Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Huskies’ resilience tested in second half of 2017-18 season

Injured goalie Jordon Cooke is helped off the ice on February 22.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team showed they can still keep plugging along even when things aren’t going smoothly.
    Like most years, the Huskies entered the 2017-18 campaign as a team pegged to contend for Canada West and U Sports national championships. With that said, the uncontrollable variables of a season can always throw a wrench into any lofty hopes.
    The Huskies entered the Christmas break sitting second in the Canada West Conference holding a 13-2-1 record. The first sign that foreshadowed the second half of the campaign could be a rough one occurred on Jan. 6, when the Huskies lost sophomore forward Wyatt Johnson to a concussion injury in a 4-2 road setback to the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns. Johnson ultimately missed the rest of the campaign.
The Huskies suffered a big blow when star goalie Jordon Cooke was injured.
    After Johnson went down, the Huskies kept motoring on, and they sat in a tie for first place with their “forever rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears when play concluded on Jan. 20. Both team were posting 18-3-1 records at that time.
    From that point, the injury bug started taking more and more bites out of the Huskies roster and players fell in and out of the lineup. At one point in the post-season, the Huskies entire first line of left-winger Michael Sofillas, centre Logan McVeigh and right-winger Josh Roach were all on the shelf.
    Veteran Huskies head coach Dave Adolph usually carries a 26 player roster just in case injuries strike. He ultimate needed to use everyone on his roster out of necessity as opposed to rotating players in through games.
Right-winger Josh Roach led the Huskies in scoring.
    The Huskies finished the regular season sitting second in Canada West with a 20-7-1 mark.
    Their biggest obstacle came in the first game of the playoffs on Feb. 22 against the University of Calgary Dinos at the ancient Rutherford Rink. On the Dinos first goal at the 6:59 mark of the first period, a scrum of players crashed into star netminder Jordon Cooke.
    He suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of the post-season and likely clouds his immediate hockey future. In that moment, the Huskies lost the goalie that is second on their team’s all-time career list for regular season wins (59) and regular season saves (2,358).
    Cooke was the U Sports goaltender of the year and a U Sports first team all-Canadian in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns. The Leduc, Alta., product was named a Canada West first team all-star, the Canada West goaltender of the year and a second team U Sports all-Canadian this past season.
Captain Kendall McFaull won the U Sports community service award.
    Shortly after Cooke departed that contest with the Dinos, the Huskies found themselves down 3-0. At that point, one had to wonder if the Dogs were going to quickly fall out of the post-season picture.
    The Huskies rebounded that night to pull out a 6-4 victory. The Dinos took Game 2 by a 2-1 final to force a deciding Game 3 in the best-of-three Canada West semifinal series.
    U of S claimed a 3-1 victory in Game 3 with sophomore left-winger Carson Stadnyk scoring the winning goal with 24 seconds to play in the third period to break a 1-1 tie. The Huskies added an empty-net tally a short time later to round out the victory.
    The Dogs proceeded to limp into the best-of-three Canada West championship series in Edmonton and was swept away by the Golden Bears 2-0.
    The Huskies moved on to the David Johnston University Cup elite eight U Sports men’s hockey championship for the sixth time in the last seven years. At this year’s tournament in Fredericton, N.B., they were a sixth seed that was expected to make an early exit.
John Lawrence gave a gritty effort every night for the Huskies.
    Sofillas, McVeigh and Roach all played in the quarter-final, where the Huskies knocked off the McGill University Redmen 4-1. Sofillas was knocked out of the lineup again after that win and didn’t return for the rest of the tournament.
    That set the scene for the Huskies to face the Golden Bears in their 504th all-time encounter in a semifinal contest. U of S built a 2-0 lead after two periods before running into penalty trouble in the third frame.
    The Golden Bears rallied for a pair of power-play goals to force a 2-2 tie and send the contest into overtime. Trevor Cox scored for the Golden Bears in overtime causing the Huskies to fall 3-2. Between the regular season, Canada West championship series and University Cup tournament, the Golden Bears won six of their seven head-to-head encounters with the Huskies in 2017-18.
Puck moving rearguard Connor Cox wrapped up his time with the Huskies.
    On Sunday, U of S fell in the bronze medal game to the host University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds 5-4 in overtime.
    The Golden Bears claimed their 16th national title in team history and third championship in the last five years downing the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men 4-2 in the tournament’s championship game.
    During the post-season, rookie Taran Kozun played admirably and picked up a lot of experience playing goal for the Huskies in place of the injured Cooke. Kozun was the WHL goaltender of the year in the 2014-15 campaign playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Besides stopping the puck, Kozun turned heads with his ability to play the puck and gives the Huskies stability in that position going forward.
    Roach, who led the Huskies in regular season scoring with 13 goals and 27 assists, claimed the Canada West sportsmanship and ability award, was a first team Canada West all-star and a second team U Sports all-Canadian. McVeigh, who was second in Huskies regular season scoring with seven goals and 22 assists, was a second team Canada West all-star.
Taran Kozun performed admirably in the playoffs for the Huskies.
    Captain Kendall McFaull was a second team Canada West all-star, a University Cup tournament all-star and claimed the Canada West and U Sports Student-Athlete Community Service awards.
    The Huskies graduate McFaull, Roach, gritty centre John Lawrence and puck moving defenceman Connor Cox, with them all completing their fifth-years of eligibility.
    They still have all sorts of depth going into the future. Defenceman Jesse Forsberg, who recorded five goals and 15 assists to lead all Huskies rearguards in regular season scoring, Jordan Fransoo, Colby Harmsworth and Tanner Lishchynsky are some of the steady blue-liners who are eligible to return.
    At forward, the Huskies could potentially return the likes McVeigh, Sofillas, Stadnyk, Kohl Bauml, Alex Forsberg, Parker Thomas, Levi Cable, Andrew Johnson, Jaimen Yakubowski, Jordan Tkatch, Connor Gay and Collin Shirley.
Carson Stadnyk had the playoff series winner versus the Dinos.
    The Huskies remain one of the top men’s hockey programs in U Sports, but they would probably like to have a little more success at U Sports nationals. 
    Since winning their lone national title in 1983, the Huskies have appeared in the University Cup 15 times, advanced to the championship game on four occasions and haven’t been able to capture an elusive second national title.
    The Golden Bears sit at the other end of the spectrum making the University Cup championship game 21 times in their history coming away with 16 wins to keep piling up national championship banners.
    When fall comes around, you can be sure the Huskies will give it their best shot to win it all controlling everything they are able to control. If the factors they can’t control finally decide to fall in their favour, that dream of an elusive second national title might just be realized.

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