The anguish is evident in head coach Greg Slobodzian’s voice even a year later.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a Stars coach,” he says.
“It” being having to tell Anna Leschyshyn, a forward who had served as an affiliate player for the Saskatoon Stars near the end of the Saskatchewan Female
Midget AAA Hockey League regular season and during the final round of playoffs, that she wouldn’t be able to join the team at the 2015 Esso Cup.
Due to an injury on the Stars roster, Leschyshyn and Grace Shirley, her teammate with the Bantam AA Saskatoon Comets, had spelled each other in and out of
the Midget team’s lineup.
Esso Cup rosters allow for 20 players. With 19 Stars already taking spots that left only one up for grabs. Unable to continue inserting Leschyshyn and
Shirley in and out of the line-up for each other, the Stars went with Shirley.
“It was disappointing, but I wasn’t expecting to go to Esso with the team,” says Leschyshyn. “I was just happy to play a couple of games with them in the
playoffs and be there to win league with them.”
Dismayed as she may have felt, she didn’t shut herself off from the team. She had her dad, former NHLer Curtis, supply her with updates at school and she
kept regularly contact with Shirley on how the week was going. (Saskatoon dropped the semifinal in a shootout; it rebounded the next day to win the bronze
“Last year was pretty disappointing not being able to go with them, but this year I knew we were going to have a pretty good team,” she says. “I knew we
were going to be able to make it there if we worked hard and trusted the process and each other.”
Leschyshyn certainly did her part. Still second-year Bantam age, the forward finished third in team scoring – and seventh in the SFMAAAHL – with 14 goals
and 11 assists in 28 games.
She added another 11 points in the Stars’ run through the SFMAAAHL playoffs and West Region championship.
She simply fulfilled the promise she showed the team at camp prior to the 2014-15 season, leading to her being asked to be an affiliate player.
“She showed really good composure with the puck, and that’s the one thing I look for in all my players – being able to make plays and not just throw pucks
away,” says Slobodzian. Her strength, especially for her age, also stood out. “The way she played, there wasn’t that sort of look in her eyes of, ‘oh my
gosh, this is so fast’ or ‘what’s going on out there?’ She really gets it.”
Moving on from any slight, Leschyshyn joined six of her teammates and spent the summer training with Slobodzian. It was time, she decided, to put more time
into her hockey and see setbacks as an opportunity.
Leschyshyn comes from an athletic family, who knows the ups and downs that sports often results in. Support, encouragement and an understanding ear were
easy to find this time last year, just as they’d always been.
Older brother Jake plays for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and in November represented Canada Black at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey
Challenge. Two years older, Jake has always been happy to play with his little sister, never being shy about getting her in the game.
“I remember him pushing me to come outside and get on the rink and shoot pucks with him,” says Leschyshyn.
Mom Laura played basketball at the University of Saskatchewan. Leschyshyn has CIS aspirations of her own, with long-term visions on the various Canadian
national teams. Still only 14, Leschyshyn has several grades still to complete and many games still to play before then, but mom’s words of wisdom on
balancing homework with high-performance athletics are firmly etched in her mind.
“School definitely comes first,” says Leschyshyn, “and if you work hard in school and on-ice you’ll be able to do both in university.”
And dad Curtis played 16 seasons in the National Hockey League – as well as for Canada at the 1990 IIHF World Championship – and is now in his first season
as an assistant coach with the Stars.
“It’s super special to be able to share [Esso] with someone else in my family,” says Leschyshyn.
Leschyshyn is one of a trio of under-agers – with Shirley and Joelle Fiala – who’ve been key to the Stars making a second straight Esso Cup appearance.
While her youth sometimes shows, there’s no doubt she’ll have a big role in turning bronze into gold.
“As the season wore on she became more and more consistent and she’s turned into a real impact player,” says Slobodzian.
It’s time to write the next chapter.