Tuesday, 12 March 2019

One of his best life decisions – No second thoughts for Sawchenko leaving WHL for Golden Bears

Zach Sawchenko enjoys life as the Golden Bears star goalie.
    No regrets.
    Almost two years ago, Zach Sawchenko found himself at a crossroads. After his Moose Jaw Warriors were eliminated from the 2017 WHL playoffs, the star netminder had to decide if he wanted to return for his overage season or join the University of Alberta Golden Bears men’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks.
    The Warriors were projecting to be one of the top teams in major junior hockey in 2017-18. The Golden Bears are one of the top U Sports hockey programs year in and year out.
    Having played four full seasons in Moose Jaw, Sawchenko elected to join the Gold Bears.
    The now 21-year-old Calgary, Alta., product hasn’t looked back. Last season, he was the starting goaltender in the Golden Bears wins that clinched the Canada West Conference title and the U Sports national title. 
    The national title win was the 16th in the history of the Golden Bears.
    Ultimately, the Warriors topped the WHL standings that season in 2017-18 with a 52-15-2-3 record and fell in tough seven game series in the second round to the eventual WHL champion Swift Current Broncos.
Zach Sawchenko plays the puck for the Warriors in 2016.
    This season, Sawchenko was again between the pipes for the Golden Bears when they took a series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West Championship series 1-0 against the host and their “forever rivals” the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on March 3 at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Golden Bears are aiming to repeat as U Sports national champions, when the David Johnston University Cup tournament begins on Thursday in Lethbridge, Alta.
    U of A opens nationals as the number one seed taking on the eighth seeded and host University of Lethbridge Pronghorns at 7 p.m. local time Thursday at the Enmax Centre.
    “I think at the end of the day it was a matter of a change of scenery,” said Sawchenko, who is a business major at the U of A. “Moose Jaw had a great team, and I knew what I was walking away from there.
    “There was no regrets what so ever. Just the fact that our team did win nationals was almost like a cherry on top. I never really talked about it openly with a lot of people, but it is one of the best decisions I made for my life.
Warriors G Zach Sawchenko, left, stops Pats C Jake Leschyshyn in 2017.
    “Some people might argue it might be not the best for my career, but just as a person and as a student, it was one of the best decisions I could have made.”
    When he played for the Warriors, it could be argued that Sawchenko was as close as you could get to being a “can’t miss” prospect to make the NHL. From 2013 to 2017, Sawchenko appeared in 177 career regular season games with the Warriors posting an 88-65-16 record, a 3.11 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and nine shutouts.
    In his final campaign in Moose Jaw, Sawchenko posted a 30-14-7 record, a 2.79 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts in being named the top goaltender in the WHL’s Eastern Conference for a second straight year.
    Actually during his time with the Warriors, Sawchenko piled up numerous accolades and accomplishments. He was a WHL Eastern Conference first team all-star on two occasions.
Zach Sawchenko tracks a puck from his goal.
    Sawchenko played for Canada at both main world under-18 tournaments, suited up for the CHL Top Prospects Game, was invited to a world juniors summer camp and attended the main NHL training camp for the Nashville Predators.
    Still, he was never selected in the NHL Entry Draft or pursued heavily for a real look with an NHL team. Sawchenko’s obvious drawback was his size as he stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds in an era when NHL teams usually want their goalies to be at least 6-foot-3 in height.
    The young puck stopper felt it was prudent to have his education in hand before he ventures into life in professional hockey.
    With the Golden Bears, Sawchenko’s play has remained at an elite level. In 34 career regular season games, he has posted a 28-4-1 record, a 1.74 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and five shutouts.
    He is still eligible to play three more seasons with the Golden Bears.
    “I think at the end of the day it is all about timing,” said Sawchenko. “I got in here at the right time.
    “I managed to roll with an opportunity. One of their goalies left, when I was 20-years-old.
Zach Sawchenko, second from right, enjoys a Canada West title win.
    “I opted out of my 20-year-old year to head to school. It has been an awesome experience for me so far, and I am looking forward to the rest.”
    Sawchenko still has tonnes of good memories from his time with the Warriors and enjoyed his four seasons in Moose Jaw. He went through a lengthy thought process before making up his mind to join the Golden Bears and was certain at the time it was the right decision for him. As his days at U of A go on, his decision is reinforced.
    Now, he is focused on helping the Golden Bears win a second straight national title.
     “It is a good feeling,” said Sawchenko, who was a second team Canada West all-star this season. “At the end of the day, it is not the end of the road for us.
    “Canada West is great, but we have our eyes on the big prize now, and that is a national title.”

Fifth-seeded Huskies should be favoured in nationals opener

Carson Stadnyk led the Huskies in regular season scoring.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team will enter the David Johnston University Cup as the fifth season, but they will likely be favoured in their opening game.
    The Huskies will open the U Sports elite-eight style national championship tournament on Thursday in Lethbridge, Alta., against the University of Guelph Gryphons, who embarked on a Cinderella run through the Ontario University Athletics playoffs. 
    The quarter-final match between the two sides opens game action at the University Cup with a 1 p.m. local time puck drop at the Enmax Centre.
    The Huskies finished first in the Canada West Conference posting a 25-3 record in the regular season. U of S set regular season team records for most wins (25) and standings points (50).
    In the playoffs, the Huskies swept the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-0 in a best-of-three Canada West semifinal series before falling to their “forever rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears 2-1 in a best-of-three Canada West Championship series. U of S dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Golden Bears in a series deciding Game 3 on March 3 at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Huskies are making their 20th overall appearance at the University Cup. While they fell in the Canada West final, the Dogs will hit the ice at nationals with a solid and deep roster.
    Third-year right-winger Carson Stadnyk topped the Huskies in regular season scoring with 13 goals and 19 assists for 32 points. Fourth-year centre Kohl Bauml had his best season since his rookie year finishing second in team scoring with nine goals and 20 assists for 29 points.
    Right-winger Levi Cable had a strong year recording 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in regular season play, while fourth-year centre Logan McVeigh had nine goals and 18 assists for 27 points.
Taran Kozun has had a stellar year for the Huskies.
    Captain Jesse Forsberg anchored the defence in his fifth and final season with the team. He led all Huskies blue-liners in scoring with six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 24 regular season games.
    Forsberg was injured in Game 3 of the Canada West final after taking an elbow to the head, so his status for the University Cup is still up in the air.
    Sophomore defenceman Sam Ruopp has taken big strides with the Huskies recording eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 24 regular season games.
    Sophomore netminder Taran Kozun had a stellar season posting a 20-3 record, a 1.81 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and five shutouts. He set a new Huskies team record for most wins by a goalie in one regular season.
    The Gryphons finished fifth in the OUA’s West Division with a 13-11-4 record before going on a tear in the post-season. They swept the University of Windsor Lancers 2-0 in a best-of-three OUA first round series.
    The Gryphons eliminated the Ryerson University Rams in a best-of-three second round series 2-1. In the OUA West final, the Gryphons took out the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 2-1 in a best-of-three series.
    In a winner take all OUA championship game, the Gryphons fell to the Queen’s University Gaels 4-1.
    Fifth-year centre Scott Simmonds topped the Gaels in regular scoring with nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points. Sophomore right-winger Todd Winder was second in team scoring with six goals and 18 assists for 24 points in 27 regular season games.
    Fourth-year left-winger Cody Thompson has some good hands around the net recording 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 27 regular season games.
    Rookie Jesse Saban topped all Gaels defencemen in scoring with one goal and eight assists for nine points in 27 regular season games.
The Huskies aim to pile up the wins at the David Johnston University Cup.
    Third-year netminder Andrew Masters will carry the load in goal for the Gaels. In 16 regular season games, Masters posted a 7-5-3 record, a 2.39 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and two shutouts.
    If the Huskies can outlast the Cinderella run by the Gaels, they will advance to a semifinal game to play the winner of the quarter-final match between the top seeded Golden Bears and the eighth seeded University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
    With the David Johnston University Cup being held in southern Alberta, it is expected a big contingent of supports will follow the Huskies to Lethbridge.
    The semifinal games will both be played on Saturday with times to be announced at the Enmax Centre. The championship final is set for Sunday at 6 p.m. Lethbridge time at the Enmax Centre.

Raiders collect more milestones in latest win

Noah Gregor has scored 40 goals this season for the Raiders.
    The Prince Albert Raiders were able to enjoy a few more milestones in their last outing.
    On Sunday, the Raiders traveled to Swift Current and downed the Broncos 6-0 in a WHL regular season game played before 2,387 spectators at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex. The win allowed the Raiders to improve their league leading record to 53-9-2-2.
    The 53 wins marks the second most victories the Raiders have compiled during their time in the WHL dating back to the 1982-83 campaign. The only campaign where the Raiders had more wins came back in the 1984-85 season, when they posted a regular season record of 58 wins, 11 losses and three ties.
    Of course, the Raiders moved on to win their only WHL and Memorial Cup titles in the 1984-85 campaign.
    Raiders netminder Ian Scott made 14 saves to increase his team record for most shutouts in one regular season to eight. Scott has had a sensational season posting a 37-7-3 record, a 1.82 goals against average and a .932 save percentage to go with his eight shutouts.
Ian Scott has eight shutouts in goal for the Raiders this season.
    Scott was named the WHL and CHL goaltender-of-the-week for the week ending March 10.
    Overage centre Noah Gregor netted his 40th goal of the season on Sunday against the Broncos marking the first time he has hit that plateau in his WHL career.
    Parker Kelly scored twice for the Raiders, while Brett Leason, Sergei Sapego and Sean Montgomery had singles.
    Riley Lamb turned away 51 shots to take the loss in goal for the Broncos (10-49-4-2).
    The Raiders close their regular season with a home-and-home series with their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades. The two sides meet Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon and on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.

Back in the Express with Habscheid

Marc Habscheid, centre, is honoured for his 500th head coaching win.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature on Marc Habscheid.
    Habscheid, who is the head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders, was looking back on his days as a player with the Saskatoon Blades. He played for the Blades for part of the 1979-80 season and the entire 1980-81 and 1981-82 campaigns.
    The piece revolved around his final season with the Blades in 1981-82, where he piled up 64 goals and 87 assists for 151 points in 55 regular season games. Habscheid, who recently turned 56-years-old, suited up at that season’s world juniors and helped Canada win its first ever gold medal at that event.
    My interview with Habscheid, who picked up his 500th regular season win as a WHL head coach in February, was a fun one. It was cool to hear him reflect on how much he enjoyed that part of his life.
    The worse part was I couldn’t get all his recollections into the lengthy piece.
    One of the more humourous stories that was left out came from living with his billet family of Rick and Debbie Brodsky. After a game one night, Habscheid didn’t hang his suit up and left it on the floor of his bedroom.
    Debbie picked it up and washed it, and the suit shrunk in the wash. Habscheid chuckled about that one noting he learned to never leave his clothes on the floor.
    Another memory revolved around world juniors.
    At world juniors, that season’s event was played in a round robin format. Canada had a 6-0 record going into its final game against Czechoslovakia, who had a 5-1 record, on Jan. 2, 1982 at Rochester, Minn.
    A tie would give Canada the gold medal, but loss would give Czechoslovakia the gold.
    The two sides played to a 3-3 tie to give Canada the gold medal. There was no television broadcast of that game, but it did air on CBC Radio.
    “We stood on the blue-line waiting for the national anthem,” said Habscheid. “They didn’t have it, so they just told us to get off the ice.
    “We said no. We went arm in arm and sang it, and that is kind of how that tradition started.”
    Habscheid said Saskatoon will always be a meaningful place to him.
    “It was a big part of my youth,” said Habscheid. “That city will always be special.
    “Sometimes I will be going through, and I will have some time, and I will drive around.”
    The story on Habscheid can be found by clicking right here.

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