Coming off an exciting season that saw them win their first ever Canada West trophy, the University of Saskatchewan women’s hockey team is looking to ride their success into a Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship title.
“The unbelievable part is how it happened,” said head coach Steve Kook of their CanWest victory. “We had 22 one-goal games in regular season; we had 11 overtime games; during the first round of playoffs two out of three went to overtime and of course in the last series we played 17 periods in three games.”
From the beginning, things looked uncertain for the young team. Of the 24-person roster, only Cami Wooster, Chelsey Sundby and Kandace Cook are considered senior players. Rounding out the rest of the squad are 10 rookies and a pack of second and third year players — but Kook doesn’t see the team’s relative inexperience as a setback.
“There’s no hiding the fact that we’re young in age,” Kook said. “The bulk of our team is third year and younger, so that whole group is going to get more experienced, get more confident and be able to do more things as a group over the next couple years. That’s the rewarding thing, that’s the thing that we look down the road towards.
“It’s gonna put some strain on us recruiting-wise two or three years down the road because there’s a lot of kids we’ve got to replace. But for the next two, three, four years it looks pretty good if we can keep this group of kids together.”
The team’s younger players are already proving to be invaluable. In a stellar season that saw her net 11 goals and 14 assists, first year Kaitlin Willoughby was named Canada West rookie of the year in women’s hockey. Scouted during her time playing Midget AAA in Prince Albert, Kook sees her addition as an asset to the team.
Willoughby “was highly sought out after midget hockey, from all of the colleges across Canada and even into the United States,” Kook said. “She’s had a lot of offers. We were really fortunate to have her come here.
“She was a natural goal-scorer and an explosive player in midget and that hasn’t changed here” at the U of S.
Likewise, Kook looks to team captain Cami Wooster’s leadership moving forward. As the only team member with experience at a national tournament — Wooster helped the University of Alberta Pandas to a fourth place finish their 2007/08 season — her experience has proven vital as the teams prepares for upcoming games.
“It’s fantastic,” Kook said. Wooster “doesn’t have to say a lot of things and often she doesn’t, but as the only player on our roster that has ever gone to a national championship, that experience and insight is invaluable.”
Aside from Willoughby and Wooster, Kook identifies offensive players such as Kandace Cook and Sara Greschner as well as goalies Cassidy Hendricks and Karen Lefsrud as integral to the the team’s success this season. Still, Kook believes there are Huskies in the lineup that are going unrecognized for their contributions.
“I personally think we have the best third line in the conference,” Kook said. “Our third line is Paige Anakaer, Chelsey Sundby and Cassandra Jorgenson — those are the players that start a lot of the games for us. They’re our go-to line as soon as a goal gets scored. That’s our energy line, they play against a lot of the top teams in the league.”
Seeded fourth in the CIS championship, the U of S will be facing off with universities from outside of their conference. Though they haven’t faced these teams yet this season, Kook isn’t concerned that the Huskies will need to change up their training in preparation.
“We’ll rely on videotape and game film when we get there, but as far as we’re concerned we’re too late in the game to change the things we do — and I don’t think we’d want to,” Kook said.
Built on a foundation of campus community and the strength of all Huskies athletic programs, Kook sees the campus’ historic skill in athletics as a driving factor for the team.
“Every year we go into the season talking about the same thing: it’s a national championship expectation,” Kook said. “And it’s not a women’s hockey expectation; it’s a University of Saskatchewan expectation.”
With all the work both he and the team have put into their season, Kook said that it’s all made possible by the behind-the-scenes involvement of the U of S community.
“There’s a lot of pieces and parts that go unnoticed here … from our trainers, the medical staff behind us that people don’t see, the people that take care of the equipment, the people that take care of the rink, the guys that do the ice for three hours before we get on for a game to make sure the ice is perfect for us, the professors,” Kook said. “We get such tremendous support from the university.”
Though this past season marked his third time being awarded CanWest coach of the year, Kook attributes his success to the abilities of the athletes.
“Coaches get awards based on the performance of their players.”
The Huskies hit the ice at 7 p.m. on March 13 against the Université de Montréal Carabins at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B.
Photo: Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor