Thursday, 27 June 2019

Valkyries expect tough battle with Riot in WWCFL final

The Valkyries and Riot will tangle for the WWCFL title.
    Beth Lalonde might know better than anyone that past results can be thrown out the window, when her Saskatoon Valkyries face their archrivals the Regina Riot in the post-season.
    For the second straight year, the two squads will square off in the championship game of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. This year’s contest is slated for Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    Lalonde is a veteran linebacker who has been a career member of the Valkyries since the club first hit the field in 2011. She expects Saturday’s game to be another battle.
    “Last year, we were the underdogs and fighting for the win,” said Lalonde. “It was a really good championship game.
    “Now, it has kind of switched. We have the two (head-to-head) wins under our belt, and we just want to get that last one just to show them that we were the dominant team this year. We want to go out with the win.”
Mallory Starkey (#7) is a key veteran for the Riot.
    Last year, the Riot downed the Valkyries 14-10 in the WWCFL final in that same venue. It marked the second straight year Regina claimed the WWCFL title.
    The Valkyries last captured the league crown in 2016.
    Last season, the Riot entered the championship game as the favourites and completed the 2018 campaign with a 7-0 overall record with the victory in the league final.
    The Valkyries finished with a 4-3 overall mark, and all three of those losses came to the Riot.
    This season, the Valkyries are pegged as favourites posting a 7-0 overall record heading into the title game. The Riot are 3-3 overall and won two straight playoff games on the road to get to the final.
Saskatoon claimed both head-to-head meeting posting a 38-13 victory at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on May 11 and a 22-7 triumph on June 2 in Regina.
Sam Matheson (#22) is back in top gear for the Valkyries.
    Lalonde expects the Riot will enter Saturday’s clash with a huge boost in confidence.
    “Playing Regina is always a tough game,” said Lalonde. “We know they are a tough team.
    “They are hungry for this win. They have those two wins under their belt. They are going hard, and they are at home.
    “They are going to have new plays in. They are going to have defensive strategies that we haven’t seen yet. We just have to react and play and listen to our coaches.”
    Valkyries head coach Pat Barry said Riot like his squad have a shuffled deck with rookies mixed in with established veterans.
    The sideline boss noted the Riot still have veteran star quarterback Aimee Kowalski, who is a career member of the Regina club since it was formed in 2011. Barry said Kowalski is finding her groove with her new teammates.
Aimee Kowalski continues to lead the Riot at quarterback.
    “I’ve watched their last couple of games,” said Barry. “They are doing a lot of things well.
    “It looks like their quarterback, who is an excellent quarterback in Aimee (Kowalski), is starting to throw on time. She is starting to trust her receivers. She is an excellent quarterback.
    “That is something that is a concern for us. Defensively, they have a lot of real experienced people who have won a lot. We have to be aware of that.”
    Both teams have their slate of star players who have been to this point many times before. For the Riot, that list includes Kowalski, her younger sister and receiver Alex Kowalski, running back Mallory Starkey, Taline Blakley on the offensive line, linebacker Adrienne Zuck and Katie Hungle on the defensive line.
    The Valkyries counter with quarterback duo of Alex Eyolfson and Reed Thorstad, running back Samantha Matheson, left tackle Alyssa Funk, Lalonde, linebacker Emmarae Dale and Jaime Lammerding on the defensive line.
Alex Eyolfson (#15) will aim to fire lazers downfield for the Valkyries.
    Receiver Kelsey Murphy, who is in her sixth season with the Valkyries, said there is lots of familiarity on both sides due to the head-to-head clashes and from the fact players on both sides have been teammates on the Saskatchewan provincial team and Canada’s national team program.
    “It is terrible to go up against them in the game, but it is actually really nice to see them,” said Murphy. “Some people will even help you up, when you are down like after they push you over.
    “Once the whistle blows, you are friends again. With some of them, you just don’t have that yet. They are just enemies all the time.”
Valkyries LB Beth Lalonde (#2) meets Riot R Alex Kowalski.
    While there are a plenty of veterans on the Riot side that Murphy knows, she said the Regina club is gaining more and more newcomers she doesn’t know.
    Still, Murphy expects Saturday’s came to be the most intense encounter of the season between the two sides.
    “I think it will be a lot tougher,” said Murphy. “It is the championship game.
    “They’ve had two wins. We’ve beaten them twice, so that is definitely going to like fuel them. It will be tougher, but we’re working harder too.”
    The Valkyries have their share of emotional motivation heading into the WWCFL title game. The most obvious is playing for their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who passed away in a plane crash on June 1.
Sarah Wright wants to experience her first WWCFL title win.
    Filteau joined the Valkyries coaching staff in 2017.
    Saskatoon wants to reclaim the WWCFL title for the first time since 2016, and a large number of players on the Valkyries have never experienced a league title win.
    One of those players is third-year running back Sarah Wright, who joined the team in 2017 and vaulted to standout status.
    “I really want a ring,” said Wright. “All the girls are super excited to help some of the rookies as well and the people that haven’t been on a winning team before.
    “They are all willing to help us out. I think we are going to go for it pretty hard.”
    Murphy would love to see the Valkyries players that have never experienced a WWCFL title win gain that feeling on Saturday.
    “We want to get it for them, and we want to get it for (Justin) Filteau,” said Murphy. “For those two reasons, we are just going to work even harder.
    “There are so many people on this team now who haven’t gotten a ring. We want to bring that home for them.”

Blades pick two defencemen in CHL Import Draft

    The Saskatoon Blades used the CHL Import Draft to solidify their back end.
    On Thursday, the Blades selected two blue-liners from the Czech Republic in the Import Draft. In the first round and 55th overall, the Blades picked 19-year-old Libor Zabransky.
    In the second round and 115th overall, the Blades selected Radek Kucerik, who will turn 18-years-old in December.
    Zabransky, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds, started last season with the Kelowna Rockets appearing in 35 regular season games posting two goals, seven assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department.
    Due to have a surplus of defencemen, the Rockets released Zabransky on Jan. 12 just a couple of days after the WHL’s trade deadline. Zabransky joined the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League posting four goals, 12 assists and a minus-eight rating in 30 regular season games.
    The Blades were able to draft Zabransky due to the fact he was released by the Rockets.
    In 2017-18, Zabransky played his first season season in the WHL for the Rockets appear in all of the team’s 72 regular season games posting two goals, 17 assists and a plus-seven rating.
    Kucerik, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 209 pounds, was captain of the HC Kometa Brno under-19 team last season. With that squad, Kucerik appeared in 43 regular season games posting six goals, 17 assists and a plus-nine rating.
    The Blades confirmed that their two imports from last season in Norwegian left-winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen and Swedish defenceman Emil Malysjev won’t be back with the team this year.
    Last season, Roykas-Marthinsen appeared in 62 regular season games with the Blades posting 13 goals, 16 assists and a plus-12 rating. He was selected in the seventh round and 213th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and went unsigned by the team.
    Roykas-Marthinsen, who is entering his overage season, is looking to play somewhere in the professional ranks this coming season.
    As a 17-year-old rookie last season, Malysjev, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 187 pounds, turned heads appearing in 63 regular season games recording three goals, 14 assists and a plus-13 rating.
    After going unselected in the NHL Entry Draft, Malysjev informed the Blades he won’t be returning for his 18-year-old season, and he is electing to play in Sweden.

Raiders take Russian forward in CHL Import Draft

    The Prince Albert Raiders added some speed and skill making one selection in the CHL Import Draft.
    In the first round with the 60th overall pick, the Raiders selected 17-year-old Russian forward Ivan Kechkin. Kechkin, who stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 143 pounds, played for the Rus Moskva under-17 and under-18 teams last season.
    With the under-17 team, Kechkin appeared in 23 regular season games collecting six goals and nine assists. With the under-18 team, he skated in 15 regular season games posting six goals and 12 assists.
    “Ivan (Kechkin) has good vision, a high skill level and skates well,” said Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt in a release. “His coach is the father of Denis Tolpeko, who played for me in Regina.”
    With the addition of Kechkin, the Raiders have three import players on their roster.
    Belarusian left-winger Aliaksei Protas posted 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-24 rating in 61 regular season games last season. The 18-year-old had a head turning WHL playoffs posting 12 goals, 10 assists and a plus-12 rating in 23 games helping the Raiders win the WHL championship.
    Protas was selected in the NHL Entry Draft that recently wrapped up in Vancouver, B.C., in the second round and 91st overall by the Washington Capitals.
    Belarusian defenceman Sergei Sapego posted 10 goals, 33 assists and a plus-42 rating last season for the Raiders. Sapego, who will enter his overage season, is currently attending the NHL development camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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