Saturday, 9 February 2019

Huskies, Willoughby kick aside funks heading into playoffs

Morgan Willoughby had the winning goal for the Huskies.
    Morgan Willoughby was pumped she kicked away a personal funk, while helping the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team beat some recent funks.
    Entering Saturday’s regular season clash against the defending Canada West and U Sports national champion University of Manitoba Bisons at Merlis Belsher Place, the fourth-year defender was still in search of her first goal of the season. The Huskies had also taken their lumps recently losing four out of their last five games heading into Saturday’s contest, which concluded the regular season for both sides.
    With the Huskies taking a 1-0 lead out of the first period, Willoughby got the puck in the offensive zone, skated up the right side wall and fired home a shot through a screen to put the host side up 2-0 at the 9:13 mark of the second period.
    Her goal ultimately held up as the winner as the Huskies skated away with a 2-1 victory before 532 spectators.
Morgan Willoughby guards the defensive zone.
    “I found that I have been getting a lot of offensive chances lately,” said Willoughby, who had a goal and three assists in 24 regular season games with the Huskies this season. “Even yesterday, everyone is like, “Oh, you are going to score Morgan. I know you are.”
    “I just kept it up. I knew it was coming soon, so it was a good time for it to happen.”
    Playing in her 90th career regular season game with the Huskies, the assistant captain found some veteran poise that resulted in her goal.
    “What I did different that time was I was patient with the puck,” said Willoughby. “I walked around a girl and waited to shoot.
    “I didn’t just fire it without looking, just patience basically.”
    The Huskies got out to a bit of a slow start before hitting another gear with eight minutes remaining in the first period. 
Netminder Jessica Vance stands her ground in the Huskies goal.
    While working on a power play, they broke through on the scoreboard when rookie centre Kennedy Brown banged home a shot from the front of the Bisons goal with 3:36 remaining in the opening frame to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
    After Willoughby gave the Huskies a two-goal edge, Bisons fourth-year centre Jordyn Zacharias netted her 12th goal of the season with her team working on a power play to cut the U of S lead to 2-1.
    While the Bisons got back into the game, they didn’t really build on any momentum from Zacharias’s goal. 
Emily Upgang moves the puck out of trouble in the defensive zone.
    U of M held a 9-5 edge in shots on goal in the third period, but the Huskies locked things down defensively, especially in the final 10 minutes of the third.
    The Bisons best chance to score came off a fire drill scramble in front of the U of S net with about a minute remaining in the frame, but the Huskies were able to clear the puck away.
    Willoughby was pleased with how her team played defensively.
    “I know just lately we have been struggling a bit on our D side of things,” said Willoughby. “It is always important (to remember) that D-zone is first.
    “You can be offensive unless we get out of our zone clean. Yeah, it is important.”
Erin Fargey stopped 27 shots in goal for the Bisons.
    Jessica Vance turned away 18 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies, who finished fourth in Canada West with a 16-10-1-1 record.
    Rookie Erin Fargey made her third start of the year in goal for the Bisons and turned away 27 shots in the setback. The Bisons, who are rated second in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, finished second in Canada West with a 20-5-2-1 record.
    “I think honestly, when we play with pace, we play our best,” said Willoughby. “We know that we are a quick team, and that is when things start working out well for us.”
    Willoughby liked how her team looked in both of their games this weekend. On Friday, they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Bisons at Merlis Belsher Place while holding a 32-15 edge in shots on goal.
    A stellar performance by Bisons star netminder Lauren Taraschuk prevented the Huskies from posting a victory that night.
Huskies C Chloe Smith checks Bisons D Erica Rieder.
    Having fallen to the Mount Royal University Cougars 6-1 in Calgary on Feb. 2 in their last game before playing the Bisons the past two nights, Willoughby said her team believed they would turn things around.
    “I think that we all had a positive mentality coming into this weekend,” said Willoughby. “We kind of had a downfall against Mount Royal last weekend, but we knew what we all expected out of each other.
    “I think we definitely performed, so it was awesome. I think we’re on a pretty good high right now going into playoffs. I think it is really important that we move from this weekend with the momentum that we have.
    “I think we will have a solid start to our playoff series.”
The Huskies celebrate their win on Saturday.
    The Huskies will host Mount Royal in a best-of-three Canada West quarterfinal series to start the post-season. Game 1 is set for this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Cougars finished fifth in Canada West with a 12-14-2 record and have won their last three straight games. The Huskies and Cougars split their four head-to-head games in the regular season.
    Willoughby said it was big for her team to start the post-season at home. The Huskies have a 10-3-1 record at Merlis Belsher Place this season.
    “Obviously, any home ice in playoffs is huge,” said Willoughby. “It is too bad that we aren’t guaranteed more than one round.
    “I think it will be a good push for us to start off playoffs in our home rink. We always play well here. It will be good.”

Huskies men’s team runs the table for first

Parker Thomas scored in his final U Sports game in Winnipeg.
    The U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team successfully ran the table to lock down first place in the Canada West Conference.
    On Saturday in Winnipeg, the Huskies blanked the host U of Manitoba Bisons 3-0 at the Wayne Fleming Arena in a clash that closed the regular season for both sides. The victory was the 10th in a row for the Huskies, who improved to 25-3 to lock up the top spot in Canada West for the third time in four years.
    The Dogs will have home ice advantage throughout the Canada West playoffs.
    In the process of finishing first, the Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, set new team for wins in one regular season at 25 and standings points at 50.
    The Huskies old record for most wins in a regular season of 22 was posted on three occasions. The former mark of 22 victories was first established in the 1987-88 season, when the Huskies posted a record of 22 wins, five losses and one tie.
    The Dogs reached 22 wins again in the 1999-2000 regular season posting a record of 22 wins, three losses and three ties. The record was last equaled in the 2015-16 campaign when the Huskies posted a 22-6 record. That season marks the last time the Huskies won the Canada West title.
Carson Stadnyk scored for the Huskies on Saturday.
    The old record for most points in the standings stood at 47, and it was set in the 1999-2000 campaign.
    The Huskies needed to finish on a hot run to secure first place over the defending Canada West and U Sports national champion U of Alberta Golden Bears.
    The Golden Bears, who are rated first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, finished the regular season winning 13 straight games and had recorded points in their last 21 regular season games. They finished second in Canada West just one point behind the Huskies with a 24-3-1 record.
    In Saturday’s clash between the Huskies and Bisons, rookie forward Donovan Neuls scored in the first period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. Third-year forward Carson Stadnyk netted a goal in the second period to give the visitors a 2-0 edge.
    The Huskies rounded out the scoring in the third period with a tally coming off the stick of fifth-year forward Parker Thomas. Thomas, who is from Winnipeg, was playing in his final career U Sports game in his hometown.
    Rookie Travis Child made 18 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies and his first career regular season U Sports shutout. Fifth-year netminder Byron Spriggs turned away 31 shots to take the setback in goal for the Bisons in his final career U Sports game.
    The Bisons finished seventh in Canada West with a 6-20-2 record and did not make the post-season.
Donovan Neuls scored for the Huskies on Saturday.
    While the Huskies set a new standard for their best regular season record ever, starting goaltender Taran Kozun set a new record for most individual goaltending wins in one regular season at 20, when the Huskies slipped past the Bisons 3-2 on Friday in Winnipeg.
    The sophomore for Nipawin, Sask., posted a 20-3 record, 1.81 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and five shutouts this season.
    The old record of 19 wins was posted by Jordon Cooke on two occasions in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 regular seasons.
    Due to finishing first, the Huskies have a bye into the semifinal round of the Canada West playoffs. They will host a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series starting with Game 1 on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.

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