new year, when travel to Battleford to take on the Battlefords Sharks.
    Kushniruk is looking forward to resuming play with the Stars after the Christmas break.
    “I am really excited,” said Kushniruk. “It is nice to have a little break.
The Stars celebrate their win over the Wildcats.
    “When we get back to the rink, we’re going to be working hard together.”

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