The Notre Dame Hounds are two victories away from a return trip to the Esso Cup and a chance to defend their national championship after sweeping the Saskatoon Stars to win their third consecutive Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title.
Next up for the Hounds? A return engagement with the Pembina Valley Hawks in the best-of-three West Regional, April 6-8 in Wilcox, Sask.; Notre Dame beat the Hawks, the Manitoba champions, in each of the last two years.
SFMAAAHL regular season champions, Notre Dame steamrolled Battlefords and Prince Albert in the quarter-finals and semifinals, respectively, outscoring the Sharks and Bears by a combined 46-3 in a pair of three-game sweeps.
The final against the Stars would prove to be a much tougher challenge, with Game 1 going to a third overtime after Saskatoon scored twice in the third period to force extra time. But a lucky bounce would go the way of the Hounds, and Olivia Howe’s goal gave Notre Dame the series lead.
“Sometimes the puck just has to bounce for you,” Hounds head coach Janice Rumpel told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix after Game 1. “You've got to be a little lucky to come out on top all the time. But you've got to make things happen.”
Howe, who finished as the leading scorer in the playoffs with 20 goals and 26 points in nine games, was the difference for Notre Dame again in Game 2, scoring twice, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 Hounds win.
One win away from the championship, Notre Dame once again turned to Howe, who scored her third winner in as many games in the final as the Hounds celebrated a 5-2 Game 3 victory on home ice, although the game was closer than the scoreline appeared thanks to two Notre Dame goals in the final 91 seconds.
In addition to Howe’s offensive exploits, Brittany Berisoff (second, 6-16-22), Kelty Apperson (sixth, 3-12-15), Jaelei Meyer (eighth, 4-6-10) and Daley Oddy (10th, 5-4-9) all cracked the top 10 in playoff scoring.
Chelsey Hodges saw the lion’s share of the minutes between the pipes for the Hounds, posting a 7-0 record with a 1.18 goals against average, .949 save percentage and two shutouts in seven playoff appearances.