It isn’t easy to replace an MVP, especially when that player has the skill to not only make Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team but also earn an
invitation to camp with Canada’s National Women’s Team.
But with Sophie Shirley gone, as well as her linemate – and last year’s leading scorer – Nara Elia, the Saskatoon Stars knew change had to come.
“We had to build a new identity where we were going to rely on our depth more,” says head coach Greg Slobodzian. He consistently rolled four lines,
allowing every player time on the ice in any situation.
As the defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champions – and Esso Cup bronze medallists – the Stars had a bullseye on their back. They
lost their first game of the season … then won the next 16 in a row.
“It took a while for the girls to realize it’s not going to be easy,” says Slobodzian. “I don’t think they believed it until after the first few games;
then they realized that every shift matters. From there we just continued to grow.”
The Stars once again led the league in goals and won the regular season title by 10 points.
In the playoffs, Saskatoon easily beat Battlefords in the quarter-final, outscoring the Sharks 28-3 in a three-game sweep.
In the semifinals, the Stars met the Weyburn Gold Wings, hosts of the Esso Cup. The Stars fired 45 shots on net and easily won the opener 5-0. In Game 2,
the two teams combined for 80 shots but only one goal, scored by Weyburn early in the second overtime.
It look another four-plus periods to decide the third game, with Mackenna Parker scoring four minutes into double overtime for the Stars.
Saskatoon wrapped up the series, with Joelle Fiala and Grace Shirley each setting the other up for goal, in Game 4.
After splitting the first two games of the SFMAAAHL final against the Swift Current Wildcats, the Stars went up 2-0 in Game 3, then withstood a last-minute
goal by the Wildcats. Saskatoon trailed 3-1 in Game 4, but goals from Rayah DeCorby in the second and Anna Leschyshyn in the third sent the game to
overtime, where Shirley, the Stars leading scorer in the playoffs, ended things.
Last year the Stars went 9-0 in winning the province; this year, 9-2, with a lot more close games.
“A lot of those games we probably wouldn’t have won last year,” says Slobodzian. “This team’s very resilient and they really trust each other. And because
of that, those games that were so tight, they just looked at each other and [said] ‘we got this.’”
Unlike last year, when both Saskatchewan and Manitoba had berths in the Esso Cup, the team still had a series to play after winning its province.
The team travelled east to Shoal Lake, Man., to face the Yellowhead Chiefs, champions of the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League.
They were deadlocked 1-1 until early in the third in the opener, when Parker converted on a three-on-two break.
Less than 24 hours later the teams were back on the ice. The Chiefs led 1-0 after 40 minutes, but only 15 seconds into the third, Leschyshyn tied it on the
power play. Six minutes later DeCorby went top shelf for a 2-1 Stars lead, and she added an empty-netter to cement a two-game sweep.
“This year’s team is battle-ready coming into Esso,” says Slobodzian. “All the tight games and then going to Regionals, I think that’s really gotten us
ready for the next steps. Anytime you can add a little bit of pressure to an athlete and they respond in the right way, it’s a positive thing.”
HOW THEY GOT TO WEYBURN
Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League
Quarter-final: defeated Battlefords 3-0 (7-1, 9-2, 12-0)
Semifinal: defeated Weyburn 3-1 (5-0, 0-1 2OT, 3-2 2OT, 2-0)
SFMAAAHL championship: defeated Swift Current 3-1 (3-4, 1-0, 2-1, 4-3 OT)
Defeated Yellowhead 2-0 (2-1, 3-1)
Record (W-L-OTW-OTL): 22-4-2-0 (1st in SFMAAAHL)
Goals For: 117 (1st in SFMAAAHL)
Goals Against: 47 (T-2nd in SFMAAAHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 16 (Oct. 4-Dec. 20)
Top 3 Scorers:
Mackenna Parker – 14G 21A 35P (2nd in SFMAAAHL)
Grace Shirley – 18G 14A 32P (T-3rd in SFMAAAHL)
Anna Leschyshyn – 14G 11A 25P (T-7th in SFMAAAHL)
Goals For: 53
Goals Against: 16
Top 3 Scorers:
Grace Shirley –5G 10A 15P
Mackenna Parker – 8G 6A 14P
Joelle Fiala – 6G 7A 13P
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
2015 – Saskatoon Stars | bronze medal | 5-2-0 | 26GF 13GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
very calm and composed in net … gives her team a huge amount of confidence … plays the puck well … communicates to her D effectively … team leader
powerful skater … good hands … hard, accurate snapshot … natural shooter … doesn’t take a shift off … an offensive threat in any situation … great team
player … unselfish … strong for her size
extremely smooth skater … great vision … skilled offensive defenceman … dangerous on the power play … used in all situations … defends extremely well