Sunday, 28 April 2019

Shirley, Leschyshyn, Fiala era comes to an end for Stars

The Saskatoon Stars have produced many memorable moments like this.
    It is one of those times when you are stuck in denial.
    After the Saskatoon Stars fell 3-2 after a tiebreaking shootout to the Ontario-based Stoney Creek Sabres in the bronze medal game of the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament, it hits you that the Stars season is done.
    The conclusion of that contest held at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ont., brings forward another reality.
    Grace Shirley, Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala will never skate for the Stars again.
    When August comes, they will be departing for the United States to play for women’s hockey teams in the NCAA ranks. Shirley will join the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Leschyshyn will suit up for the Syracuse University Orange and Fiala will play for the Robert Morris University Colonials.
Grace Shirley, right, at the Stars 2015 SFMAAAHL title win.
    All three joined the Stars on a full-time basis as 14-year-old underage rookies in the 2015-16 campaign and quickly shot up to the status of star status.
    That trio were the constants in the Stars last three appearances at Esso Cup including last year and in 2016. This season, Shirley was the Stars captain, while Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala served as assistant captains along with offensive defender Ashley Messier, who turned 17-years-old in late March.
    Shirley and Leschyshyn each played a handful of games for the Stars as associate player call ups in 2014-15.
    Leschyshyn was on the ice the night the Stars won their first Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title on March 25, 2015. She picked up an assist in the Stars 2-0 victory over the Prince Albert Northern Bears that clinched the SFMAAAHL championship series.
    The Stars took Shirley to that year’s Esso Cup tournament in Red Deer, Alta., and she dressed for all seven of Saskatoon’s games.
Captain Grace Shirley in action for the Stars this season.
    Shirley is the only player to hit the ice for all 28 games the Stars have played at Esso Cup posting 16 goals and six assists for 22 points.
    They are linked extremely tight to the identity of the team. To think they will no longer be in the Stars lineup next season seems difficult to fathom.
    When the Stars returned to the Esso Cup for the fourth time in the last five years, hopes were high that this would be there year. They would make the one or two plays they hadn’t made in past years and one or two breaks would go their way allowing Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala to graduate as national champions.
Anna Leschyshyn in action for the Stars on March 25, 2015.
    Like the past three visits that didn’t turn out to be.
    Playing in one of the tournament’s tougher field of six teams, the Stars finished first in the preliminary round standings with a 4-1 record.
    To show how unpredictable the results could be, the preliminary round loss the Stars suffered was a 7-3 drubbing to the As de Quebec on Monday.
    Saskatoon followed that up with a pair of one-goal wins in regulation including a 3-2 victory over the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash on Tuesday and a 3-2 triumph over the host Sudbury Lady Wolves on Wednesday.
    On Thursday, Leschyshyn set Esso Cup single game records for goals (five) and points (eight) in the Stars 11-1 win over the Halifax Fire.
Anna Leschyshyn in action for the Stars this season.
    Leschyshyn took home the award as the tourament’s top scorer with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. Messier took home honours as the tournament’s top defender posting three assists in seven games.
    The Slash and Lady Wolves ultimately met in Saturday’s championship game, where the Slash won a third straight national title with a 4-1 victory.
    The Stars made the national “frozen four” like their three previous visits to the Esso Cup and like those previous visits more heartbreak ensued.
    On Friday, the Stars faced the Slash in one of two semifinal contests. Defender Dayle Ross scored for the Slash 30 seconds into the third period to break a scoreless deadlock.
Joelle Fiala (#27) celebrates scoring in the 2016 SFMAAAHL final.
    Shirley and Fiala combined to set up standout forward Kaitlin Jockims to score the equalizer for the Stars with 1:34 remaining in the third to force a 1-1 tie and overtime.
    Captain Madison Willan scored 2:46 into overtime to deliver a 2-1 victory to the Slash.
    Arden Kliewer made 26 saves to take the setback in goal for the Stars. Brianna Sank turned away 22 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Slash.
    Out of the four times the Stars had played in a national semifinal, they picked up one win and lost two games in extra time. In Saskatoon’s first visit to the Esso Cup in 2015, they dropped a 2-1 decision after a tiebreaking shootout to the host Red Deer Chiefs.
    In Saturday’s bronze medal game against the Sabres, the Stars took a 1-0 lead at the 2:57 mark of the second period, when Fiala and Jayda Sachs combined to set up Calli Arnold for her third goal of the tournament.
Joelle Fiala in action for the Stars this season.
    Just 48 seconds into the third, the Stars expanded their lead to 2-0, when Arnold set up Shirley for her seventh marker of the tourney.
    The Sabres rallied scoring twice to force a 2-2 tie and overtime with singles coming from Tessa Holk and Alicia Juras. Juras netted the equalizer with 4:30 remaining in the third, when the Sabres were short-handed.
    Saskatoon held a 24-7 edge in shots on goal through the third period and overtime.
    The Sabres took the tiebreaking shootout 4-1 scoring on all four of their chances. Jenna Duarte, Alicia Juras, Vanessa Upson and Alyssa Kawa all scored for the Sabres.
    Fiala tallied in the shootout for the Stars.
    Rookie Kaitlyn Cadrain turned away 19 shots in regulation and overtime in goal for the Stars. Megan Warrener stopped 37 shots in regulation and overtime in goal for the Sabres and two-of-three shooters in the shootout.
    The shootout at Esso Cup is conducted under international rules. 
Grace Tam played with heart in her final season for the Stars.
    The bronze medal clash provided another heartbreaker that didn’t go the Stars way at Esso Cup.
    The toughest aspect for the Stars to digest from their Esso Cup appearances is that they could have legitimately one the event two to three times. Out of their four appearances, they took home a bronze medal in 2015 and fell to the Slash 2-1 in last year’s title game.
    They still had a spectacular season in 2018-19 posting a 47-3-2-1 overall record that included winning the prestigious Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament, the SFMAAAHL title and the Western regional playdown series. Saskatoon posted its best ever record in regular season play at 27-1.
    Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala were generational greats the Stars may never replace.
    Shirley appeared in 107 career regular season games becoming the Stars all-time leader in goals (97) and points (166). She graduates as the third all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
Kaitlin Jockims concluded her time with the Stars as a hot scorer.
    Leschyshyn appeared in 115 career regular season games becoming the Stars third all-time leading scorer posting 72 goals and 80 assists for 152 points. She graduates as the fifth all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
    Fiala appeared in 112 career regular season games becoming the all-time leader in assists at 83. She had 47 goals and 130 points to become the team’s fourth all-time leading scorer and the eighth all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
    At the moment, no one is near cracking 100 points in SFMAAAHL career regular season play, so Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala will likely remain high on the all-time scoring list for some time.
Abby DeCorby was solid on defence for the Stars.
    All total, the Stars will graduate seven players this year as Jockims, Sachs and defender Grace Tam and Abby DeCorby have all exhausted their midget AAA eligibility along with Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala.
    A year ago, the Stars graduated Mackenna Parker, who is the SFMAAAHL’s third all-time leading scorer, Kianna Dietz, Jordyn Holmes, Jordyn Gerlitz, Jordan Ivanco and Dana Wood. In 2017, the graduates included Julia Rongve, Abby Shirley and Willow Slobodzian.
    The bulk of the players who were responsible for the Stars run over success over the past five seasons under head coach Greg Slobodzian are gone.
    The returning players and future additions will create their own identity with the team.
    Will they match the accomplishments the team posted over the last five seasons? That in all reality is too much to ask.
Jayda Sachs picked up points during important moments for the Stars.
    In NHL terms, how often have the Edmonton Oilers matched what their club accomplished with a roster of generational players in the 1980s following their last Stanley Cup win in 1990?
    Of course, they have never duplicated the run they had in their heydays in the 1980s.
    The era of Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala marked a unique time in the history of the Stars that contained lots of good times. It is too much to ask for a run like they’ve had to happen again.
    Their time with the team was truly something to behold.

    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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