The atmosphere was thick in anticipation as the puck dropped on the 2023 Esso Cup at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
The Regina Avana Rebels representing the West region defeated Etoiles de Laurentides-Lanaudiere, the Quebec region representative 3-1 in the tournament’s opening game.
Regina head coach Mike Merk says getting the first win is a good first step for the Rebels
“It’s very important. Starting a tournament with a win is an important thing. I talked to my team about having one life in a tournament and we want to hold onto it as long as possible.”
Regina would have a chance to open the scoring as Peyton Halayka would fire a shot through traffic that Etoiles netminder Beatrice Plouffe made the initial stop on, but couldn’t control the rebound. She made the save on Halayka’s second attempt to keep the game scoreless.
Etoiles would receive the first chance on the power play after Regina defender Jada Johns was called for head contact with 9:02 remaining in the first period.
But it would be Regina who would open the scoring short handed just twenty seconds later. Rebels captain Greta Henderson would strike for her first goal of the tournament on a partial breakaway at the 11:18 mark of the opening frame. Stryker Zablocki picked up the lone assist.
Henderson, the Regina captain says the goal was crucial for getting momentum..
“That goal was really important for us. It all started with the defense in the corner getting that pin and getting a good pass from my teammate to start if off.”.
Etoiles would strike back before the end of the period as captain Sandrine Larouche would put a rebound home from the mouth of the crease and past Regina goaltender Hannah Tresek to knot the score at 1-1.Olivia Giguere and Eve Noel were credited with assists on the play.
Regina held a 14-4 advantage in shots on goal after the first period.
Etoiles nearly had their own short handed goal on a breakaway as Ann-Laurence Dutil would fire a shot that would beat Tresek, but not the red iron of the goal post to keep the game tied 1-1 early in the second period.
Greta Henderson would have an opportunity for her second goal of the game late in the second period, but Etoiles goaltender Beatrice Plouffe would deny the Rebel captain with the pad, one of her 11 saves in the second period.
Shots after forty minutes of play were 25-5 Regina.
Despite the clear shot advantage, Merk says the shot selection not always ideal
“We outshot, but sometimes the shot choices might not have been the right choice. We talked lots in between periods looking at different options out there. They started to find them and look for rebounds and different things. It worked and we got the win.”
Regina would head to the power play with 11:05 remaining in the third period as Maude Rochon would be called for tripping after taking down Kadence Dansereau.
On the power play, Regina would finally break through to take the lead.
Prince Albert product Stryker Zablocki would give Regina the lead in her hometown just nine seconds in with a backhand shot through traffic that would beat Plouffe low glove side to make the score 2-1. Brooklyn Nimegeers had the lone assist.
Another power play goal would provide some much needed insurance for Regina as Jayda Johns would fire a wrist shot through traffic and past Plouffe to make it 3-1 with just 1:12 to go in the hockey game. Nimegeers and Berlin Lolacher had assists on the play.
Etoiles netminder Beatrice Plouffe made 42 saves in the game.
Merk gives a lot of credit to the opposing goaltender.
“Good positioning and the defense they blocked a lot of shots. Their goalie played fantastic. She was always in the right spot at the right time and took away all of our angles.”
Regina returns to action tomorrow at noon against Team Ontario represented by the Stoney Creek Sabres. Etoiles takes on Team Atlantic at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.