Sunday, 31 March 2019

Future bright for Sillinger with WHL’s Tigers

Medicine Hat still eliminated from playoffs in OT heartbreaker

Cole Sillinger turned heads in the WHL playoffs with the Tigers.
    MEDICINE HAT, Alta. – The month of March has been a whirlwind to say the least for Cole Sillinger.
    The 15-year-old Regina, Sask., product started the month trying to help his hometown Regina Pats Canadians win the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League championship after topping the circuit with a 33-7-2-2 record in the regular season. 
    In helping the Pats earn a first place finish, Sillinger, who is a skilled forward, led the SMAAAHL in scoring with 31 goals and 45 assists for 76 points in 39 regular season appearances.
    The Pat Canadians were eliminated in a best-of-five SMAAAHL semifinal series dropping a 5-2 decision in a series deciding Game 5 at home on March 20 to the Notre Dame Hounds. The Hounds moved on to with the SMAAAHL title for a second straight year.
Cole Sillinger (#44) drives a shot on goal for the Tigers.
    After the Pat Canadians season game to an end, Sillinger was called up to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL playoffs. He joined the Tigers on March 23 helping them earn a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first round series with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Alberta capital.
    On Sunday, the Tigers season came to an end as they dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 decision in overtime before 2,872 spectators at the Canalta Centre to the visiting Oil Kings.
    Edmonton netted the winner at the 2:43 mark of the extra session when captain Trey Fix-Wolansky fed linemate Vince Loschiavo with a perfect pass on a two-on-one break and Loschiavo buried the game and series winner.
    While the ending of Sunday’s contest was obviously tough to take for Sillinger, he was thankful he played in all six of the Tigers post-season games. 
Cole Sillinger scored his first goal with the Tigers in the playoffs.
    He believes he can hit the ground running, when he joins the team next season as a 16-year-old rookie.
    “I can kind of get into a routine,” said Sillinger, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 173 pounds. “I can just come in here with lots of confidence and just know that I can play. That will be huge for me.”
    Sillinger comes to the Tigers as a highly touted prospect. The Tigers selected him in the first round and 11th overall in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft.
    Of course, Sillinger’s father, Mike, played 17 seasons in the NHL from 1990-91 to 2008-09 with 12 different teams.
    As he wasn’t eligible to play full time in the WHL, Sillinger continued to lift his status with how he performed with the Pat Canadians. In leading the SMAAAHL in scoring, Sillinger collected a host of league awards.
Cole Sillinger, left, cuts to the net on an offensive rush for the Tigers.
    He was named the circuit’s most valuable player, rookie of the year, top forward and a first team all-star.
    In the final contest of the SMAAAHL regular season on Feb. 27, Sillinger score a short-handed overtime winning goal to give the Pat Canadians a 3-2 victory over the Blazers in Saskatoon to lock up first place in the league.
    While he played with the Pat Canadians, Sillinger was called up to play four regular season games with the Tigers, where he collected two assists.
Cole Sillinger jets up ice for the Tigers.
    In the WHL playoffs, Sillinger scored his first career goal netting the Tigers first tally in their 5-0 victory in Game 3 of their series with the Oil Kings last Tuesday in Medicine Hat.
    “It was just a huge goal for me, and I will remember it forever,” said Sillinger.
    Sillinger played significant minutes for the Tigers in the post-season, and Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston was pleased with how well Sillinger fit in.
    “He is a great player,” said Clouston. “He is a great kid.
    “He works hard. He is smart. He plays with confidence with the puck.
    “He understands how the game needs to be played. He was good for us in the games that we called him up.”
    Clouston was comfortable enough to call up Sillinger for a key regular season game at the Canalta Centre on March 9 against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. Sillinger finished that contest with a plus-one rating in the plus-minus department helping the Tigers pull out a 4-2 victory that really helped them get a lot closer to eventually clinching a playoff berth.  
Vince Loschiavo scored the OT winner for the Oil Kings.
    “It was great to see him score his first goal in the post-season,” said Clouston. “He has a bright future.”
    Sillinger said one of his biggest early hurdles in joining the Tigers for the WHL post-season was getting over the disappointment of the fact the Pat Canadians were eliminated from the SMAAAHL playoffs.
    “I was in the (Tigers) lineup, so I think I had to get that out of my head really quick,” said Sillinger. “I can’t sit on that loss (with the Pat Canadians).
    “I can’t wish that I was going to win a national championship with my midget team. I think that was just the biggest thing. I had to just get that out of my head and then just have the chance to extend my season with the Tigers and do something special with the guys.”
Captain James Hamblin scored a pair of goals for the Tigers.
    Sillinger believes he did a good job of quickly moving on to focus on what he needed to do to help the Tigers. He said he hasn’t even reflected on what it was like to win all the major individual awards he did with the SMAAAHL.
    “I can’t thank my teammates enough for those,” said Sillinger. “I haven’t really been thinking of those.
    “It has been all Tigers and all WHL and focusing on the Edmonton Oil Kings and focusing on what we have to do to win the series.”
    As for Sunday’s game, the Tigers fell behind 1-0 at the 4:09 mark of the first period, when Fix-Wolansky scored a short-handed goal with a backhand shot on a breakaway.
Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky celebrates his first period goal for the Oil Kings.
    Just 1:45 later, the Tigers evened things up at 1-1 on a goal from 17-year-old rookie left-winger Corson Hopwo.
    Early in the second, Tigers captain James Hamblin scored two goals 27 seconds apart from each other to put the hosts up 3-1.
    Just 25 seconds after that surge, Oil Kings defenceman Wyatt McLeod scored to cut the Tigers edge to 3-2.
    Offensive defenceman Conner McDonald netted the equalizer for the Oil Kings to force a 3-3 tie 31 seconds into the third period. That set the stage for Loschiavo to net the winner in overtime.
    Mads Sogaard made 33 saves to take the setback in goal for the Tigers. Todd Scott turned away 26 shots to pick up the win in net for the Oil Kings.
The fans at the Canalta Centre salute the Tigers.
    The result of Sunday’s game brought an end to the WHL careers of the Tigers overage players in Ryan Jevne, Dylan MacPherson and Linus Nassen.
    The Oil Kings finished first in the Central Division with a 42-18-4-4 record and were favoured to beat the Tigers, who placed fourth in the Central with a 35-27-4-2 mark.
    “I guess when you don’t win it is disappointing,” said Clouston. “I think we battled.
    “I think there were times where it looked like Edmonton was going to take the series right over early, but they didn’t. We were able to continue to battle. I’m proud of our effort and disappointed in the final outcome.”
The Tigers and Oil Kings engage in post-series handshakes.
    Sillinger said he learned how important it is to keep battling in the WHL playoffs no matter what was happening to his team.
    “One thing I am going to take away from it is just never give up,” said Sillinger. “That is one thing we did all series.
    “You can’t get too high with your emotions. You can’t get too low, when you are down. I think that is something that we did tonight.
    “I think that will be the biggest thing I’ll take away from the experience of playoffs.”
The Oil Kings celebrate their OT victory and first round series win.
    Edmonton advances to a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series to play the winner of the first round series between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Hitmen. 
    The series between the Hurricanes and Hitmen is tied 3-3 and will require a series-deciding Game 7 to be held on Tuesday in Lethbridge.
    Next season will be the Tigers 50th anniversary campaign in the WHL, and Sillinger can’t wait to hit the ice for that unique season.
    “That will be something special,” said Sillinger. “We’ll for sure have high goals for that.
    “We’ll have lots of these guys back. We’ll be really hungry.”

Ridley could reach 4,000 games next season

Bob Ridley called his 3,935th game as the Tigers play-by-play voice.
    When the Medicine Hat Tigers play through their 50th anniversary season in 2019-20, one of the biggest celebrations might revolve around Bob Ridley, who is the only play-by-play voice the team has ever had.
    Ridley, who will be 75-years-old during the 2019-20 campaign, is in position to call his 4,000th game as the Tigers play-by-play voice next season.
    In the 49 campaigns the Tigers have played, Ridley has called 3,935 of the club’s 3,936 games. That tally includes action in the regular season, standings tiebreaker games, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Ridley has called 3,503 of the Tigers 3,504 regular season games, the one standings tiebreaker game the club has appeared in, all of their 411 games in the WHL playoffs and all 20 of their contests in the Memorial Cup.
    At the moment, the Tigers 65th game in the upcoming regular season would be Ridley’s 4,000th game.
    Of course, Ridley drove the Tigers team bus for most of that stretch.
    No one has called more games as the play-by-play voice of one hockey team at any level as Ridley has.

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Saturday, 30 March 2019

The dream is alive like in 1985 right now in P.A.

The Raiders celebrate a goal in their post-season sweep of the Rebels.
    For the Prince Albert Raiders and their faithful, this has been the season they have long been waiting for.
    Since the Raiders last made the WHL Eastern Conference championship series as part of “The Run” in 2005, fans in “Hockey Town North” have been anxiously waiting for their team to once again be good enough to get to that point in the post-season. Fans in P.A. have dreamed about the chance to cheer on a Raiders team that carried a romanticized aura from the era of legendary head coach and general manager Terry Simpson in the 1970s and 1980s.
    That type of dream seemed to be way too far out of reach for the most optimist supporter of the team.
    Over the past two seasons, people in Prince Albert watched a core of likeable and personable players grow with the Raiders under the watch of head coach Marc Habscheid and general manager Curtis Hunt.
Brett Leason, right, was big in the Raiders win in Game 4 versus the Rebels.
    Both Habscheid and Hunt are popular with the citizens of Prince Albert, who hoped the hand of fate wouldn’t step in and wreak the hard work of this veteran hockey duo.
    Then something special happened.
    The Raiders jumped out to a 7-0 start this season. They returned home from an early October road trip sporting an 8-1 record to host the Red Deer Rebels on Oct. 13 for their fourth home game of the 2018-19 campaign.
    People in Prince Albert realized this was it. This group of boys they watched grow up was going to be special on this Raiders team.
    The faithful returned to the Art Hauser Centre in droves. They were ready to show the rest of Canada that the song in Prince Albert is and always will be “Go Raiders Go.”
Ian Scott has been stellar in goal for the Raiders.
    The Raiders beat the Rebels that night 2-1 on a third period goal by Brett Leason, where he banked the puck on a dump in off the boards to himself in perfect shooting position to net the winner. The win came before a standing room crowd of 2,727 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders gift store was busy through most of the contest.
    That became the norm for most of the rest of the season in Prince Albert as the fans took every opportunity to soak in and enjoy the present. The club averaged 2,615 spectators per game for their 34 regular season home dates.
    The Raiders rolled to finish first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. It marked the second time in team history they finished on top of the overall WHL regular season standings.
The fans have packed the Art Hauser Centre to support the Raiders.
    The only time they posted a better regular season record came when they finished first overall in the 1984-85 campaign with 58 wins, 11 losses and three ties. The Raiders went on to celebrate a Memorial Cup championship in just their third campaign in the major junior ranks.
    This year’s Raiders team carries the aura the club had under Simpson’s guidance during the squad’s time in the junior A ranks in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and in the WHL.
    The Raiders play with great skill and can make finesse plays that lift fans out of their seats. Up front, Leason topped the team in scoring with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points.
    Overage centre Noah Gregor had an outstanding year placing second in team scoring with 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points.
The Raiders have lots of toughness seen here from Justin Nachbaur (#29).
    It seems like anyone on the Raiders four forward lines can put the puck in the net at any given time with Cole Fonstad, Parker Kelly, Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery carrying big reputations for offensive prowess.
    They have a sound unit on defence that is also surprisingly mobile. The starting six of captain Brayden Pachal, Max Martin, Jeremy Masella, Zack Hayes, Kaiden Guhle and import Sergei Sapego are arguably one of the best blue-line units the WHL has seen in recent years.
    Prince Albert has received top quality goaltending from 19-year-old veteran Ian Scott, who along with Leason were members of Canada’s last world junior team.
    Overall, this team has the physical toughness that can overwhelm any foe. In other words, opposing players can expect to get a few bumps and bruises from playing the Raiders.
    When the regular season ended, Scott was named the top goaltender for the Eastern Conference, while Habscheid was named the coach of the year for the conference and Hunt claimed executive of the year honours for the conference.
Noah Gregor has had a stellar season for the Raiders.
    In the first round of the playoffs, the Raiders swept away the Red Deer Rebels 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series. The Rebels posted a 33-29-4-2 record during the regular season and played with heart in the post-season, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the Raiders.
    The two games in Prince Albert saw the Raiders draw 3,093 spectators for their 3-0 victory on March 22 in Game 1 and 3,152 spectators for their 6-4 victory last Saturday in Game 2.
    The biggest bump in the road came during the Game 2 win, when Leason was kicked out of the game in the second period for taking a major penalty for checking from behind. The Raiders felt a major penalty wasn’t warranted as Rebels winger Cameron Hausinger quickly returned for the ensuing power play after taking the hit from Leason.
    Ultimately, Leason was suspended for one game and missed the Raiders 4-2 victory over the Rebels in Game 3 on Tuesday in Red Deer. He returned to make a huge impact in the Raiders series clinching victory in Game 4 in Red Deer on Wednesday.
The Art Hauser Centre faithful salutes the Raiders after their Game 2 win.
    With the Raiders and Rebels tied at 1-1 going into the third period, Leason scored the series winner 58 seconds into the third and added an insurance marker at the 11:27 mark of the frame to put Prince Albert up 3-1. Fonstad scored into an empty net with 3:34 remaining in the third to round out a 4-1 victory for the Raiders.
    Now, the Raiders will take on their archrivals, the Saskatoon Blades, in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. Game 1 of that series is slated for this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 record and were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. The Raiders will find that the Blades are a formable test.
    For the fans in Prince Albert, the sight they love the most is when their Raiders send the Blades “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”
Brayden Pachal, left, and Parker Kelly do their victory handshake.
    Knocking the Blades out of the playoffs this season will be something Raiders fans will always savour.
    The Raiders and their fans are enjoying every moment in the present, and hopes are high they can go all the way and bring the Memorial Cup back to “Hockey Town North.”
    The impossible dream feels like it can be real this year.

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Friday, 29 March 2019

WHL playoffs thing fitting Blades just fine

Blades captain Chase Wouters (#44) in embraced by Dorrin Luding.
    You have to love it when the WHL playoffs experience is all new again.
    Skating in the post-season for the first time since 2013, the Saskatoon Blades are finding a new love affair with the WHL post-season. Due to the fact it has been so long since they have been in the playoffs, the current Blades are writing their own post-season story on a clean slate.
    Everything for “the Bridge City” bunch is an open road again.
    Due to finishing fourth overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record, the Blades have created some buzz in Saskatoon.
    With having made numerous community appearances throughout the campaign, captain Chase Wouters and his teammates including the likes of Kirby Dach, Riley McKay, Kyle Crnkovic, Max Gerlach, “Uncle” Gary Haden, Nolan Maier, Dawson Davidson, Brandon Schuldhaus, et al have laid the groundwork to create an image that they are a likable bunch, and they can be “the boys” in “Toon Town.”
Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had the OT series winner for the Blades.
    One of the signs that interest is going up in the team comes from the fact the Blades are making some healthy sales at their Frozen Pond gift store with novelty T-shirts featuring Haden, McKay, Crnkovic, Gerlach, Dach and Maier.
    In the first round, they swept a best-of-seven series with the Moose Jaw Warriors, who finished seventh overall in the league at 40-20-6-2. The sweep was completed on Wednesday when the Blades posted a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 4 at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
    Norwegian import winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen had the honours of scoring the series winner at the 4:36 mark of the extra session.
    Along the way, the fans are returning to the SaskTel Centre for Blades home games. At the WHL Christmas break, the Blades were averaging 3,658 spectators per game after 15 home dates.
    If that average attendance number held up, the Blades would have posted their lowest average attendance since the 2003-04 campaign, when they averaged 3,361 spectators per game in a season where they posted a franchise worst record of seven wins, 52 losses, 11 ties and two overtime setbacks.
Max Gerlach has sniped big goals for the Blades.
    As the Blades remarkable regular season continued with the team winning 15 out of their final 17 regular season games, they bumped their average attendance mark for the regular season up to 3,911 spectators. The figure was an improvement over the average attendance figure of 3,851 per game for the team last season.
    In their first two home playoff dates, the Blades drew 5,193 spectators for their 3-2 Game 1 overtime victory over the Warriors last Friday and 6,022 supporters for their 3-1 victory in Game 2 last Saturday. The team will always open the doors for all new supporters that want to join them.
    For the Blades players, they have already experienced moments of euphoric highs. All those moments have done is created more motivation to create more of those moments.
Kirby Dach made a few highlight reels with his goal in Game 4.
    The Blades started experience the euphoric highs on a grand note in Game 1. They fell behind the Warriors 2-0 early in the second. If the Blades went down to defeat there, a loss could have been chalked up to nerves.
    Instead, it was time to cue the comeback.
    Gerlach sniped his first of the post-season to help the Blades exit the second period down 2-1. With 8:12 remaining in the third, McKay, who became a fan favourite for his style of play that gets under the skin of opponents, netted the equalizer to tie things up at 2-2 and force overtime.
    At the 3:23 mark of overtime, Wouters put home a backhander on a rush that gave the Blades a 3-2 victory and their first win in the WHL playoffs since 2011.
    The captain who turned 19-years-old in February and is a career member of the team capped the victory. It was a romantic storyline moment for the Blades.
The Blades keep getting more supporters as every game passes.
    The storyline moment was the result of work that was put in during the season, and the previous campaigns of building. Good teams that do all the right things will experience romantic playoff moments like the Wouters had.
    For recent examples, just look at the performance of now graduated Regina Pats stars Adam Brooks and Sam Steel from the 2016-17 WHL playoffs and now graduated Swift Current Broncos stars Glenn Gawdin and Tyler Steenbergen in helping their club capture the WHL title last season.
    In Game 2, Gerlach hammered home a pair of goals, while Dach netted his first of the playoffs in the Blades 3-1 victory that night.
Riley McKay, left, celebrates scoring a big goal for the Blades in Game 1.
    In Game 3 on Tuesday in Moose Jaw, Gerlach broke the hearts of the Warriors and their faithful firing home the winner with 4:21 remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the Blades a 3-2 win.
    Before Roykas-Marthinsen came thought with his OT series winner in Game 4, Dach had a huge moment putting the Blades up 3-2 with 4:25 remaining in the third with a sensational short-handed goal.
    On his coast-to-coast effort, Dach passed the puck to himself around first Warriors star captain and defenceman Josh Brook and another Warriors star defenceman in Jett Woo to spring himself on a breakaway. Dach tucked home his third of the playoffs on a smart deke move past Moose Jaw netminder Adam Evanoff to give the Blades the lead.
Netminder Nolan Maier has kept rolling for the Blades in the post-season.
    Dach’s superhuman effort was another romantic post-season moment for the Blades.
    A short time later, Warriors overage centre Tristin Langan scored to force overtime.
    That set the stage for Roykas-Marthinsen to come through with his series winner for Saskatoon in the extra session.
    Over the course of the sweep, Blades first year head coach Mitch Love has looked like an experienced veteran top bench boss with how he has guided his players knowing when to let them enjoy things and knowing when to pull them back to focus on the next moment or game.
    General manager Colin Priestner, who has led the charge in building the current Saskatoon roster through the WHL Bantam Draft and a number of smart trades, has to feel a mix of pride, excitement and relief with what his team has accomplished to this point.
Dawson Davidson has done it all on the back end for the Blades.
    Now the Blades move in to face their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders in a best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. That series will begin with Game 1 on April 5 at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    The Raiders are playing through a spectacular season finishing first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record in the regular season, being ranked second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings and sweeping the Red Deer Rebels, who were 33-29-4-2 in the regular season, in the first round of the playoffs.
    The Blades, who were honourable mentions in the final CHL Top 10 rankings, will be the underdogs against the Raiders.
    Still, the Blades are building the belief that they can be the ones that advances to the Eastern Conference Championship series and possibly the WHL Championship series.
    While the Raiders will bring their huge contingent of fans to each game of this series, it appears the Blades won’t be going into those contest by themselves.
    A pure excitement is building in Saskatoon for their likable WHL team. The Blades have marketed Saskatoon as being #BladeCity.
Blades players like Riley McKay want to share big moments with their fans.
    In the early going, there were a lot of skeptics that scoffed at that notion.
    For a team that is making the impossible look possible, Saskatoon may legitimately become #BladeCity after all.

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Thursday, 28 March 2019

Expect Blazers to battle to bitter end in SMAAAHL final

Rhett Gibson breaks in on a scoring chance for the Blazers.
    Don’t expect the Saskatoon Blazers to let a special season die easily.
    On Wednesday at the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena, the Blazers fought tooth and nail to try and claim a pivotal Game 3 of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League championship series against the Notre Dame Hounds. Locked in a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes of play, Hounds 15-year-old defenceman Maxwell Joy scored the only goal of the third period to deliver the visitors to a 3-2 victory.
    With that result, the Hounds took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. They will be looking to close things out on Friday, when the two sides meet in Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Duncan McNeill Arena in Wilcox.
    For the Blazers, the setback in Wednesday was a tough one to take. They took Game 1 of the SMAAAHL title series last Saturday at home 3-0. The Hounds rebounded to take Game 2 with a thrilling 3-2 double overtime result in Wilcox.
Max Gudnason (#25) had a goal for the Blazers on Wednesday.
    The Blazers will be facing their third elimination game of the post-season. Of course, they won the first two way back in the first round with victories in Games 4 and 5 to take their best-of-five set with the rival Prince Albert Mintos 3-2.
    The Blazers had a strong regular season posting a 31-10-3 regular season record to finish third overall in the league. They finished five points in the standings behind the first place Regina Pat Canadians.
    The Pat Canadians fell to the Hounds in a series deciding Game 5 in the semifinal round.
Nolan Allan has been a force on the blue-line for the Blazers.
    The Hounds, who are the defending SMAAAHL champions, finished fourth overall in the league’s regular season standings with a 28-12-2-2 mark.
    While the Blazers have had a strong season, they have encountered adversity points. Any time an adversity point hits, they face it head on.
    Saskatoon appeared to be poised to top the SMAAAHL standings. Weather literally wreaked havoc on their late season schedule resulting in postponements of three games.
    As a result, the Blazers had a roller-coaster final seven games of the regular season winning three times, falling three times in regulation and falling once in overtime.
    The overtime loss closed their regular season schedule on Feb. 27 at Rod Hamm, when the Pat Canadians posted a 3-2 win with star forward Cole Sillinger scoring the winner while short-handed.
    After falling behind the Mintos 2-1 in the first round, the Blazers rallied to take that series 3-2.
    In a best-of-five semifinal series, they downed the Tisdale Trojans in four games.
The Blazers celebrate a goal from Hayden Wilm on Wednesday.
    Even on Wednesday, it seemed the Blazers would find a way to win.
    The Hounds went ahead 1-0 at the 4:26 mark on a goal by star forward Coalson Wolford. Less than two minutes later, the Blazers tied things up at 1-1 with a short-handed goal coming from the stick of veteran forward Max Gudnason.
    Forward Drew Englot put the Hounds back on top 2-1 near the midway point of the second.
    The Blazers battled back with a power-play goal from rookie forward Hayden Wilm with 3:57 remaining in the second.
    Joy scored his winner at the 5:48 mark of the third. While the Blazers had the puck for the majority of the time for the rest of the third, their shots on goal were limited due to the defensive work of the Hounds, who trapped up the centre ice zone efficiently.
Cole Nagy played a physical game for the Blazers on Wednesday.
    Matthew Pesenti turned away 22 shots to take the setback in goal for the Blazers. Thomas Wardle had an outstanding game making 29 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Hounds.
    The Blazers had great efforts from a number of their standouts. The most noticeable was 15-year-old rookie offensive defenceman Nolan Allan, who was selected in the first round and third overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince Albert Raiders.
    Allan was a force at both ends of the ice, and he had serious control of the play, when he had the puck. He has six goals and 15 assists in the Blazers 12 playoff games after posting 12 goals and 23 assists in 39 regular season games.
    Veteran 17-year-old forward Cole Nagy played a physical game. He topped the Blazers in regular season scoring with 26 goals and 39 assists appearing in all the team’s 44 regular season games.
    Forward Josh Nagy had dangerous moments in the offensive zone.
Keenan Allan breaks into the offensive zone for the Blazers.
    He finished second in Blazers regular season scoring with 21 goals and 27 assists in 43 regular season games.
    Sophomore forward Carter Stebbings flowed to smart areas on the ice. He had 13 goals and 32 assists appearing in all of the Blazers 44 regular season games.
    Speedy Rhett Gibson brought a lot of energy to the contest. In 38 regular season games he had 17 goals and 21 assists.
    Head coach Scott Scissons always seems to find a way to help the Blazers hit another gear.
    Overall, the heart of this Saskatoon side can never be questioned. It always shows through.
Head coach Scott Scissons and the Blazers aim to force a Game 5 on Sunday.
    The Blazers have their backs to the wall, but they are far from finished in the SMAAAHL final. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them return home to host a series deciding Game 5 this coming Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Rod Hamm.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Stars build SFMAAAHL dynasty, win fourth Fedoruk Cup in last five years

Anna Leschyshyn, right, lifts the Fedoruk Cup, while Ashley Messier cheers.
    It felt like it was just a matter of time before the Saskatoon Stars championship pedigree was going to rise to the surface.
    On Tuesday, the Stars were looking to sweep the best-of-five Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Championship series in a Game 3 clash against the Regina Rebels at Merlis Belsher Place. The host Stars seemed to start a little slow coming out of the gate, and the Rebels held a slight edge in play holding a 10-8 edge in shots on goal over the first 20 minutes.
    At that point, the Stars hit another gear.
    Just nine seconds into the second period, Stars star veteran winger Anna Leschyshyn blew home a power-play goal to the top corner of the Regina goal to give the Stars a 1-0 advantage.
Anna Leschyshyn had the Stars first goal on Tuesday.
    The Rebels evened things at 1-1 just 29 second later on a goal from 15-year-old forward Neena Brick, who was the SFMAAAHL’s rookie of the year this season.
    Saskatoon responded with two goals before the second frame ended to go up 3-1 and cruised to a 3-2 victory.
    With the win, the Stars swept the SFMAAAHL title series 3-0 and captured the Fedoruk Cup as league champions for the fourth time in the last five years.
    “It is obviously really special,” said Stars veteran captain Grace Shirley. “We’ve kind of been working for this ever since the beginning of the season.
    “It is really awesome that we could get the win. It is pretty special, because it is my last year. I kind of wanted to go out of the league on a winning note.
Neena Brick scored for the Rebels on Tuesday.
    “It is obviously super special, and I’m excited for what’s next.”
    When the Rebels evened the game up at 1-1, the Stars didn’t get rattled. They controlled the majority of the play for the rest of the contest.
    At the 4:12 mark of the second, Shirley put the Stars ahead 2-1 when her seemingly innocent backhand shot had eyes and found its way past Rebels netminder Chantel Weller.
    Shirley said her goal was a lucky one, but despite the luck, her team found its edge offensively.
    “I think started just like playing our game offensively and getting shots and chances,” said Shirley. “Once we started to do that, they started to go in for us, so it was good.”
Captain Grace Shirley had a goal for the Stars on Tuesday.
    With 1:37 remaining in the second period, rookie forwards Halle Helperl and Kaylee Baun teamed up to set up 17-year-old veteran linemate Kaitlin Jockims for a goal to put the Stars up 3-1.
    The Rebels were held to just two shots on goal in the third period, but one of those shots resulted in a goal from veteran 17-year-old forward Samantha Sichkaruk that cut the Stars lead to 3-2 with 8:50 remaining in the frame.
    During the dying seconds of the third, the Rebels had a huge chance to tie the game, but a final desperate shot by Brick from in close on the left side of the Saskatoon goal went just wide of its mark.
    Rookie Stars forward Haylee Kos, who turned 15-years-old in early February, said her team’s confidence was still high even after the Rebels closed to within 3-2.
    “There was a little bit of nervousness, because we got so close,” said Kos. “I think we all had some pretty good composure.
Sydney Pedersen brings the puck up ice for the Rebels.
    “We kept our defence up.”
    When the third period clock hit zero, Kos said she screamed and jumped over the boards as fast as she could to celebrate with her teammates. She said this was a dream moment during her journey in her rookie campaign.
    “It is absolutely incredible,” said Kos. “It was a little bit chaotic at first adjusting to everything, but I think once I got used to it, it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
    Arden Kliewer made 15 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Weller turned away 24 shots to take the setback in net for the Rebels.
    Saskatoon finished first in the SFMAAAHL regular season with a 27-1 mark, which was the best record the team ever posted in regular season play. Regina was second with a 17-7-4 record.
The Stars begin celebrating their SFMAAAHL title win.
    Greg Slobodzian has guided the Stars to all four of their SFMAAAHL title victories as head coach. 
    The Stars claimed the league crown in 2015, 2016 and last season. He said it is always special to finish as the top team in the province and that all of the Stars SFMAAAHL championship victories had equal meaning.
    “They are all great,” said Slobodzian. “This one is really nice, because you’re with this group of girls for so long, like the other ones too.
    “We’ve got a pretty big graduating class this year. We’ve got some young girls here that I am so happy that they get a chance to experience this. They are all great.
The crowd at Merlis Belsher Place salutes the Stars for their title win.
    “This one is just like all the other ones. I’m going to be enjoying it for a long time.”
    The Stars will now host the Manitoba female midget AAA champion Westman Wildcats from Hartney in a best-of-three Western regional playdown series. The dates and times of that series are still to be announced. It is expected the series will start around April 5.
    The winner of that series advances to the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament to be held April 21 to 27 in Sudbury, Ont.
The Stars pose for the traditional team championship photo.
    Saskatoon has advanced to the Esso Cup the three previous times it has won the SFMAAAHL title.
    Shirley is pumped to get the chance to play in another regional playdown series.
    “It is awesome,” said Shirley. “I think any time you get to play more games it is good.
    “I think we are just going to keep getting better and see where that takes us.”

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Monday, 25 March 2019

Stars one win away from SFMAAAHL title repeat

Jockims’ monster night gives Saskatoon 4-1 win in Game 2

Kaitlin Jockims had three points for the Stars on Monday.
    Kaitlin Jockims took her turn to become the latest star to step up in a big moment for the Saskatoon Stars.
    On Monday at the Co-operators Centre in Regina, Jockims had a pair of goals and an assist to help the visiting Stars erase a 1-0 first period deficit and down the host Rebels 4-1 in Game 2 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series.
    With the win, the Stars take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. They will have their first chance to close out the series and win the Fedoruk Cup for a second straight year in Game 3 on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon.
    In Monday’s game, the Rebels opened the scoring at the 10:51 mark of the first period on a goal from 15-year-old sophomore defender Sydney Pedersen.
    The Stars evened things up at 1-1 at the 3:34 mark of the second, when Jockims netted her first of the contest.
    With under three seconds to play in the second period, Jockims teamed up with captain Grace Shirley to set up Anna Leschyshyn for the go-ahead goal on the power play to give Saskatoon a 2-1 advantage.
Sydney Pedersen scored for the Rebels on Monday.
    Jockims proceeded to score a huge insurance marker to give the Stars a 3-1 edge with 2:50 remaining in the third period. Sophomore forward Calli Arnold rounded out the Stars scoring with an empty-net goal inside of the final 50 seconds of the third.
    Arden Kliewer made 20 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Chantel Weller turned away 23-of-26 shots to take the setback in net for the Rebels.
    Saskatoon finished first in the SFMAAAHL regular season with a 27-1 mark, while Regina was second with a 17-7-4 record.
    The Stars are trying to win their fourth SFMAAAHL title in the last five years. The Rebels won their lone SFMAAAHL title in 2013.
    If the Rebels win Game 3 on Tuesday to stay alive in the series, they would force a Game 4 to be held in Regina on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. at the Co-operators Centre. If a series-deciding Game 5 is required, it will be held on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.

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Sunday, 24 March 2019

Arnold OT hero for Stars in Game 1 of SFMAAAHL final

Calli Arnold netted the OT winner for the Stars on Saturday night.
    Calli Arnold stepped into the spotlight for the Saskatoon Stars on Saturday night.
    The 15-year-old sophomore winger netted the winning goal at the 3:26 mark of overtime to give the Stars a 2-1 victory over the Regina Rebels in Game 1 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series at Merlis Belsher Place. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is slated for Monday at 7:45 p.m. at the Co-operators Centre in Regina.
    Arnold’s goal was her first tally of the playoffs with veteran linemates Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala picking up assists.
    Going into the post-season, Arnold, who is from Dodsland, Sask., had a breakout out year netting 12 goals and 15 assists appearing in all of the Stars 28 regular season games.
Chantel Weller made 29 saves in goal for the Rebels on Saturday.
    The Stars jumped out to a 1-0 lead in Saturday’s contest as offensive-defender Ashley Messier netted a power-play goal at the 2:12 mark of the first period.
    Veteran forward Lauren Focht, who turned 17-years-old in January, scored for Regina at the 14:48 mark of the opening frame to force a 1-1 tie.
    The goaltenders for both sides had stellar performances in the SFMAAAHL title series opener.
    Arden Kliewer made 32 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Chantel Weller turned away 29 shots to take the setback in goal for the Rebels.
    Saskatoon finished first in the SFMAAAHL regular season with a 27-1 mark, while Regina was second with a 17-7-4 record. The Stars won three out of the four head-to-head regular season games with the Rebels.
    Game 3 of the series is set for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.

Stars alums Clark and Shirley win NCAA title with Badgers

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    Saskatoon Stars alums Emily Clark and Sophie Shirley experienced a career highlight they will never forget.
    On Sunday, the two skilled forwards helped the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team win their fifth National Collegiate Athletic Association title in team history. The top seeded Badgers blanked the second seeded University of Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-0 in the championship game of the women’s Frozen Four at the People’s United Centre in Hamden, Connecticut.
    Clark is a senior forward with the Badgers who was playing in her final NCAA career game. Shirley is a freshman with the Badgers.
    Both were held off the scoresheet in the championship final.
    Sophia Shaver and Annie Pankowski netted singles for the Badgers.
    Kristen Campbell, who is from Brandon, Man., made 27 saves to earn the shutout win in goal for the Badgers, who finished with a 35-4-2 overall record. Alex Gulstene turned away 30 shots to take the setback in goal for the Golden Gophers, who finished with a 32-6-1 overall record.
    Sunday’s win marked the first time the Badgers captured the NCAA title since 2011. A national championship in NCAA women’s hockey was first awarded in 2001.
    The Badgers blanked the fourth seeded Clarkson University Golden Knights 5-0 in a semifinal game on Friday. Clark had an assist in that contest.
    The Golden Knights won the NCAA title in each of the previous two years.
    Both Clark and Shirley are members of Canada’s national women’s hockey team program. Clark skates with the senior women’s team, and Shirley is a member of the national development team.
    Clark, who played for the Stars from 2009 to 2012, missed time at the beginning of the season due to an injured left leg. Skating in her fourth and final season with the Badgers, Clark has appeared in 34 overall games recording 14 goals, 14 assists and a plus-25 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Shirley, who played for the Stars from 2012 to 2015, had had an outstanding rookie season with the Badgers appearing in 41 overall games recording 20 goals, 18 assists and a plus-36 rating.
    The Golden Gophers blanked the Cornell University Big Red 2-0 in Friday’s other semifinal.
    Stars alum Willow Slobodzian is a sophomore defender for the Big Red. In 36 games with the Big Red this season, Slobodzian, who played for the Stars from 2014 to 2017, had four goals, eight assists and is a plus-22.

Willoughby captures Clarkson Cup with Inferno

    Kaitlin Willoughby capped her rookie season as a professional hockey player in championship style.
    The speedy winger helped the Calgary Inferno win the Clarkson Cup as Canadian Women’s Hockey League champions with a 5-2 win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the circuit’s title game in Toronto, Ont., on Sunday.
    Willoughby wasn’t able to collect any points in Sunday’s final Ricoh Coliseum, but she still finished a year playing key minutes on a stacked Inferno squad this past season.
    The Inferno led Sunday’s clash with Les Canadiennes 2-0 after the first period and 3-2 after the second framed before cruising to a three-goal victory.
    Zoe Hickel scored twice for the Inferno, while Halli Krzyzaniak, Brianna Decker and Rebecca Johnston had singles. Ann-Sophie Bettez scored both goals for Les Canadiennes.
    Alex Rigsby turned away 25 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Inferno. Emerance Maschmeyer stopped 26-of-30 shots taking the setback in goal for Les Canadiennes.
    The Inferno topped the CWHL regular season standings with a 23-4-0-1 record. Les Canadiennes finished second with a 21-6-0-1 mark.
    Willoughby has appeared in 27 regular season games with the Inferno collecting one goal and five assists. On March 11, the 23-year-old forward from Prince Albert, Sask., who originally hails from Canwood, Sask., captained Canada’s women’s hockey team to a silver medal win at the FISU Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
    Canada fell 2-0 in the gold medal game to the host Russian side. In six games at the tournament, Willoughby had a goal, three assists and was a plus-five.
    Before joining the Inferno, Willoughby was a star for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team from 2013 to 2018 finishing as the squad’s second all-time leading scorer posting 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points in 132 career regular season games.
    From 2008 to 2013, Willoughby appeared in 96 regular season games with the SFMAAAHL’s Prince Albert Northern Bears piling up 34 goals and 63 assists for 97 points.
    While playing for the Inferno and for Canada at the FISU Winter Universiade, Willoughby is competing her studies in nursing at the U of Saskatchewan.

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