Huskies fall to Bisons in CW final

U of S Huskies captain Kaitlin Willoughby carries the puck up ice against the U of M Bisons in game 1 of the teams’ Canada West championship game from Winnipeg, Man., on March 2, 2018. -- Marjorie Roden/Daily Herald Contributor

U of S hockey team ready for redemption at U-Sports Nationals

By Marjorie Roden, Daily Herald Contributor

Going into weekend college hockey action against the University of Manitoba Bisons, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team already knew they secured their spot at Nationals later this month. Their only goal this past weekend was to win the Canada West title during the best-of-three series at Winnipeg’s Max Bell Arena.

That goal was not realized due to controversial officiating in the first game and a three-goal spurt from Manitoba in the second game.

The Bisons swept the series two games to none.

Huskies captain Kaitlin Willoughby shared her thoughts on how game 1 ended.

“From our point of view, the ref actually blew the whistle before the puck went in the net, so everyone on our team thought the play was being called down. Also, there was an interference that we thought should have been called on the girl going up to the (defensive player),” she explained.

The Bisons won that game 1-0 in overtime on Caitlin Fyten’s even-strength goal.

“I went up to the ref after and asked, ‘Did you blow the whistle?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did, but the puck went into the net so that’s a goal.’

“I don’t think that’s the right call at all, that’s not how hockey is played. Hopefully our coaches are looking into it, because that’s not how that game should have ended,” she said.

U of S head coach Steve Kook spoke with the Daily Herald on Tuesday about the overtime goal.

“That’s exactly how overtime goals are scored.

“There’s a wobbly shot taken from a ways away, with traffic in front of the net. In traffic that’s what you do – you chuck pucks on the net and somehow they find their way to the back of the net,” he explained.

“We heard the whistle go before the shot was taken. The explanation form the officials was that the back official blew the whistle early. The net official blew the whistle when it went in the net, and signaled it was a goal. There was argument between the officials as to who’s whistle should stand.

“Our argument was it doesn’t matter which one should stand, one of the officials blew their whistle. It should be a dead play. That’s something that we are unable to appeal at the league level,” Kook said. “We can’t appeal an official’s call. It has to stand that way. Do we think it’s right? We don’t think it’s right. But there’s not much we can do about it.”

After Kook and his coaching staff checked with the Canada West head office, they learned that, “we are only able to appeal games based on misinterpretation of regulations. We are not allowed to appeal games based on officials’ calls. And that’s what it came down to.”

Up until that point of the game, two total infractions were called during the match – a first-period hooking call on the Bisons and a third-period holding call on the Huskies.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, game 2 of the series played on Saturday night didn’t go their way, either.

Although Vance stood strong in net throughout the first period, the Bisons managed three straight goals in the second period over a span of seven minutes.

Willoughby managed to respond with a breakaway goal of her own almost two minutes later, with the assist credited to Vance. Willoughby then scored on a neat point shot, beating a confused Chloe Marshall at 1:19 into the third period pulling the Huskies within one.

The Bisons eventually answered at 15:04 with a goal by Jordyn Zacharias. After the Huskies pulled Vance in favour of an extra attacker, an empty-net goal by the Bisons secured their win at 18:28, giving the home team the Canada West title.

Fyten, Manitoba’s captain, said of the Huskies, “We knew they were going to come out really hard today, after we took the game in OT last night, so we were prepared for them to come at us hard, so we knew we’d just have to go at them even harder.”

Thinking beyond the Canada West series, Willoughby said, “I think the message we talked about in the room was this hurts, obviously, especially for the fifth-year (players), we know we won’t have another chance at a CanWest championship, but we’ve got to let it hurt for a couple of days, then we’re regrouping.”

In spite of the setbacks throughout the game, the Huskies played with dignity, poise, and grace, something which several Huskies fans who made the long trip to Winnipeg witnessed and were proud of. Willoughby also saw this in her teammates.

“I’m just really proud of my team, I think we have a special group of girls, and honestly, I thought we deserved to win tonight, it just didn’t go our way.

“But at the end of the day, I am just standing here, so proud to be a leader of this group, They’re just so special, and I’m just so proud. Even though we didn’t win, I’m going to look back on this when I’m older and I shall think I’m so proud to have come this far and we get to go to Nationals.”

Kook spoke with a similar tone of optimism looking ahead to a chance to win the National title.

“We’re going to reset and we’re going to focus – we have five good skates before we get on a plane, two good skates before we get out there before we actually compete. So we’re gonna have a fair amount of time here to regroup, reset, get back to what we do really well, make sure the intensity is there, and of course make sure players are healthy.

“It’s a fresh mind, and a reset. There’s no record – everyone’s going out there with a 0-0 record.”

The U-Sports Women’s National Hockey Championships take place March 15 to 18 in London, Ont., hosted by Western University.

With files from Evan Radford