The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team has booked their ticket to the U Sports nationals in London, Ont.
But they’re not done with the Canada West conference yet.
The Huskies swept the UBC Thunderbirds with a 2-1 win in the Canada West semi-finals Saturday afternoon, securing a place in the national tournament and in the conference finals.
It was a comeback victory after being dominated by the Thunderbirds in the first period, going into the intermission down 1-0. At one point, the shots were 9-3 for UBC.
“We went into the room and said ‘you know what girls, we’re starting fresh here. We’re not going to crumble,’” captain Kaitlin Willoughby said.
“We came out there flying and we were a whole new team … That is honestly the reason we came out on top.”
The fifth-year star tied the game with 8:40 remaining in the middle frame, burying a feed from defenceman Kira Bannantyne on the powerplay. The opportunity came after UBC defender Alexa Ranahan was sent to the box for a body checking penalty.
Momentum swung in favour of the green and white, and first-year forward Chloe Smith buried the series-winning goal just over three minutes later.
The Swift Current product launched up the right wing with the puck, cut towards the middle and shot through a screen to beat UBC’s Amelia Boughn, who made 25 saves in the losing effort.
“It was a good feeling for sure,” Smith said after the game. “It’s nice to be able to contribute and help my team out.”
— Chris Vandenbreekel (@Vandecision) February 24, 2018
Goaltender Jessica Vance had her playoff shutout streak snapped at 70:38 when UBC took the lead off of Ranahan’s first period goal, but stood strong for the rest of the game and skated off with 27 saves as the second star of the match.
Vance was knocked over several times by UBC forwards cutting to the net, prompting protests from Huskies players.
Willoughby was forced to spend the last 35 seconds in the penalty box after shoving a Thunderbirds player to the ice after they came close to the U of S netminder – giving UBC a powerplay opportunity to tie the game.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time in hockey, I was almost in tears,” she said.
“But I had belief in my team, I knew they were going to get it done.”
The win means the Huskies will now wait for the winner of the Manitoba-Alberta semifinal to see where they’ll play the finals next weekend. The U of A Pandas have a 1-0 series lead over the Bisons.
If Manitoba is able to battle back and win the series, they’ll host the Canada West finals.
However, if the Pandas prevail the Huskies will play the championship series at home.
“Whoever we play they’re going to bring a ton of speed and a ton of skill,” head coach Steve Kook said.
He noted the Huskies were “halfway” to their goal of winning the national championship.
In the back of Kook’s mind is the opportunity to end their time at Rutherford Rink on a high note, and open the new Merlis Belsher Place the right way.
“We’re going to move into a new barn, and I’d love to have a new banner to put up,” he said.
The Canada West finals will be played on the first weekend of March.
After the final, the Huskies will travel to Western University in London, Ont. for the U Sports nationals from March 15-18.
— Chris Vandenbreekel (@Vandecision) February 25, 2018