Hounds joins Bears as Sask. representatives at Esso Cup after winning Western Regionals

The Notre Dame Hounds puched their ticket to the 2022 Esso Cup after beating the Westman Wildcats in the West Regional final. --Photo from Facebook/Lavonne Herman.

For the first time since 2011, the Notre Dame Hounds U18 girls are heading to the Esso Cup.

Beating the Regina Rebels in four games in the SFU18AAAHL final, the Hounds advanced to the West Regional final, where they squared off with the Manitoba league champs, the Westman Wildcats. Notre Dame won the first two games of the best of three series, both by 4-1 finals, punching their ticket to the 2022 Esso Cup in Okotoks, Alberta.

“It’s a pretty neat feeling,” Hounds head coach Craig Perrett said. “It’s something that we have been talking about and working towards the entire year. We knew back in October that we would have a good team, we just didn’t know how good we would end up being.

“We started talking about the Esso Cup back then, and to finally close out that second game against Westman and have that final buzzer sound was quite a good feeling. The girls were satisfied and all of us coaches were very happy.”

Going back to the league final against the Regina Rebels, Perrett knew it would be a tough test. The top two teams in the league put on a show in the best of five, as every game was separated by one goal, with two of those games going to overtime.

“We were confident going in,” he said. “Ending the regular season, we played five games in seven days to make up for all of the COVID stuff we went through earlier in the year. We were a little beat up heading into the playoffs, but we knew that if we could keep the games at our pace and keep it a close, low scoring affair, it would suit us better. If we got into a shootout with Regina, we probably weren’t going to fair on the positive side, because they have a lot of talented players.

“We knew we were built for  a 2-1 or 1-0 style of hockey game, and we were comfortable with that the whole time. We knew it would be a battle. We actually thought it would be a five game series, but we were happy when we were able to end it in four.”

The Rebels were the team that gave the Hounds the most trouble in the regular season, as they were the only team that Notre Dame had a losing record against, going 2-2-0-1 in five meetings. However, once the two clubs squared off in the league final, Perrett says that’s where his team’s depth came in clutch.

“When it comes down to the final series in the playoffs, it comes down to depth,” he explained. “We’re comfortable throwing all four lines out on the ice in all situations. Regina has some of those high end players who get a lot of minutes, and as we went through the series, some of their defencemen were playing 40 minutes a game. We took a look at the stats and looked at the time on ice and things like that, and saw that their top players were playing 35 minutes or more, where our top forwards were playing 21 to 24 minutes.

“We knew as the series went on that we would have the upper hand in depth, and we got goal scoring from everywhere. We got goals from defencemen who haven’t scored all year long. Even our last goal that we scored came from Kyra Anderson, but the pass came from Tessa Henry, who only had six points all year. We had fresher legs, especially for those double overtime games.”

As game four in Regina went into double overtime, the clock got closer to midnight as the game awaited an eventual winner. Perrett says their was a lot of anxiousness on the bench, and when Anderson scored the game winning goal, it was like a huge weight was lifted off of the team’s shoulders. At the same time, the Hounds weren’t exactly in a hurry to seal the deal. They were comfortable with dragging it out for as long as they pleased.

“As we went later into it, I thought the overtime was good for us. I knew once we got to overtime that our depth would give us a huge advantage. We could use our whole bench as much as we could, and I knew that we would still have some legs left. Once that goal went in, it was a nice sense of relief.”

It was the third overtime game of the postseason for Notre Dame, who had dropped the first two. Perrett explained how the team was able to put their previous overtime woes behind them, and finish off the Rebels.

“There’s always that thought in the back of your mind about losing again in overtime. I thought as it went on in game four, we were feeling good. I think we outshot them 10-2 in overtime. When we scored it was a sense of relief for sure, but we were pretty confident in our group. Between the first and second period in that game we talked about that confidence and how many times we’ve played in one goal hockey games and those low scoring affairs.”

The Hounds girls weren’t the only team out of Notre Dame to bring a championship to Wilcox. The Notre Dame Hounds U18 boys also won their league final, sweeping the Warman Wildcats in the SMU18AAAHL final. Perrett says it’s a unique feeling when two teams from the same community get to experience a league championship.

“It’s a pretty cool experience from a school standpoint,” he said. “From the coaching staff, we’re proud of the boys, but from a community standpoint, it’s pretty special. It was exciting for the school, and we were able to celebrate with the boys team, who came onto the ice with us. We were in spring break, so none of our students were here, they had all gone home except for both of the teams who had to stay because they were playing. When I turned around and looked into the stands, I couldn’t believe how many people were there wearing red and white in Regina. Our alumni showed up and they gave their full support.”

Now with the Esso Cup on their minds, the Hounds have every right to feel confident heading into Okotoks. From the start of the season up to this point, Perrett says the girls have stuck together, and look to do some more damage on the national stage.

“Our whole group has bought into how we need to play to be successful,” he said. “Everyone has a role on this team and they have bought into owning that role. I’ve watched kids develop throughout the year and watching them fit into their own role. Right now, it’s a lot of fun to watch us play. Just over the weekend against Westman, our kids really came together as a team and played some of the most complete games we’ve had all year, and we’re hoping to put in some more good games at the Esso Cup.”

Joining the Hounds at the Esso Cup will be the host Prince Albert Northern Bears, Atlantic champion Northern Selects, Ontario region champions Durham West Lightning, Pacific region champs Fraser Valley Rush, and the Quebec region champs Remparts Du Richelieu.

The last time the Hounds won the Esso Cup was in their last appearance in 2011. They finished as runner up the year before.

The Esso Cup tournament kicks off on May 16 and runs until the 22.