|The Stars to make their fourth trip to Esso Cup a golden one.|
A year ago, the Stars made it to the championship game of the Esso Cup female midget AAA national hockey championship tournament for the first time in team history.
In the title game at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre in Bridgewater, N.S., the Stars dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash, who captured the national title for a second straight year.
The Stars had been 14-0 at that point in the post-season and were riding a 24-game winning streak. Saskatoon finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 44-7-1 overall record.
|Captain Grace Shirley will go down as one of the Stars all-time greats.|
“I think coming into the season we were all having that in the back of our minds,” said Stars captain Grace Shirley. “It pushed us and it motivated us.
“I think that is why we had some of the success that we did this year is just because we were motivated and we want to win the gold this year.”
The Stars are going back to the Esso Cup for the fourth time in the last five years. This year’s tournament starts Sunday and run through to April 27 at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ont.
Saskatoon begins round robin play taking on Ontario provincial finalist the Stoney Creek Sabres on Sunday. The host Sudbury Lady Wolves captured the Ontario female midget AAA provincial crown, which allowed Stoney Creek to qualify for the nationals as the runner-up in the Ontario final.
|Arden Kliewer is set to carry the big game load for the Stars.|
The Stars finished first in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League for a fifth straight year. This season, they posted their best regular season record ever at 27-1.
Saskatoon has an 8-1 record so far in the post-season winning the SFMAAAHL title and a Western regional playdown series to qualify for the Esso Cup tournament. Overall, the Stars have a 43-2-1 record in the 2018-19 campaign.
A year ago, Stars netminder Arden Kliewer watched from the bench as veteran Jordan Ivanco, who was the squad’s 17-year-old veteran, had a solid game stopped 16 shots to take the setback in goal for the Stars in the title game to the Slash.
What was tougher to watch was the face Camryn Drever turned away 14 shots to pick up the win in the Slash goal and was assisted by the fact her teammates blocked a tonne of shots.
“Even just kind of closer to Esso just kind of thinking about last year, it is definitely still part of it that stings a little bit,” said Kliewer. “Especially just because how we lost to them, we were so close.
|Kaitlin Jockims has piled up the points this season for the Stars.|
Kliewer is one of 13 returning players from last year’s squad for the Stars this season. In her third campaign with the team, she is having her best season with the Stars.
Kliewer, who turned 17-years-old in February, was outstanding in the regular season posting a 16-0 record, a 1.21 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and seven shutouts. She will be called up tend goal for the Stars most critical contests at Esso Cup.
“I’m getting a little nervous knowing that I’m going to be kind of the go to for the tournament,” said Kliewer. “I am definitely excited to kind of go there and help my team like I have throughout the season and kind of show Canada that we deserve to win this.”
|Anna Leschyshyn has been one of the Stars constant top performers.|
Kaitlin Jockims, who is another standout 17-year-old forward, finished second in Stars team scoring with 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points. All of those totals were career highs for Jockims.
Anna Leschyshyn was third in team scoring with 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points and is also looking to graduate from the midget AAA ranks after this season on a high note.
Joelle Fiala, who is also playing her final midget AAA season, was fourth in team scoring with 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points.
The Stars have a strong defensive unit that can get things done offensively as well. Ashley Messier, who just turned 17-years-old in late March, led all Stars defenders in regular season scoring with career highs in goals (five), assists (27) and points (32).
|Joelle Fiala has made her mark as one of the Stars all-time best playmakers.|
Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian is full of anticipation for this return trip to the Esso Cup.
“I can’t remember being this excited for going back actually,” said Slobodzian. “Whether it is a feeling of not really unfinished business, I think you are going back with 13 girls that had such a great experience but came up short.
“Now, they know exactly what it takes. A lot of things have to happen in regards to whether it is staying healthy, the things that you can’t control. I think we’re really, really prepared.
“Whenever you are prepared for something it is exciting to jump into. I think that is the feeling we have as a group.”
|Ashley Messier is one of the Stars most dynamic players.|
The Esso Cup nationals are a six team tournament, and this year’s field features the Stars, Sabres, Lady Wolves, the defending champion Slash, the Halifax Fire from Nova Scotia and the As de Quebec from Quebec City, Quebec.
The six teams play each other once in a round robin, and the top four teams advance to two semifinal games. The semifinal games are slated for April 26. The bronze and gold medal games follow on April 27.
Shirley was on the Stars roster in their three previous visits to the Esso Cup in 2015, 2016 and last season. She played in the 2015 tournament as an associate player call up.
In total, she has appeared in 21 games at the Esso Cup tournament collecting nine goals and four assists.
She gives the Slash full marks for winning last year’s title game, but believes her team will find a way to come out on top this year.
“I think they (the Slash) are a good team, and we don’t want to take anything away from them,” said Shirley. “At the end of the day, I think we just need to focus on what we can do.
|The Saskatoon Stars hope to enjoy a celebration like this at Esso Cup.|
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