The Huskies women’s hockey team beat the Alberta Pandas three out of four times this season, but that does not mean the Dogs have avenged last year’s first-round playoff loss to their Canada West rivals.
Last playoffs, the Pandas swept Saskatchewan out of contention early in just two games at Edmonton’s Clare Drake Arena.
The Huskies started off the 2011-12 season with those losses in mind, sweeping Alberta in a late-October weekend series. Those games, however, came down to both overtime and a shootout. By no means did Saskatchewan dominate the Pandas and, as evidenced by the teams splitting their following weekend series, the Huskies had not had the last laugh.
The Dogs will look for vengeance Feb. 17, 18 and, if needed, 19 in the same arena where they lost last year as they kick off their 2011-12 playoff campaign.
Here are a handful of key players to keep an eye on this weekend.
Julie Paetsch (forward)
Although the Huskies’ assistant captain and fifth-year forward scored 36 points to finish third in the Canada West’s 2009-2010 scoring race, her 34 points this season were enough to land her the conference’s scoring title.
The most notable difference between the two seasons, however, is that Paetsch has improved her ability to put the puck in the net. Two years ago, 26 of her 36 points came from assists. This season, while she still led the league in assists with 20, she also scored a career-high 14 goals.
When the Dogs take on Alberta in the first round of playoffs, it won’t be surprising to see Paetsch not only set up Huskies top goal-scorers Cara Wooster, Danny Stone and Breanne George, but to also pot game-winners of her own.
Julia Flinton (defence)
Julia Flinton made an immediate impact this season in just her first year of Canadian university hockey. The rookie not only emerged as one of the Huskies’ top defencemen, she also established herself as one of the best offensive blueliners in the league.
She finished third amongst all rookie scorers and fifth amongst all defencemen with 11 points.
Flinton is more than capable of changing the game. For instance, when the Huskies took on Alberta earlier this season, Flinton scored a 2-1 overtime winner after blasting a point shot past the Pandas goaltender.
While she can be the overtime hero the Huskies might need this weekend against Alberta, Flinton will have to limit her time in the penalty box if she wants to see the ice in extra time.
She led the Huskies with 38 penalty minutes this season.
Breanne George (forward)
Breanne George may be the most decorated Huskies women’s hockey player ever. She has been a CIS first team all-Canadian, a Canada West first team all-star and has represented Canada at the Winter University Games.
She is also the Huskies all-time points leader with 144 points.
Relative to her standards, this season has been extremely slow for George in terms of scoring. She scored a career-low 18 points and, for the first time in her last four years of Canada West competition, did not finish in the top five scorers at season’s end.
George, however, does not view this as a negative going into playoffs.
While in previous post-seasons she felt pressured to score a lot of the Huskies’ goals, this year she is more relaxed knowing that the Dogs have several players capable of putting up big numbers.
Mackenzie Rizos (goalie)
When 2007-08 Canada West second team all-star Vanessa Frederick took a year off from university hockey last year, University of Lethbridge transfer and 2008-09 second team all-star Mackenzie Rizos stepped up in her place.
This season, when Frederick returned to the Huskies for her fifth and final year, the two netminders found themselves splitting playing time until, eventually, the fourth-year Rizos emerged as the starter.
While this shared playing time and competition for the starting position not only pushed Rizos to step up her game, it also ensured that the Huskies have two well-rested goaltenders going into the post-season — a luxury that both all-star netminders likely aren’t used to.
Against Alberta, Rizos will come in fresh as Frederick saw the start in the Huskies final regular season games Feb. 10 and 11 against UBC.
Photos: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf