PA’s Zablocki hoping for Esso Cup success with Regina Rebels

Photo by Darryl Gershman. Strycker Zablocki in action during the Esso Cup West Regional against the Winnipeg Ice. Regina defeated Winnipeg in two games to advance to the Esso Cup in Vernon.

It’s been an outstanding year for Stryker Zablocki and the Prince Albert product is hoping to bring home some more hardware at the 2024 Esso Cup in Vernon, British Columbia.

Zablocki was the leading scorer in the Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League (SFU18AAAHL) during the regular season. She posted 40 goals and 25 assists in 27 games for the Regina Rebels, who finished as the league’s top team in the regular season.

The Rebels would sweep their way through the league playoffs winning four games against the Battlefords Sharks and Notre Dame Hounds on route to a league title. In the four playoff games, Zablocki tallied seven goals and six helpers.

After a regional win in two games over the Winnipeg Ice, the Rebels have punched their ticket back to the Esso Cup, which begins on Sunday.

Last season, the Rebels took home a bronze medal in the Esso Cup with a 5-1 victory over the Atlantic representative Northern Selects in Prince Albert.

“As a team, we’re really looking forward to changing our (medal) color from last year and hopefully we can get a gold this year.” Zablocki says. “Even though it’s not my hometown like it was last year. I’ve never been to Vernon so it’ll be a fun experience getting to spend a week with all my best friends and teammates.”

Regina returns a number of key contributors from last year’s Esso Cup bronze medal team, including Zablocki, Kadence Dansereau and Brooklyn Nimegeers.

Zablocki says the veteran core is expected to lead off the start, but she expects the younger players to make an impact throughout the tournament.

“The vets on our team are definitely going to take a bigger role this weekend and set a good example for the rookies. We are expecting the rookies to do lots too because we have depth throughout the lineup so collectively as a team it should be a really good effort from everyone.”

The year hasn’t been without some challenges for the Rebels. Back on Mar. 1, Rebels head coach Mike Merk was suspended indefinitely pending an investigation from Hockey Canada. On Mar. 25, the sanctions against Merk were lifted, but the Rebels opted to remain with interim bench boss Kim Perepeluk.

Zablocki says the period of coaching uncertainty wasn’t without challenge, but the Rebels were able to overcome the period of turmoil due to the strong chemistry the team possesses.

“For our team I feel like it was only a small amount of adversity because our team is so tight knit that I don’t think a coach makes our team and it just brought us closer and I think we just want to do it for Mike (Merk) at the end of the day and our new coaches are super good as well.”

Zablocki and the Rebels begin Esso Cup play on Sunday morning against Ontario representative North York Storm. The Ontario representative Stoney Creek Sabres captured the 2023 Esso Cup title in Prince Albert.

“Facing them right off the shoot, I’m really looking forward to it.” Zablocki says. “They’re going to be strong opponents, they could probably be our toughest competition there and hopefully we can start off strong with a win.”

It’s been a strong season for Zablocki on an individual level. She captured the Hayley Wickenheiser Award as the Most Valuable Player in the SFU18AAAHL during the regular season. In January, she took her talents overseas and helped Canada capture a bronze medal at the IIHF Women’s U18 World Championship in Zug, Switzerland.

Zablocki says she is hoping to wrap up her hockey season with a successful finish at the Esso Cup.

“It would really mean a lot to me and I think it would show that our hard work the whole season has paid off and we have the team to do it so hopefully we can do that when it comes down to it”