Huskies hockey teams fall in bronze-medal games at U Sports national championships

By in Sports & Health

The Huskies were well represented at the hockey national championships from March 15 to 18, with both teams heading east — the men to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, N.B., and the women to Western University in London, Ont.

Third-year Mackenzie Johnston defends his goalie, Taran Kozun against the UNB Varsity Reds.

The tournament got off to a bright start for the men’s and women’s teams, as both thrived in underdog roles and defeated higher-seeded programs.

The women opened up as the seventh seed and were clearly motivated by the committee’s lack of belief in the team, as they made a bold statement by taking down the Atlantic University Sports champions from Saint Mary’s University in a thrilling 3-2 quarter-final.

Saskatchewan got goals from Kaitlin Willoughby, Abby Shirley and Kennedy Harris, while Canada West Player of the Year Jessica Vance made 29 saves for the win.

The victory advanced the women’s squad into the semifinals and guaranteed the team a berth in a medal game.

However, the Dogs were unable to capitalize on this position when they ran into the Western Mustangs, the Ontario University Athletics champions, allowing in two unanswered second-period goals and falling 2-1.

The Huskies still entered Sunday morning with a chance to bring home a medal, but the team was unable to get the job done, falling to the Concordia Stingers 4-0 in the bronze-medal game.

Women’s head coach Steve Kook made it clear that, while it was a privilege to compete at a national championship, next season begins now.

“When you are in a one-and-done event, you need timely goals, and we didn’t get those in the semifinal game. I thought we played some very good hockey with the seven best teams in the country. Tuesday will be day one of working to get back to nationals,” Kook said, in an email to the Sheaf.

Meanwhile, on the men’s side, the Huskies entered as a dark horse after getting swept by the Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West Championship.

While the team had to play without star goaltender Jordon Cooke, Josh Roach, the team’s leading goal scorer and 2016-17 Canada West first-team all-star, returned to the roster after an injury.

Roach, a fifth-year forward, slid back into the Huskies lineup seamlessly, getting on the score sheet early and assisting on Michael Sofillas’s power-play goal. Sofillas got Saskatchewan on the board in the U Sports University Cup, helping kick-start the Huskies offence, and led them to a 4-1 victory over the third-seeded McGill Redmen.

Next, the Huskies matched up with their rival in the semifinal, taking to the ice against the Alberta Golden Bears. The momentum from the team’s upset win over McGill appeared to carry over, as the Huskies jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead with goals from Parker Thomas and Alex Forsberg.

However, the wheels fell off from there, as an undisciplined third period allowed Alberta to respond with two late markers, tying the game and sending it into overtime.

The Bears didn’t waste any breath early in the extra frame — Trevor Cox snuck one past Taran Kozun, ending the Huskies’ hopes of returning to the national-championship game for the second straight year.

In the bronze-medal game, the Huskies matched up with their hosts, the UNB Varsity Reds, but Saskatchewan failed to finish on the podium, as they fell in a heartbreaking fashion, losing 5-4 in overtime.

Although the men’s team couldn’t take home a metal this year, men’s head coach Dave Adolph was proud of his group.

“I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be employed at the University of Saskatchewan and to be a part of this great group of students, who are also elite athletes. The responsibilities of combining school and athletic expectations are huge [for] these young men, and year after year, they represent the U of S in amazing ways,” Adolph said, in an email to the Sheaf.

Despite the end-of-term losses, it was an incredibly successful season for the women’s and men’s Huskie programs on the ice. Both teams ended their 2017-18 campaigns as Canada West Championship finalists and should be proud of their efforts all season long.

Matthew Johnson

Photo: Caroline Mercier / Supplied