Special to the Herald
SASKATOON, Sask. – If Kate Ball and Jasper Desmarais have their way, they will be besties and playing hockey together forever.
The alums from the Prince Albert Northern Bears under-18 AAA female hockey team are veteran centres with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women’s Hockey Team. Ball is in her fourth year of eligibility with the team, and Desmarais is in her third year with the club.
When asked what it would be like when their Huskies days wrap up and they would no longer be playing together, the idea of no longer being hockey teammates was thrown out the window.
“We’re definitely going to play beer league for the rest of our lives,” said Ball.
“We’re going to create a team, recruit people, and it will be the best thing that has ever happened,” said Desmarais. “We will probably find a way to play hockey together going forward.
“Old ladies in the rink you can probably find us.”
Ball then sneaks in a comment that their playing days will extend to when they are both in a nursing home together.
“At the nursing home, we’ll make an outdoor rink in the backyard,” said Desmarais.
The duos’ time as teammates actually started before they joined the Bears. In the 2015-16 campaign, the two played bantam hockey together in their hometown of Saskatoon. They enjoyed that fact that beginning a long time ago has become a long lasting thing.
“Jasper has always been my best friend,” said Ball, who stands 5-foot-5. “It has just been really special.
“Even playing together in Bears, we always had chemistry. It has just been really nice to have her here in Huskies.”
“It is one of the reasons that I wanted to come here,” said Desmarais, who stands 5-foot-7. “Being together for that long, we kind of bring like a close dynamic to the team.
“It is nice to have people that you are really close with (on the team). It makes it more enjoyable coming to the rink every day.”
Ball and Desmarais developed some of their most long last memories as friends and teammates in the second season they played together in 2016-17. In that campaign, Ball joined the Bears as a 15-year-old rookie and Desmarais came too as a 14-year-old rookie underage player. Both made an immediate impact with the Prince Albert side.
Ball finished second in team scoring behind Abby Soyko with 30 points collected on 15 goals and 15 assists appearing in all of the Bears 28 regular season games. Desmarais finished fourth in team scoring behind Camryn Amundson with 24 points collected on nine goals and 15 assists appearing in 26 regular season games.
The Bears finished second in the Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League standings with a 22-6 record. They stormed through the league playoffs posting a perfect 9-0 record and swept the first place Saskatoon Stars 3-0 in a best-of-five series to capture the Fedoruk Cup as SFU18AAAHL champions.
In the best-of-three Under-18 AAA Western regional playdown series hosted at the Art Hauser Centre, the Bears swept away the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats 2-0. In Game 2 of the series, the Bears were down 6-3 in the third period, but rallied back with four straight goals to pull out a 7-6 victory to capture the Lanchbery Family Trophy before an estimated crowd of 1,200.
The Bears advanced to the Esso Cup female under-18 AAA national championship tournament and just missed advancing to the semifinals posting a 2-3 record during the round robin portion of the event.
“That was definitely a highlight of my hockey career,” said Ball. “I think I just like reflect back to that and always kind of strive for that year and just how the team was that year was really great going to nationals.”
“I think the team chemistry was really good too,” said Desmarais. “We had a lot of fun.
“We had a lot of people that played together really well. There was like a lot of memorable moments in that year. Of course, I think about that.”
Ball joined the Huskies at the start of the 2019-20 campaign and Desmarais played that season for the Bears before joining Ball at the U of S for the start of the 2021-22 campaign. There was no Canada West Conference action or U Sports nationals played in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In the first season after the pandemic stoppages in 2021-22, Ball and Desmarais had another memorable campaign. After the Huskies finished fifth in the Canada West standings with an 11-7-2 mark, they helped the Huskies go on a Cinderella run in the post-season.
Ball and Desmarais helped the Huskies post best-of-three road series upset sweeps over the University of Manitoba Bisons and Mount Royal University Cougars to advance to the Canada West final and earn a berth at the U Sports nationals. The Thunderbirds swept the Huskies in the Canada West final.
At the elite-eight style U Sports nationals played in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the Huskies captured the bronze medal blanking the University of New Brunswick Red 2-0 in the bronze medal game. Desmarais had the Huskies second goal in that contest scoring off a three-on-one rush.
“On the road every weekend, it was definitely a lot of hard work, especially with school added on to it,” said Ball, who is a kinesiology major. “I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it was a grind for sure.
“It was really special for sure. I think all that hard work was worth it in the end.”
“It was tough, because I remember we didn’t finish very high,” said Desmarais, who is in the nursing program at U of S. “We didn’t have a home playoff spot, so we were on the road a lot, and that was tough.
“We were always the team coming from behind, and we made it happen. I think that almost made it a lot more fun and meaningful when we did beat those teams out of the playoffs.”
This season Ball has appeared in all the Huskies 22 regular season games to date collecting five goals and five assists. Desmarias had played the role of defensive centre appearing in 20 regular season games collecting a pair of goals with one of those tallies being a game winner.
Huskies head coach Steve Kook has been pleased with how Ball and Desmarais have played this season. Kook said Ball’s hockey IQ shows up well on the ice.
“Kate has been just solid this year,” said Kook. “Playing between Willky (Shelby Williamson) and Soph (Sophie Lalor), she has just done her job.
“It is quiet, move the puck, get in the right spots and win some draws.”
Kook said Demarais has done a terrific job balancing school with playing hockey. The veteran bench boss believes his defensive centre has some big days ahead of her on the ice.
“Jasper (Desmarais) has probably been the busiest player of our team this year with her nursing program having to run from practicum to here and missing some practices and having to catch up on dry land and stuff like that,” said Kook. “She has worked hard to get her game in the right place.
“This is her third year with us. I think she is right in that wheel well where her game starts to go from here. She has a lot of confidence and her skating is so good this year.”
Ball and Desmarais have helped the Huskies post a 16-4-1-1 regular season record to sit fourth in the Canada West standings. The Huskies could still move up in the standings depending on the results of their final six regular season games, but no matter what happens, they are guaranteed to host one best-of-three Canada West playoff series.
The Huskies will also host the U Sports Women’s Hockey Championship Tournament from March 14 to 17 at Merlis Belsher Place. While the Huskies have a guaranteed spot at nationals, Ball and Desmarais want to help their squad have another long run through the Canada West playoffs first.
“I think we have a lot of older players on the team, so I think expectations are really high for us,” said Ball. “We just kind of lead the younger ones and hope for the best.
“I think we’re really capable of doing great things.”
“We knew the stakes were high from the beginning, and we knew what we were in for,” said Desmarais. “I think we just came into this season with like a little extra push, and we knew we wanted to earn our spot at nationals rather than just being the host team.
“That was another thing that kind of motivated us to kind of push that extra mile.”
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com.