Thursday, 18 September 2014

The right mix

Huskies women’s hockey team has intangibles to make another memorable season

The U of S Huskies pose with the Canada West banner and trophy.
They are a group that is hard to dislike, and they appear to have the “it” factor to create another memorable season.
            The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team had a historical campaign in 2013-14 winning their first Canada West title and capturing a bronze medal at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship tournament.
            Most of that team returns for the 2014-15 campaign. Watching them interact with each other during and after their two exhibition wins last weekend against the Red Deer College Queens of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, it was obvious to see a strong bond exists between the Huskies players.
            They like being together, and they like hitting the ice at the Rutherford Rink or any other rink. They are confident in their abilities on the ice, and they are confident and comfortable with themselves are as persons on the ice and away from the rink.
            When any team has all those attributes, that club becomes a very difficult opponent to face and defeat.
             On the ice this season, the Huskies will face their share of challenges. As the defending conference champ, every one of their opponents will view a match against them as a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
            Even the Queens came out in last weekend’s exhibition series at the Rutherford Rink looking to prove something. On Saturday, the visitors came out with a big initial push, and their effort didn’t waver.
            The composure of the Huskies showed through. Even when they didn’t have the momentum, it didn’t seem like they were in trouble. They built a 2-0 lead and held off a late Queens charge for a 2-1 win.
            During Sunday’s rematch, the Huskies took their game to another level. After giving up an early power-play goal, they kept the Queens contained in their zone with an aggressive forecheck. The hosts rolled to a 5-1 win, and they were buzzing all over the place.
            Individually, the Huskies have a lot of players that can be difference makers. Kaitlin Willoughby, last year’s CIS rookie of the year, looks physically stronger and more powerful on the ice than a season ago. She also has an offensive skill set that very few players have.
            Forward Marley Ervine provides a lot of feistiness and grit, which seems to be a trademark of players regardless of gender that come from her hometown of Kindersley.
            Fifth year forward Kandace Cook can seemly be set up with a variety of linemates up front, and she makes herself and her linemates shine through.
            Veteran rearguards Brooke Mutch, Hanna McGillivray and Julia Flinton are super solid on the back end. They can both shut things down on the defensive side, and control play when they have the puck. Flinton, a second team Canada West all-star, has the best playmaking ability and vision offensively out of that group.
            Third-year netminder Cassidy Hendricks was a second team Canada West all-star last season, and she proved she doesn’t get fazed when it comes time to play in the clutch. During the 2-1 best-of-three Canada West championship series win over the University of Regina Cougars, Hendricks made a huge amount of key stops with all three games going to overtime resulting in 17 periods and 296 minutes of hockey.
            Rookie forward Chelsea Wilson also showed flashes against the Queens, which could mean she could potentially come through in key moments as the season progresses.
            I have seen few teams personally in my time that had the veteran presence, the intangibles and overall “it” factor the Huskies have.
The Medicine Hat Tigers in 2006-07 had it in the major junior ranks and went on to win a WHL title and earn a berth in the Memorial Cup final.
            The 2000-01 U of  R Cougars women’s basketball team had it and went on to win a conference and a CIS title. The 1998 Regina Rams had it and went on exit the Canadian Junior Football League as national champs before joining the university ranks.
            For the Huskies to have success, the focus can’t be on the end result. All the players on the three other teams I mentioned just enjoyed where they were at that moment of time in their everyday lives in their respective campaigns.
            The Huskies just need to enjoy going to the rink with the aim of getting better each day, because at the end of a long stretch they will be a lot better.
            They have to enjoy and cherish the everyday interactions with their friends and buds on the ice, because that helps make the rink one of the best places to be.
            Also, they have to enjoy the game. At one point in time, they all got into hockey because it is a fun game where you simply score more goals than the other team, and that must be something that is never lost.
            When they do all those things, the Huskies will arrive at the end of the season before they know it, and they shouldn’t be surprised if they are in a lot of important post-season games as a result. They will have a chance to accomplish all their end goals.

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