Thursday, 28 February 2019

Will fate finally fall way of Huskies men’s hockey team?

U of S faces “forever rivals” in Canada West final again

Parker Thomas (#23) jets down the wing for the Huskies.
    Will the 2018-19 campaign finally be the year of the Dog?
    Or more accurately, will the 2018-19 campaign finally be a dream season for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team where they go all the way.
    Formed in 1910, the Huskies are one of the most storied programs in the history of U Sports. Year in and year out, they are one of the powerhouse squads in Canadian university hockey.
    The Huskies, who have won 17 Canada West titles, are backed by a sizable fanbase and a very large and loyal group of alumni. For the alums, being part of the Huskies holds a special meaning they take to their souls from the fact the program has had such a positive impact on their lives.
    For coaches, staffers and supporters, they hold the Huskies dear to their hearts.
Golden Bears F Stephane Legault battles Huskie D Tanner Lishchynsky.
    Despite the special history the Huskies have, fate has only allowed U of S to win the University Cup, what is now known as the David Johnston University Cup, just once as U Sports national champions in 1983. The Huskies have appeared in the David Johnston University Cup national championship tournament 19 times and advanced to the event’s title game on seven occasions.
    Since winning the their only national title in 1983, the Huskies have make the U Sports final four times in 1987, 2005, 2014 and 2017 and come up on the short end of the scoreboard on each of those occasions.
    Part of both excitement and cruelty in university sports is one loss can do you in at a national championship tournament. With U Sports switching to a final-eight format that is played through single elimination for both the men’s and women’s national hockey championship tournaments, Canadian university hockey teams began to experience the pure form of “March Madness.”
Huskies G Taran Kozun was named Canada West’s goaltender of the year.
    Ultimately, one loss at a national championship tournament doesn’t take away from the fact a team that appeared there had a strong season. It is hard to get to nationals.
    When you look at the Huskies “forever rivals,” the University of Alberta Golden Bears, it really feels like the Huskies have be short changed by the hand of fate.
    The Huskies and Golden Bears are the first two university men’s hockey teams to be formed in Western Canada, and they first met head-to-head on February 27, 1911.
    The Golden Bears have won the David Johnston University Cup 16 times. They claimed both the Canada West and U Sports national titles last season. Over the last five seasons, the Golden Bears have won three national titles.
    Over the years, it seems the Golden Bears have always been there to crush the Huskies hopes. Last year, the two sides met in U Sports national semifinal contest that saw the Huskies take a 2-0 lead only for the Golden Bears to rally back for a 3-2 overtime victory as skilled forward and agitator Trevor Cox netted the winner.
Golden Bears F Trevor Cox scored a big playoff goal against the Huskies.
    In 2018-19, the Huskies had a dream regular season posting a 25-3 record to finish first in the Canada West Conference. The Huskies regular season win total and standings points total of 50 were team records.
    Despite the outstanding campaign by the Dogs, the Golden Bears were right at their heels finishing second in Canada West with a 24-3-1 record.
    The two sides split their four regular season encounters and will face each other in the best-of-three Canada West Championship series for a fourth straight year. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    Game 2 is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Merlis, and if necessary, Game 3 will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Merlis.
    The Huskies and Golden Bears have combined to win the last 22 straight Canada West titles.
Golden Bears F Luke Philp was the Canada West player of the year.
    You can be sure Cox will be reminding the Huskies players of past post-season heartbreaks as part of trash talking sessions on the ice.
    One wonders if the Huskies dreams of winning conference and national titles will again be dashed by the Golden Bears.
    By making it to the conference final, both teams will play in the David Johnston University Cup national championship tournament slated for March 14 to 17 in Lethbridge, Alta.
    The last time the Huskies won the Canada West title might have been their most memorable conference championship to date. On March 5, 2016 at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies swept the Golden Bears in the Canada West title series 2-0 with a 3-2 victory in Game 2.
    That year, it felt like the Huskies were ordained to win it all.
Logan McVeigh (#14) celebrates a goal in the 2016 Canada West final.
    They were playing to honour the memory of gritty forward and alumnus Cody Smuk, who passed away due to cancer in June of 2015. Smuk, who played for the Huskies from 2010 to 2014, was known for his hard work and being the ultimate glue guy in the dressing room.
    The Huskies brought Smuk’s jersey on to the ice for the post-game celebrations and his family on to the ice for the team picture with the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy and the Canada West championship banner. A number of Smuk’s teammates were still with the Huskies at that time.
    Unfortunately, a 2-1 triple overtime loss in a national semifinal contest to the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men dashed the hopes of winning a U Sports national title. The X-Men’s winning goal came on a power play from a borderline weak checking from behind penalty on Huskies winger Levi Cable.
    Those events made the Huskies 2016 foray to the David Johnston University Cup one of the most heartbreaking ever.
Kendall McFaull shows Cody Smuk's jersey to the crowd in 2016.
    This year, the Huskies will again give it their best shot to win the Canada West and U Sports national titles. Huskies head coach Dave Adolph was named the Canada West coach of the year for the fourth time in his 26 seasons with the team.
    Sophomore Huskies netminder Taran Kozun was named the Canada West goaltender of the year for a sensational season.
    The Golden Bears captured four major individual Canada West awards. Third-year forward Luke Philp was named the player of the year for a second straight campaign after leading Canada West in scoring with 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points.
Carson Stadnyk was a first team Canada West all-star.
    Third-year rearguard Jason Fram claimed defenceman of the year honours, forward Grayson Pawlenchuk was the rookie of the year and fifth-year forward Riley Kieser captured the student-athlete community service award.
    As far as Canada West all-star selections went, Kozun, forward Carson Stadnyk and defenceman Jesse Forsberg picked up first team selections from the Huskies, while forward Kohl Bauml was a second team all-star. Huskies defenceman Gordie Ballhorn made the all-rookie team.
    The conference all-stars from the Golden Bears included Philp and Fram on the first team and netminder Zach Sawchenko, Kieser and forward Cole Sanford named to the second team. Pawlenchuk was named to the all-rookie team.
    The Huskies have won 12 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs and are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
    The Golden Bears have won 15 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs and are rated first in the U Sport Top 10 rankings.
The Huskies and Golden Bears will faceoff for the Canada West final.
    These teams have one of the best pure rivalries in sports and the Canada West title series will be hotly contested.
    While both sides are deserving of going all the way, the Huskies wouldn’t mind a little help from the hand of fate for once.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Blades outgun Hurricanes 6-4, pass first test after playoff clinch

Hurricanes LW Taylor Ross, left, battles Blades C Kirby Dach for the puck.
    In their first outing after locking up a playoff berth, the Saskatoon Blades showed they are ready to march on with the rest of the season.
    Last Saturday, the Blades clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 downing the Kootenay Ice 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout. On Tuesday, the Blades faced a major test in their first regular season outing since securing their post-season berth hosting the playoff battle hardened Lethbridge Hurricanes at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Hurricanes entered the contest riding a three-game winning streak, boasting a roster that contains some exceptional offensive talent and are in a heated race for first place in the WHL’s Central Division.
Riley McKay had two assists for the Blades on Tuesday.
    Lethbridge has lots of post-season experience on their side too having advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship series in each of the past two seasons.
    If any extra intrigue needed to be added, Tuesday’s game featured a battle between two highly touted prospects for the next NHL Entry Draft in Blades centre Kirby Dach and Hurricanes centre Dylan Cozens. Both could possibly be first round selections.
    When the dust settled, Dach and his line including right-winger Ryan Hughes and left-winger Riley McKay had a huge night helping the Blades skate to a 6-4 victory before 3,083 spectators. 
    Hughes had two goals and two assists, Dach had a goal and two assists, while McKay had a pair of helpers. All three were a plus-one in the plus-minus department.
The Blades celebrate a goal from Ryan Hughes (#53).
    Cozens was limited to one assist and a plus-one rating despite a very energetic effort.
    The Blades improved to 39-14-8 with the win, while the Hurricanes fell to 32-18-5-5.
    Over the course of a long hockey season, good teams ultimately have to pick up wins in very different ways. Against the Hurricanes, the Blades offence hit high gear to pull out victory.
    Still, the Blades did encounter adversity, which will happen in games against good opponents. Good opponents will find ways to make plays, and it is key to have a good response when high quality opponents make good plays.
    The Hurricanes struck first just 2:20 into Tuesday’s contest. While working on the power play, Hurricanes centre Jake Leschyshyn hit linemate Nick Henry with a backdoor pass, and Henry buried his 24th goal of the season to give Lethbridge a 1-0 lead.
Dylan Cozens had an assist for the Hurricanes.
    Just 49 seconds later, the Blades evened things up at 1-1, when left-winger Kyle Crnkovic fired home the rebound of a shot taken by linemate Eric Florchuk into an open cage.
    The Blades jumped out in front 2-1 just 74 seconds into the second period on a power-play goal from “Uncle” Gary Haden, who converted a feed from the left corner boards from Dach.
    Saskatoon extended its edge to 3-1 at the 12:19 mark of the second, when captain Chase Wouters banged home a power-play goal from the front of the Lethbridge net.
    The host side could have gone up by three, but Blades right-winger Cyle McNabb was robbed on a scoring chance in front of the Lethbridge goal by the glove hand of Hurricanes netminder Carl Tetachuk.
    The Hurricanes mounted a push back scoring twice in a span of 2:57 around the midway point of the third. Jake Elmer and Logan Barlage scored in that surge to force a 3-3 tie.
Jake Elmer had a goal for the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
    Just 19 seconds later, the Blades answered back, when Hughes one-timed a set up pass from McKay to give the hosts a 4-3 lead.
    Hughes and McKay teamed up to give Dach a chance a lone in front of the Hurricanes just over two minutes later, and Dach dangled and deked to beat Hurricanes netminder Carl Tetachuk to increase the Blades advantage to 5-3.
    The Hurricanes wouldn’t go away. With 3:57 remaining in the third, Hurricanes overage left-winger Taylor Ross took a drop pass from Elmer and wired his 31st goal of the season past Blades netminder Nolan Maier to cut Saskatoon’s advantage to 5-4.
    Hughes scored a long empty-net goal to seal the win for the host side with 91 second remaining in the third.
Blades C Kirby Dach (#77) battles Hurricanes C Dylan Cozens.
    Maier made 35 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Carl Tetachuk turned away 23 shots to take the setback in net for the Hurricanes.
    With the loss, Lethbridge fell four points behind the Edmonton Oil Kings (35-18-4-4) for top spot in the Central.
    Lethbridge has a game in hand on Edmonton.
    The Hurricanes head to Prince Albert on Wednesday to take on the WHL leading Raiders at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Saskatoon will continue to fine tune its game and try to finish as high in the WHL standings as possible.
    The Blades have sat inside of the top five in the league for most of the campaign.
    They hold second in the East Division with a 10 point standings lead over the Moose Jaw Warriors (34-17-6-2).
    Moose Jaw has two games in hand on Saskatoon.
    The Blades return to action on Friday, when they host the Regina Pats at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
The Blades celebrate their victory on Tuesday.
    They will aim to make their journey through uncharted waters memorable for this generation of the team.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Monday, 25 February 2019

Blades playoff return marks sweet night at SaskTel Centre

Max Gerlach (#9) hugs goalie Dorrin Luding after Saturday’s win.
    Two recent near misses made Saturday night that much more sweet for the Saskatoon Blades and their fans.
    On Saturday, the Blades ensured they will make their long awaited return to the WHL playoffs locking up a post-season berth with a 4-3 regular season victory after a tiebreaking shootout over the visiting Kootenay Ice at the SaskTel Centre. Saskatoon will be part of the WHL post-season for the first time since 2013.
    Going into that contest with the Ice, the Blades and their fans knew they would clinch a playoff berth with a win and either a regulation loss that night by either the Brandon Wheat Kings or the Red Deer Rebels.
Dorrin Luding (#31) stops the final shooter in the shootout.
    The Wheat Kings were in Prince Albert taking on the Raiders, while the Rebels were hosting the Edmonton Oil Kings in Red Deer.
    Due to the fact we live in an age when people can get instant information on their mobile phones, it is safe to say most of the 4,334 in attendance at the SaskTel Centre knew the Wheat Kings were getting drubbed by the Raiders 7-1.
    The Blades were up on the Ice 3-1 going into the third period only to have the Ice rally to tie things up at 3-3 and force overtime. As fate would have it, the standings point the Blades gained going to extra time would give them a playoff spot. The fact Rebels fell to the Oil Kings 5-2 cemented that scenario.
Chase Wouters was floating on air after Saturday’s win.
    Still, it made the celebrations of returning to the post-season feel that much better for those in the building, when the Blades pulled out the win taking a tiebreaking shootout 1-0 on a goal from rookie left-winger Kyle Crnkovic.
    Had the Blades lost in extra time to go to the post-season, it would have made the night feel incomplete. People would have likely dwelled on the fact the Blades still ultimately lost.
    After getting the win, it seemed like everyone was in a type of joyful mood that hadn’t been seen for some time in a Blades game at the SaskTel Centre. The moment had a special feeling in the air.
    For the current Blades players, coaches, trainers, hockey staff and front office staff, there was a sense of accomplishment. Getting to the playoffs is one of those tangible pieces of proof that validates all the hard work it took to get to that point.
Kirby Dach turns up ice for the Blades on Saturday night.
    The Priestner family had to be feeling all sorts of emotions, when the Blades locked down their playoff berth.
    Edmonton product Mike Priestner bought the Blades from Jack Brodsky before the start of the 2013-14 campaign. The new regime faced a major rebuilding project due to the fact the Blades’ future was mortgaged to stock the team with a roster worthy of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2013 and a major trade that brought star hometown product Brayden Schenn to the club in the 2010-11 campaign.
    Mike’s son, Colin, began working with the team almost immediately and took over the role of general manager before the start of the 2016-17 campaign.
Blades fans participate in a game during a stoppage.
    It was almost a given the first couple of seasons would be lame duck campaigns as the rebuild got underway under Mike Priestner’s ownership. In the 2013-14 season, the Blades finished with a 16-51-2-3 record for 37 points in the standings. The road back to respectability was going to be a long one.
    The first legitimate chance the Blades had to return to the playoffs came in the 2016-17 season.
The Blades celebrate a goal from Reece Harsch (#52).
    They posted a 28-35-7-2 record to sit five points behind the Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) for the second and final wildcard berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference in that campaign after a slump inside of the team’s final 11 games.
    The 2017-18 campaign proved to be more heartbreaking. The Blades posted a 35-33-3-1 regular season record to fall three points shy of the Prince Albert Raiders (32-27-9-4) for the second and final wildcard berth in the Eastern Conference. Again struggles in the final 11 games of the regular season caused a playoff berth to be missed.
Zach Huber, middle, breaks in on a scoring chance.
    The memories of those disappointments made Saturday’s win over the Ice that much more sweet.
Blades mascot Poke Check was posing for pictures with happy fans.
    Blades captain Chase Wouters, who is in his third full season with the Blades, seemed to be walking on air after the game. His wide smile was infectious.
    The moment was a great one for Blades 19-year-old netminder Dorrin Luding. Last June, the Blades acquired Luding in a trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Clayton Kroeker rocks an Uncle Gary T-shirt.
    He knew he was coming in to backup sophomore star Nolan Maier, but Luding was pumped to be on a team that had potential to do great things. He became popular in the dressing, and as a huge bonus, he started against the Ice making 34 saves over 65 minutes and turning away all three shooters he faced in the shootout to get the win.
    Right now, Luding wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Saskatoon.
    Crnkovic, who turned 17-years-old earlier this month, seemed to still be wide-eyed taking in the realization of what went down on Saturday during post-game interviews.
    Even first year head coach Mitch Love allowed himself exit his coached focused persona to loosen up and say he was excited about the fact the Blades will be back in the playoffs.
Ryan Hughes sets up for a scoring chance for the Blades.
    What might be even cooler is the fact the Blades aren’t just scraping into the playoffs. At 38-14-8, they currently sit fourth overall in the WHL standings. They are one of the WHL’s elite clubs.
Since bringing back their traditional Pac-Man jerseys as their full-time look before the start of the 2017-18 campaign, the Blades are 73-47-11-1.
    For the longest time during the lean years in the rebuild, Blades president Steve Hogle received a tonne of credit for helping create some great promotions around home games. The hockey side of the team’s operations longed to have the good on ice product to go with those promotions.
    Now, the Blades have a total package. They also have a very likable and great group of players to follow too, and six of them have cool novelty T-shirts for fans to buy too.
    Another thing that will make things fun is going to the playoffs and taking in the experiences will feel new once again. The Blades will write their own story on a clean slate. Most with the club don’t have any links to past post-season forays.
The Blades celebrate locking up a playoff berth on Saturday.
    The first new experience will be tuning up for the playoffs over the team’s last eight regular season games. That beings on Tuesday, when the Blades host the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    No matter what happens going forward, those linked with the current Blades will always remember how good Saturday’s post-season clinching win over the Ice felt at the SaskTel Centre.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Sunday, 24 February 2019

Raiders emulate storied form in topping WHL’s East Division and Eastern Conference

The Raiders locked up first in the WHL’s Eastern Conference on Saturday.
    The Prince Albert Raiders weren’t going to let anything stand in their way of locking up first place in the WHL’s East Division and Eastern Conference.
    Not even the Brandon Wheat Kings live-or-die sprint to make the WHL playoffs could stand up to the determination of the Raiders.
    On Saturday before a standing room crowd of 2,678 spectators at the 2,580 Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, the Raiders took a 2-1 edge on the visiting Wheat Kings in the first period and romped to a 7-1 regular season victory. The Raiders were dominant in the second and third periods holding a 5-0 edge on the scoreboard and a 36-9 advantage in shots on goal over those frames.
    The win allowed the Raiders, who have won their last three straight games, to improve to 49-8-1-2 and clinch first place in the WHL’s East Division and the Eastern Conference. Prince Albert last topped the East Division back in the 1998-99 campaign posting a record of 45 wins, 22 losses and five ties.
    The Raiders, who are rated second in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings, last topped what is now known as the Eastern Conference back in the 1991-21 campaign posting a record of 50 wins, 20 losses and two ties that season. In 1991-92, the Eastern Conference was just know as the East Division as the WHL contained 15 teams as opposed to the 22 member clubs that are part of the circuit in the current day.
Noah Gregor scored twice for the Raiders.
    Prince Albert needs to earn just four more points in the standings to lock up first overall in the WHL and win the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy. The only time to date the Raiders finished first in the overall WHL standings was back in the 1984-85 season, when they posted a franchise best 58-11-3 record and went on to win the WHL title and the Memorial Cup as CHL national champions.
    The Wheat Kings saw their six game winning streak end in a thud falling to 29-23-3-4. During that winning streak, the Brandon side looked impressive over that stretch.
    Brandon still holds the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference with a two-point standings edge over the Red Deer Rebels (29-24-4-1). The Rebels have a game in hand on the Raiders.
    In Saturday’s encounter with the Wheat Kings, the Raiders jumped ahead just 2:37 into the opening frame on a goal from overage centre Noah Gregor. Ozzy Wiesblatt, who is a 16-year-old rookie right-winger, extended the Raiders advantage to 2-0 scoring at the 11:33 mark of the opening frame.
    Just under a minute later, Wheat Kings 16-year-old rookie defenceman Vincent Iorio scored his first career WHL regular season goal to cut the Raiders edge to 2-1. That was as close as Brandon got before the route was on.
    Jacob Brook, Gregor, with his second of the contest, and Parker Kelly, with his 30th of season, pushed the Raiders lead out to 5-1 by the end of the second period. Kelly, who is in his fourth full season in the WHL, hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his major junior career.
    Overage centre Sean Montgomery and star left-winger Cole Fonstad rounded out the Raiders scoring in the third period.
    Fonstad had three assists to go with his goal and was a plus-four in the plus-minus department. His line with Gregor and Wiesblatt had an extremely hot night.
    Gregor had an assist to go with his two goals and was a plus-four. Wiesblatt had two assists to go along with his goal and was a plus-four as well.
Cole Fonstad had four points for the Raiders.
    Raiders captain Brayden Pachal had an assist and was a plus-three and engaged Wheat Kings captain Stelio Mattheos in a second period fight.
    Ian Scott made 15 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders.
    Jiri Patera started in goal for the Wheat Kings turning away 25-of-30 shots sent his way to take the loss in goal. He was pulled after the Raiders fifth tally coming at the 12:18 mark of the second period. Ethan Kruger turned away 16-of-18 shots playing the rest of the way in relief.
    The only down part for the Raiders came from the fact Kelly received a boarding major and a game misconduct with 4:12 remaining in the third period. The infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    The Raiders return to action on Wednesday, when they host the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Wheat Kings resume play on Friday, when they travel to Calgary to take on the Hitmen at 7 p.m. local time at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Cable’s hatty powers Huskies to sweep of Cougars

Levi Cable (#10), Taran Kozun and the Huskies advance in the playoffs.
    A hat trick from fourth-year winger Levi Cable allowed the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team to sweep the Mount Royal University Cougars out of the U Sports post-season.
    On Saturday before 1,725 spectators at Merlis Belsher Place, the Huskies overcame an early 2-0 deficit to romp past the Cougars 7-3 in Game 2 of a Canada West Conference quarter-final series. The win allowed the Huskies to sweep the best-of-three series 2-0.
    The Cougars took a 2-0 edge by the 7:24 mark of the opening frame with goals coming off the sticks of fifth-year forward Zack Henry and Ryley Lindgren.
    A short time later, the Huskies even things up at 2-2, when Cable netted his first two goals of the night coming two minutes and 10 seconds apart from each other.
    Before the first period ended, Huskies fourth-year forward Andrew Johnson netted a short-handed goal to give the host side a 3-2 lead.
    At the 2:53 mark of the second, Henry netted his second goal of the night for the Cougars to even things at 3-3. The Huskies dominated the rest of the way from that point.
    Carson Stadnyk netted the winning goal for the Huskies at the 5:03 mark of the second to give U of S a 4-3 lead. Sophomore winger Alex Forsberg extend the Huskies advantage to 5-3 a little more than two minutes after Stadnyk’s goal.
Carson Stadnyk scored twice for the Huskies on Saturday.
    In the third, Stadnyk added his second of the contest and Cable completed his hat trick scoring into an empty net to round out the scoring for the Huskies.
    Captain Jesse Forsberg and forward Collin Shirley each had two assists for the Huskies.
    Taran Kozun stopped 12 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies, who have won their last 12 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs. Riley Morris turned away 27-of-33 shots to take the setback in goal for the Cougars, who finished fifth in the Canada West regular season standings with a 12-11-5 mark.
    With the win, the Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, advance to host the best-of-three Canada West Championship series against their “forever rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who are the defending Canada West Conference and U Sports national champions.
    Game 1 of that series is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Golden Bears, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, swept the University of Calgary Dinos 2-0 in the other Canada West semifinal series and have won their last 15 straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    By making the Canada West Championship series, both the Huskies and Golden Bears have earned berths to the University Cup U Sports national championship tournament, which runs March 14 to 17 in Lethbridge.
    The series between the Huskies and Golden Bears is expected to be a serious heavyweight tilt.
    The Huskies finished first in the Canada West regular standings with their best record in program history at 25-3. The Golden Bears finished a point behind the Huskies in the standings with a 24-3-1 mark.
    The two sides split their four head-to-head regular season encounters.

Pandas sweep Huskies women’s hockey team out of playoffs

Morgan Willoughby scored for the Huskies on Saturday.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team wasn’t able to avoid the brooms despite a spirited effort.
    On Saturday at the Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton, the Huskies dropped 2-1 decision to the host U of Alberta Pandas in Game 2 of a Canada West semifinal series. With the win, the Pandas sweep the best-of-three series 2-0 and ended the Huskies journey through the U Sports playoffs.
    In a back-and-fourth first period, the Pandas escaped the frame with a 1-0 lead, when fourth-year forward Regan Wright scored with 0.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
    At the 16:15 mark of the second period, Huskies fourth-year defender Morgan Willoughby drove home a point shot to force a 1-1 tie. Sophomore forward Chloe Smith picked an assist on Willoughby’s tally.
    Until Willoughby’s goal, the Pandas had shutout the Huskies in 11 straight periods including action in the regular season and playoffs in their head-to-head encounters.
    Inside of the final minute of the second, the Pandas scored their winner when a screen shot from fourth-year defender Cayle Dillon gave the host side a 2-1 lead.
    The Huskies held a 6-4 edge in the shots on goal department in the third period, but were unable to find the equalizer. Their comeback effort was hampered with a too many players penalty call with 1:49 remaining in the third period.
Chloe Smith had an assist for the Huskies on Saturday.
    Jessica Vance turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies. Kirsten Chamberlin stopped 24 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Pandas, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings.
    The Huskies finished fourth in the Canada West Conference regular season standings with a 16-10-1-1 mark and eliminated the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-1 in a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.
    The Pandas, who have won their last four straight games including action in the regular season and playoffs, topped the Canada West regular season standings with a 23-5 record. They advance to host the defending Canada West Conference and U Sports national champion U of Manitoba Bisons in a best-of-three Canada West Championship series.
    The Bisons, who finished second in Canada West with a 20-5-2-1 mark, are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, and they swept the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 2-0 in the other Canada West semifinal series.
    Game 1 of the Canada West title series is set for Friday in Edmonton.
    Both the Pandas and Bisons have berths locked up in the U Sports national championship tournament, which runs March 14 to 17 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Vance, Bohlken to join Willoughby at Winter Universiade

Jessica Vance is heading to the Winter Universiade.
    The 2018-19 season is over for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, but it will continue two of the squad’s stars in Jessica Vance and Leah Bohlken.
    Vance and Bohlken were named to play for Canada’s women’s hockey team at the FISU Winter Universiade, which will run March 2 to 12 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. The duo will join former Huskies star captain Kaitlin Willoughby on the Canadian women’s hockey squad.
    On Saturday, this season’s version of the Huskies were eliminated from the U Sports playoffs with a 2-1 loss to the U of Alberta Pandas in Game 2 of a Canada West Conference semifinal series.
    Willoughby graduated from the Huskies women’s program at the end of last season, but she is still eligible to play in the Winter Universiade. The product of both Canwood and Prince Albert, Sask., suited up for Canada at the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    She collected a goal and five assists in five games helping Canada win a silver medal. Canada’s women’s side fell 4-1 to Russia in that year’s gold medal final.
    Vance, who is a star third-year goalie, had a stellar campaign for the Huskies posting a 12-7-1-1 record, a 1.28 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and six shutouts. In 2017-18, Vance, who is from Prince Albert, Sask., was named the MVP of the Canada West Conference recording a 14-3-1 record, a 0.77 goals against average, a .964 save percentage and nine shutout.
    Vance was a first team all-Canadian all-star in 2017-18 helping the Huskies advance to the U Sports national championship tournament.
Defender Leah Bohlken will play for Canada internationally.
    Bohlken had a breakout season offensively in 2018-19 skating in her fourth campaign with the Huskies. Appearing in 27 regular season games, the Moose Jaw, Sask., product had career highs in goals (nine), assists (seven) and points (16). She was a plus-three in the plus-minus department.
    Willoughby is playing her first season of professional hockey as a winger with the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. In 27 regular season games with the Inferno, the 23-year-old has one goal and five assists for six points and is a plus-one in the plus-minus department. The Inferno lead the CWHL standings with a 23-4-0-1 record.
    Last September, Willoughby attended a tryout camp for Canada’s senior national women’s hockey team.
    Before joining the Inferno, Willoughby had a spectacular five-year career with the Huskies. She is the second all-time leading scorer in the history of the Huskies program piling up 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points in 132 regular season games.
    Willoughby’s goal total ranks third all-time in the history of the Huskies and her assists total is fourth all-time in team history.
    Before joining the Huskies, Willoughby played from 2008 to 2013 for the Prince Albert Northern Bears of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League piling up 34 goals and 63 assists for 97 points in 96 career regular season games. She shares the Bears career regular season assists record with current team captain Abby Soyko.
    In a curious development, U Sports announced the rosters for the women’s and men’s hockey team that will compete at the upcoming Winter Universiade on Friday. Vance and Bohlken were still involved in U Sports playoffs, and there was no work on what their status would have been had the Huskies advanced to the Canada West Championship series, which is in a schedule conflict with the Winter Universiade.
Kaitlin Willoughby in action for the Huskies last season.
    Now that the Huskies have been eliminated from the post-season, dealing with that possible schedule conflict is now a forgotten point.
    The Canadian women’s team roster released on Friday for the Winter Universiade did not include any members of the U of Manitoba Bisons or the U of Alberta Pandas, who have advanced to the Canada West Championship series. The Canadian men’s team roster released on Friday doesn’t contain any members from the U of Saskatchewan Huskies or the U of Alberta Golden Bears, who will go head-to-head in the men’s Canada West Championship series.
    Still, the fact Vance and Bohlken will play at the Winter Universiade means they have hit the radar for Hockey Canada’s women’s national team system. That development might open more doors for them in the future.
    The individual success of Vance, Bohlken and Willoughby is a big feather in the cap of the Huskies women’s hockey program.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Saturday, 23 February 2019

Blades post-season bound for first time since 2013

Saskatoon edges Ice 4-3 in shootout to clinch WHL playoff spot

The Blades celebrate locking up a WHL playoff berth.
    The drought is over.
    The Saskatoon Blades are finally back in the WHL playoffs.
    They made sure their post-season clinching game had lots of drama too.
    On Saturday night, the Blades downed the Kootenay Ice 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout before 4,334 spectators at the SaskTel Centre to officially lock up a playoff berth for the first time since 2013. Saskatoon took the tiebreaking session 1-0 to win the regular season clash.
    The Blades clinched a playoff berth with their win combined with the fact the Prince Albert Raiders downed the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings 7-1 at the Art Hauser Centre on Saturday night.
    For Blades captain Chase Wouters, the clinching victory was a long time coming. 
Blades captain Chase Wouters is pumped to go to the WHL playoffs.
    The veteran centre, who turned 19-years-old earlier this month, was selected by the Blades in the first round and 18th overall in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
    He is skating through his third full season with Saskatoon club and saw his squad just miss the post-season in each of the past two years thanks to some late season slumps.
    Following the Blades win on Saturday, Wouters had a bit of tingly feeling knowing a playoff berth has been secured.
    “It is kind of something I looked forward to ever since I got drafted to Saskatoon when I was 14,” said Wouters, whose team sits third overall in the WHL with a 38-14-8 mark. “I guess it is just a pretty surreal like feeling knowing that we are going to be able to play in them this year.
    “It is something we’ve been talking about all year. It has been a goal since the start. It is pretty important to our group here to be able to play in the playoffs.”
Kyle Crnkovic had the shootout winner for the Blades.
    Saskatoon built a 3-1 lead after two periods only to see the Ice rally to force overtime with two third period goals.
    After a scoreless overtime frame, Blades rookie left-winger Kyle Crnkovic, who turned 17-years-old earlier this month, was the only player to score in the shootout. He deked and slid a backhand shot between the legs of Ice netminder Jesse Makaj.
    Crnkovic was excited about the fact the Blades, who are rated 10th in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings, clinched a playoff berth.
    “It is an awesome group of guys,” said Crnkovic. “I think we’ve worked for it, and we’ve earned it.
    “It is going to be an awesome time. To bring the team to the playoffs and all the fans, they deserve it. It should be a fun time.”
    The Blades broke the Ice at the 6:57 mark of the opening frame when import right-winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen banged home a gritty goal from the front of the Ice net.
    Saskatoon extended its edge to 2-0 with 5:40 remaining in the opening frame on a sweet play off an offensive zone faceoff. On the play, Wouters won the draw back to defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus.
Gary Haden (#14) celebrates scoring a goal with Chase Wouters.
    Schuldhaus quickly fed “Uncle” Gary Haden with a backdoor pass, and he buried his 28th goal of the season.
    The Ice didn’t go away. With 1:39 remaining in the first period, Kootenay right-winger Jaeger White wired a midrange shot to the top left corner of the Saskatoon goal to cut the Blades lead to 2-1.
    The Blades extended their lead to 3-1 at the 5:05 mark of the second, when veteran defenceman Reece Harsch wired home his fourth goal of the season.
    It seemed the Blades were going to cruise to victory holding a 3-1 edge after 40 minutes and a 31-17 advantage in shots on goal.
Dorrin Luding makes a glove save for the Blades.
    While Saskatoon was controlling play, Blades first year head coach Mitch Love didn’t think his players were at their best in those frames and being a bit off became more obvious in the third and overtime.
    “I didn’t think we played a great hockey game tonight,” said Love. “Guys are aware of that.
    “We have some things we have to tighten up. At the end of the day for the city and for the organization, it is a big day to get back in the playoffs and see what happens.”
    Before joining the Blades this season, Love spent the previous seven seasons on the staff of the Everett Silvertips. The Quesnel, B.C., product started with the Silvertips as an assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach. 
Jaeger White sniped home a goal for the Ice.
    He finished his time in Everett as an assistant coach and an assistant to the general manager.
    The Silvertips have never missed the playoffs since their inaugural campaign in 2003-04.
    During his post-game media scrum on Saturday, Love said he was focused on correcting what the Blades did wrong and looking to find ways to help the Saskatoon players continue to improve.
    When asked if he was just conditioned to always expecting to be in the post-season from his time in Everett, Love smiled and stepped out of the focused coach zone for a bit.
    “There are a few guys in the room who obviously haven’t played a playoff game in their career,” said Love. “It is awesome for them.
    “They are going to get that experience. We have a lot of guys that we have brought in here throughout the year that have had playoff experience.
    “This is my eighth consecutive season of playoff hockey, so I may look like I’m not that excited tonight, but I am. I’m a hockey coach, and I am always looking to be better the next day. I’m excited for our guys.”
Bradley Ginnell had a goal for the Ice.
    The Ice came with a huge push back in the third. Ice left-winger Bradley Ginnell scored with a spin around shot with 9:55 remaining in the third, and Kootenay rookie centre Jakin Smallwood potted the equalizer with 6:44 remaining in the third to force a 3-3 tie and overtime.
    The Blades almost didn’t make it to the shootout had it not been for the play of netminder Dorrin Luding. He made a glove save on a dangerous shot from White and later stopped the overager on a breakaway.
    In the final seconds of overtime, Luding had to stone Ice defenceman Marco Creta on a dangerous chance to allow the contest to progress to a shootout.
    That set the stage for Crnkovic to come through with his heroics in the shootout.
    Luding made 34 saves over 65 minutes and stopped all three shooters he faced in the shootout to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Makaj turned away 38 shots over 65 minutes and turned away two of three shooters in the shootout to take the extra time setback in the Ice net. Kootenay saw its record move to 11-38-7-3.
Kyle Crnkovic (#16) celebrates scoring his shootout winner.
    Luding, who split last season between the Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds, said it was big for the Blades to return to the post-season.
    “It is a great accomplishment for us,” said Luding, who was traded by the Thunderbirds to the Blades last June. “I think we’ve made such large strides, and we can only make larger ones.
    “I think the sky is the limit for us.”
    The Ice return to action on Sunday, when they travel to Moose Jaw to face the Warriors at 4 p.m. at Mosaic Place.
Blades mascot Poke Check enjoys a celebration moment with the fans.
    The Blades resume play on Tuesday, when they host the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Going forward, Love said the Blades have to keep finding ways to get better and keep progressing.
    “We have to again just go back to work,” said Love. “It is nice we have an “x” across our name in the standings, but we have a tough opponent coming in here on Tuesday, and we have to be ready for that.”

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 22 February 2019

Huskies hammer Cougars

Men’s hockey Dogs open post-season with impressive 5-1 romp

Alex Forsberg had two goals and two assists for the Huskies on Friday.
    The red hot University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team stayed red hot in their U Sports post-season opener.
    Riding a 10-game winning streak to end the regular season to lock up first place in the Canada West Conference, the Huskies rolled to an impressive 5-1 victory over the Mount Royal University Cougars in Game 1 of a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series on Friday night at Merlis Belsher Place. U of S will try to sweep the series in Game 2, which is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Huskies came out of the gates quickly to stun the visiting Cougars.
The Huskies celebrate Alex Forsberg’s second goal on Friday.
    At the 3:45 mark of the first period, fourth-year winger Levi Cable scored the first Huskies post-season goal in their brand new rink to take a 1-0 lead.
    The hosts expanded their lead to 2-0 at the 6:19 mark of the first when sophomore winger Alex Forsberg scored a power-play goal on a four-on-one rush.
    From that point, the Cougars never really got into the game. The Huskies held 14-6 edge in shots on goal going into the first intermission.
    They proceeded to play the bulk of the second period in Mount Royal’s zone.
    Fifth-year right-winger Parker Thomas scored at the 4:36 mark of the second to give the Huskies a 3-0 advantage. Forsberg banged home a gritty goal from the front of the Cougars net for his second tally of the night giving the Huskies a 4-0 lead at the 13:03 mark of the second to delight the 1,580 spectators in attendance.
Levi Cable scored twice for the Huskies on Friday.
    Besides his two tallies, Forsberg picked up assists on the Huskies first and third goals for a huge four-point night. He was also a plus-three in the plus-minus department.
    After 40 minutes, the Huskies had a 4-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 30-12 edge in shots on goal.
Had this game been a boxing match, the referee might have stopped the proceedings at that point in the contest. The Huskies were that good.
    Cable roofed home his second tally of the night at the 4:10 mark of the third to put the Huskies up 5-0.
    Mount Royal’s high point of the night came with 4:11 remaining in the third, when sophomore forward Bradley Kennedy scored on the power play to end the shutout bid of Huskies star netminder Taran Kozun.
Parker Thomas scored early in the second period on Friday.
    Kozun made 19 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies. Riley Morris turned away 36 shots to take the loss in goal for the Cougars.
    Playing their inaugural season in the newly built Merlis Belsher Place, the Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, have had a special campaign posting their best regular season record in team history at 25-3. They entered their series with the Cougars as big favourites.
    Mount Royal finished fifth in Canada West with a 12-11-5 mark and went on the road to Vancouver, B.C., to down the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 2-1 in a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series last weekend.
Huskies captain Jesse Forsberg, left, sizes up a scoring chance.
    The Huskies play on the ice this season has looked as good as their impressive new home rink. They can roll all four of their forward lines and not lose a step.
    Their starting six on defence make up one of the best blue-lines you will see in U Sports. While Kozan has received most of the accolades with an impressive season in goal, back-up netminder Travis Child is fairly accomplished in his own right.
    When you saw the Huskies play on Friday, it was easy to see why four of their players were named Canada West Conference all-stars, while one of the first-year players cracked the all-rookie team. Kozun, captain and star offensive defenceman Jesse Forsberg and forward Carson Stadnyk were named to the first all-star team. Winger Kohl Bauml cracked the second all-star team, while defenceman Gordie Ballhorn made the all-rookie team.
    At the moment, the Huskies are one win away from returning to the Canada West Championship series and the U Sports national championship tournament, the University Cup.
    One has to wonder how far will their roll go?

Playoff berth clinch put on hold for Blades

Max Gerlach scored for the Blades on Friday.
    The Saskatoon Blades hopes to lock up a berth in the WHL playoffs were put on hold by the live-or-die sprint the Brandon Wheat Kings are on at the moment.
    On Friday, the Blades had a chance to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2013, if they earned a regulation time win against Wheat Kings in a WHL regular season clash at Westoba Place in Brandon. The Wheat Kings romped to a 6-2 victory before 3,875 spectators to erase any thoughts the Saskatoon side had of celebrating a playoff berth.
    The win was the sixth straight for the Wheat Kings, who improved to 29-22-3-4. They now hold the second wildcard spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference with a two-point standings lead on the Red Deer Rebels (29-23-4-1). Red Deer has a game in hand on Brandon.
    The Blades, who are rated 10th in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings, saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end. Going into Friday’s clash with the Wheat Kings, the Blades were riding a stretch of earning standings points in 13 straight contests posting 11 wins and two extra time setbacks over that stretch. They still sit third overall in the WHL standings with a 37-14-8 mark.
    Saskatoon started Friday’s game with optimism taking a 1-0 just 2:18 into the first period on Ryan Hughes’s 24th tally of the season.
    Near the midway point of the first, the Blades had a glorious chance to go up by two goals, when veteran left-winger Gary Haden was awarded a penalty shot. Haden was stopped by Wheat Kings netminder Jiri Patera, and that save seemed to change the feel of the contest.
    Brandon rolled off five straight goals to go ahead 5-1.
    Ridly Greig and Zach Wytinck netted singles before the first period ended to give the Wheat Kings a 2-1 advantage. Luka Burzan, who scored his 35th goal of the season, Caiden Daley and captain Stelio Mattheos, who potted his 40th goal of the campaign, had singles in the second to put Brandon up 5-1.
    Overage right-winger Max Gerlach netted his 37th goal of the season for the Blades at the 4:47 mark of the third to cut Brandon’s lead to 5-2.
    Ben McCartney netted a short-handed goal for Brandon shortly after the midway point of the third to round out the game’s scoring.
    Nolan Maier started and took the setback in goal for the Blades turning away 17-of-22 shots sent his way. Dorrin Luding played the third period in relief for Saskatoon and stopped five-of-six shot sent his way.
    Patera turned away 37 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Wheat Kings.
    The Blades return home on Saturday to host the Kootenay Ice (11-38-7-2) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. Saskatoon can clinch a playoff berth on Saturday night with a win and a regulation loss by either the Wheat Kings or Rebels that same night.
    The Wheat Kings travel to Prince Albert on Saturday to face the WHL leading Raiders (48-8-1-2) at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. The Rebels host the Edmonton Oil Kings (33-18-4-4) at 7 p.m. local time at the Enmax Centrium.

Scott, Leason power Raiders to shutout win over Ice

Brett Leason had three assists for the Raiders on Friday.
    Ian Scott and Brett Leason made big returns to the Prince Albert Raiders lineup.
   On Friday before 2,380 spectators at the Art Hauser Centre, Scott and Leason both came off the injury list to help the Raiders blank the Kootenay Ice 4-0. Scott, who is the team’s star netminder, made 21 saves to pick up his fifth shutout of the season. Leason, who is the team’s star right-winger, picked up assists on three of the Raiders goals.
    Both Scott and Leason last dressed for the Raiders in their 8-2 victory over the Hitmen in Calgary on Feb. 8. Since that contest, both were out with lower body injuries.
    Against the Ice on Friday, the Raiders, who are rated second in the CHL’s Top 10 rankings, built a 2-0 lead after the first period and held a 3-0 lead after the second frame. They rounded out the game’s scoring with a final tally in the third to improve their WHL leading record to 48-8-1-2.
    Overage centre Sean Montgomery scored twice for the Raiders, while captain Brayden Pachal and Ozzy Wiesblatt had singles.
    Curtis Meger turned away 26 shots to take the loss in goal for the Ice (11-38-7-2).
    The Raiders return to action on Saturday, when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Ice travel to Saskatoon on Saturday to face the Blades at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

Pandas put Huskies on the ropes in Canada West semi

Jessica Vance made 25 saves in goal for the Huskies on Friday.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team faces a major challenge in trying to keep their season a live.
    On Friday in Edmonton, Alta., the Huskies were blanked 2-0 by the host U of Alberta Pandas at the Clare Drake Arena in Game 1 of a best-of-three Canada West Conference semifinal series. The Huskies need to win Game 2 on Saturday in Edmonton to remain alive in the U Sports playoffs and force a series deciding Game 3 on Sunday in Edmonton.
    The Pandas, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, jumped out to a 1-0 lead, when star fourth-year forward Alex Poznikoff scored at the 1:37 mark of the first period. Amy Boucher gave the Pandas a 2-0 advantage scoring with 4:45 remaining in the third period.
    Kirsten Chamberlin made 17 saves to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Pandas. Jessica Vance turned away 25 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies.
    The Pandas finished first in Canada West with a 23-5 record and won their last seven straight regular season games heading into the post-season.
    The Huskies finished fourth in Canada West with a 16-10-1-1 record. They eliminated the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-1 in a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series last weekend to advance to play the Pandas.
    The Pandas have won their last three games including action in the regular season and playoffs with the Huskies by identical 2-0 scores. All three of those contests were played at the Clare Drake Arena.
    Overall, the Pandas have downed the Huskies in their last four straight encounters including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    On Wednesday, Huskies physical offensive-defender Leah Bohlken was named a first team Canada West all-star.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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