Thursday, 14 February 2019

Physical defender Bohlken lights up scoreboard for Huskies

U of S beings playoff journey hosting Mount Royal

Leah Bohlken smiles after scoring a goal this season.
    Leah Bohlken still cherishes the lessons taught to her by a special friend, when she first joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    Way back at the start of the 2015-16 season, Bohlken arrived on campus at the U of S as a fresh faced defender from Moose Jaw, who was about to celebrate her 18th birthday near the start of the school year.
    She quickly became friends with a player, who is regarded as the best defender the Huskies women’s team ever had.
    “My first year coming on to the team I played with Julia Flinton, and that was pretty huge for me,” said Bohlken. “Being older and playing, she helped me a lot through that year.
    “She taught me a lot kind of like the more you experience the better you become. I kind of saw that through her. You just have to give it time, and things come in time.”
Leah Bohlken fires a shot through a screen for the Huskies.
    Flinton, who is still the Huskies all-time leader in career regular season points among defenders, was in her fifth and final season, when Bohlken was a rookie.
    To Bohlken’s pleasant surprise, the two were placed together as a defensive pairing. Flinton took Bohlken under her wing.
    Besides learning from Flinton through talks, Bohlken watched Flinton on the ice in order to pick up pointers on how to be better.
    “I remember making one pass to her on one power play,” said Bohlken. “This is one vivid memory that I have.
    “I went D-to-D, and she went down low backdoor to a girl that I had now idea was there. Flinton just saw her plain as day, and they put it in. I was like, “That was the nicest goal I have ever seen.””
    Now in her fourth year with the Huskies, Bohlken has established her own presence as an offensive force for the Huskies. In 27 regular season games, she had a team high nine goals and seven assists for 16 points.
Leah Bohlken tied for the Huskies team lead in points this season.
    She finished in a tie for the lead in team scoring with third-year right-winger Bailee Bourassa, who had five goals and 11 assists in 27 games.
    Bohlken’s goal, assist and point totals are all career highs.
    Her goal total for one season has surpassed Flinton’s best for one campaign.
    “It is new to me for sure, but it has been good,” said Bohlken, who was a plus-three in the plus-minus department. “I’ve been kind of finding the right places this year.
    “It is kind of all coming together. Every year I think you work on something, and then you see it kind of improve throughout the year. This year, it has been points.
    “I can’t take it from one end to the other and go score. It is all the other girls on the ice helping me too.”
Leah Bohlken had nine goals for the Huskies this season.
    Thanks to Bohlken’s efforts, the Huskies finished with a 16-10-1-1 record to finish fourth in the Canada West Conference and have secured home ice advantage for a best-of-three quarter-final playoff series at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Huskies face the Mount Royal University Cougars, who concluded the regular season on a three-game winning streak and finished fifth in Canada West with a 12-14-2 record. Game 1 of the series is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
    Game 2 is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m., and if necessary, Game 3 is set for Sunday at 7 p.m.
Bohlken’s production has been a sweet sight for Huskies head coach Steve Kook.
    “I’m happy for the breakthrough year that Leah is having,” said Kook. “She’s always lead by example putting in extra time on the ice and the weight room.  
    “In past seasons, she’s always produced quality scoring chances. I’m happy she’s getting rewarded for her hard work. With scoring at a premium in our conference this season, we’re going to need all the scoring we can get.”
Leah Bohlken had career highs in all offensive categories.
    Bohlken is one of those offensive defenders that likes to quarterback the play from the point. A lot of her goals are the result of her rocket shot.
    With that said, she has capitalized on the odd opening to sneak down low from the point to score from the front of the net.
    “Leah has been making great reads off the puck and has been putting herself in good spots on the ice and the puck finds her,” said Kook. “Whether you call it secondary scoring or scoring by committee it’s something that all our players can do in order to help us generate offense in the second half of our season.”
    While Bohlken stands 5-foot-6, she can play gritty and physical too. That was a characteristic of Flinton’s play as well.
    Bohlken said she gained the physical side of her game from her older brother, Brett, who played two full seasons with the Moose Jaw Generals midget AAA team from 2011 to 2013.
Leah Bohlken is best known for playing tough in her own zone.
    “Apparently the day after I got out of the hospital, my mom took me to the rink, and I was in watching my brother play,” said Leah, who has been a U Sports academic all-Canadian in her first three seasons with the Huskies. “I kind of looked up to my brother.
    “He is two years older than me. We’d play mini sticks downstairs, and I’d remember we would play hit hockey. That kind of gave me the playing style that I have today being hard and tough.
    “That kind of got me into it. Then I just stuck with it, and I loved it.”
    Bohlken always received great support from her parents in father, Dean, and mother, Dawn. She remembers her dad taking pride in her physical game, when she played in boys’ leagues.
    “My dad would probably tell a story about me going and rocking one of the guys in one of our little league practices,” said Bohlken. “From right then, I kind of knew whenever I got on the ice that was the sport that I wanted to play.”
Leah Bohlken breaks into the offensive zone around a checker.
    It helped that her family was big into the sport too. Dean played the game as well, and younger sister, Larissa, is a 16-year-old defender with the Regina Rebels female midget AAA team. Larissa stands 5-foot-8.
    “My sister, she is younger than me, but I look up to her,” said Bohlken. “She is taller than me, so I guess I actually look up to her.
    “It is kind of everybody that you play with and meet I think you take a little bit from everybody in how they play.”
    Now as one of the Huskies veterans, Bohlken, who is an assistant captain, tries to take the younger players under her wing like Flinton once did.
Leah Bohlken can quarterback the power play on the back end.
    Bohlken said the veterans want to continue the cycle of helping the younger players along and making them feel they are part of something special.
    “I think that we continue to do that every year,” said Bohlken. “I hope all the players feel like that.
    “This team is a great team to a part of. Everybody kind of helps out each other. You learn things from everybody.”
    The Huskies are in the mix holding the potential to make a long playoff push. This season they would have to it without the services of star captain Kaitlin Willoughby, who graduated after last season.
    Willoughby currently plays in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League with the Calgary Inferno and attended a tryout camp for Canada’s senior national women’s hockey team last September.
    Bohlken said Willoughby’s departure was a huge loss for the team and everyone has to step up to fill the void she left.
Leah Bohlken (#4) believes the Huskies can make another long playoff run.
    The standout defender said belief is high among the Huskies that they can return to U Sports nationals for a second straight year noting Willoughby left a great mark on the returning players.
    “Willoughby, she is a very special player,” said Bohlken. “You know that from watching her.
    “She also left leaving a lot of girls with a lot of help too. She was that fifth year where you come in, and she takes everybody underneath her wing. Everybody kind of got to experience what I did with Flinton that first year.
    “When she (Willoughby) left, she didn’t leave as big of a gap as what one would think, because she was helping players all year long to fill that gap.”

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