Friday, 25 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Cats And Dogs

Part four of the four-part look at the eight teams in women's hockey of the Canada West Conference in the CIS goes today after a short delay. We've taken a look at the four teams in Alberta, the one in BC, and the one in Manitoba, so we'll focus on the province not yet represented in the two teams in Saskatchewan as we wrap up this series. These two teams have the potential to be serious wild cards with the talent on their rosters, so we'll see if they can supplant one of the potential top-three teams in Canada West. Through a little digging, I'll also need to post a correction from an earlier article, and I want to do that upfront so that everyone is ready for the season with proper information on rosters. Let's take a look at all of this as we close off the Canada West women's hockey preview!

Swing and a miss for Teebz. I had reported in the third-part of the series that the Alberta Pandas would have Jessica Kampjes back with the team this season. She was one of their leading scorers last season in helping the Pandas to the Canada West title, but it appears that I jumped the gun a little. Kampjes is not on the Pandas' roster at this point, and it appears she's not playing with Alberta this season in a somewhat-stunning turn of events. Losing her suddenly pulls a pile of offensive talent from that lineup, but there's still a lot of balance on that squad.

While I accept responsibility in not digging further on this one, the Pandas really need to do a better job in keeping people informed through their website about player movement and team-related news. Not having news on a departing player is one thing, but not even highlighting the recruits? C'mon, Alberta.

In case you missed them, the previous three entries are listed here. You can find UBC and Manitoba here, Mount Royal and Calgary here, and Lethbridge and Alberta here. Yes, the corrections to the Alberta write-up as pointed out above have been strategically applied to that article. Everything else in those three articles seems correct up to this date, but anything can happen on the rosters as teams are finalizing them over the next week. Stay tuned for any breaking roster news before the season kicks off on October 2!

The Regina Cougars have a fairly young team with only five players in their fifth-year of eligibility this season, so it will be a youth movement in the Saskatchewan capital. Head coach Sarah Hodges enters her 17th season as the only head coach of the Regina Cougars program, sporting a 170-125-22-9 record over those seasons. Last year, she coached the Cougars to a sixth-place finish at 15-11-2 while seeing her team score 60 goals-for while giving up 69 goals-against. Kylie Gavelin led the team in goals (13) and points (21) while defenceman Triston Riemer led the team in assists (11). Toni Ross played the most time in the crease while posting a record of 7-7-1 in 18 appearances with a 2.33 GAA, a .922 save percentage, and two shutouts.

The Cougars saw Riemer graduate out of the program after she played her fifth year of eligibility last season. Also gone this season are forward Nicole Mitchell, forward Natasha Kostenko, defenceman Tori Head, goalie Jennifer Schmidt, forward Jordan Doram, and red-shirt Mallory Roy. Riemer's presence on the blue line will certainly be missed, and Head's rugged play in her own zone in clearing the crease needs to be replaced. Kostenko's five goals and five assists can be replaced by at least two players already on the roster, and Doram, Mitchell, and Roy didn't have much of an impact on the scoresheet, so there are a few roster spots open for others to claim.

The Cougars will rely heavily on Kylie Gavelin, but expect to hear a lot about Stephanie Sawchuk and Emma Waldenberger up front as they were the second- and fourth-leading scorers on the team last season. Waldenberger is entering her second season in Canada West and her skating has much improved from preseason scouting reports, making the six-foot forward a legitimate power forward threat. Bailey Braden, Brooklyn Moskowy, and Kylee Kupper will be expected to pick up the slack for the outgoing Kostenko, and they are more than capable of holding their own in the Canada West scoring race with increased ice-time.

Defensively, Carleen Mezsaros will have the spotlight on her once more as she finished third in team scoring. Alexis Larson should be able to improve on her 11-point season from last year as she enters her fourth year in the conference. Michela Esposito and Nikki Watters-Matthes will need to step up their games this season as both recorded -10 ratings on the season last year. Esposito, at 6'1" tall, should be much more effective with her stick based on her height, but she took a major step backwards last season in her defensive awareness. That will have to improve. Watters-Matthes led the team with 40 PIMs and had eight points, but she needs to cut down on the former and improve the latter. Krista Metz and Jolene Kirkpatrick round out the six-woman unit and they'll see their spots, but the Cougars need more from them as well.

As stated above, Ross played the most minutes, but she was pushed all season by the outgoing Jennifer Schmidt. In saying that, Ross will handle the vast majority of the goaltending assignments this season as backup Jane Kish has played a grand total of zero minutes in Canada West thus far. The two netminders are the only goalies listed on the roster, so any injury to a netminder will mean that the Cougars are toying with fate. It's a little surprising to see just two goalies on the roster, but it appears that the Cougars are comfortable with their tandem at this point not to bring on a third goalie.

The Cougars recruited a fairly strong class for the upcoming season. Jaycee Magwood and Tamara McVannel committed almost a year ago to the Cougars, and they recruited Chelsea Perepeluk a few weeks later as they proved that even hockey season is recruiting season. Perepeluk is a Regina native where she played with the Regina Rebels of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League and led the league in scoring in 2013-14 with 59 points in 28 games, but took a downward trend in only scoring 21 points in 25 games last season. Magwood comes to Regina via the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League where she played with the Westman Wildcats and was named league MVP in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 and was a three-time all-star. Joining her from Manitoba is McVannel where the defenceman was named a second-team all-star in 2014-15 with the Central Plains Capitals of the MFMHL and was named as the top defender for the Capitals three of the four years she played there.

The Cougars started their preseason over in Sweden as they toured a few cities in preparation for this season. First up was Leksands IF where the Cougars held a 3-1 lead before eventually falling in overtime 4-3. They rolled into Sundsvall to play there, and skated to a 4-0 victory. They then went to Stockholm where they dropped a 3-2 decision to AIK HF. They returned home to face the Mount Royal Cougars twice, winning the first game 3-2 in overtime before taking the second game 4-1. They downed the U18 team Saskatchewan team 7-1 last night to kick off the Mandi Schwartz Challenge, and will play the Lethbridge Pronghorns, Saskatchewan Huskies, and MacEwan Griffins before kicking off their season at home against the Calgary Dinos on October 2. Thus far, the Cougars are 4-1-1 in the preseason with a 2-0 in-conference record.

The Saskatchewan Huskies shocked a number of people in 2013-14 with their second-place finish in Canada West and a bronze medal finish at the CIS Championship, but their youthfulness showed a little more last season with their fifth-place finish in the conference. Head coach Steve Kook enters his tenth season at the helm, and the only Huskies coach in team history is a two-time CIS Coach of the Year. He led the Huskies to a 14-10-4 record last season on 58 goals-for compared to 67 goals-against, so you know a lot of wins for the Huskies come in close games. Kaitlin Willoughby led the team in assists (16) and points (26) while Kandace Cook won the goal-scoring race with 13. Cassidy Hendricks appeared in 26 games for the Huskies compiling a record of 13-11-2 on a 2.21 GAA, a .926 save percentage, and four shutouts.

Cook, the Huskies' leading goal scorer last season, graduated out of the program, so that's a big chunk of the Huskies' offence gone from the program, especially on the power-play where she recorded seven of her 13 goals. Chelsey Sundby was the only other fifth-year player on the Huskies roster last season, so there aren't many roster spots open for rookies to grab. As stated above, the Huskies are young and the vast majority of the roster will return.

Kaitlin Willoughby will be back for her third year of Canada West action, and the Huskies will lean heavily on her to continue to bring the offence. There is a major drop-off in the point totals for the Huskies after Willoughby and Cook, so the offence will have to overcome its anemic ways if the Huskies want to challenge for a top-three spot. Lauren Zary and Marley Ervine are the only returning forwards to hit double-digits in points, so the Huskies are going to need major improvements on the offensive side of the puck with Cook out of the lineup.

Julia Flinton was the top-scoring rearguard for the Huskies with 14 points, and she's the clear leader in terms of production from the blue line. The remaining five defencemen recorded just 15 points combined, so there is very little offence coming from the blue line. This should be a major concern for the Huskies because not only does this affect them in terms of puck movement five-on-five, but it's a huge issue for the power-play as almost every power-play goal is generated off the half-boards or lower. Brooke Mutch had six assists, but the remaining four women on the blue line need to step up in a big way to help the forwards with the offensive game.

Defensively, the six-woman unit isn't overly bad in any one area, but this is a team that could desperately use some size in its lineup as all the ladies are 5'8" or shorter. They struggle against some of the taller women due to their lack of reach, and occasionally struggle to clear their own crease. Flinton and Mutch, the two most consistent defencemen, spent 38 and 34 minutes in the penalty box respectively, so the Huskies have to find a way to keep those two on the ice instead of watching from the sin bin.

As stated above, Cassidy Hendricks played the bulk of the season for the Huskies last year, and there's no reason to believe this year will be any different. Backup Jerrica Waltz was a rookie last season, but she had pretty solid numbers in her three games and 144:27 of work. Waltz was 1-0-1 with a 2.08 GAA and a .934 save percentage, so her stats were actually better than Hendricks' stats. Hendricks moves well and has a little size, but she needs some help from her defencemen. She's good at making the first save, but traffic and rebounds always seem to go against her. Hendricks could also use a little rest once in a while, so there's a shot we could see more of Waltz this season as she enters her second season in the conference.

Like a couple of other schools in Canada West, there is absolutely zero information on Saskatchewan's recruiting class. I found a lot of information on the soccer program's recruiting class, but the hockey news is barren when it comes to who Saskatchewan is bringing in this season. I'm not sure how a program gets people excited about their product if there's no information on the next wave of stars entering the hockey program. Get it together, Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan, according to their schedule, has played a mere one preseason game against the Mount Royal Cougars that they lost 2-1. That would put their preseason record, if my math is correct, at 0-1-0 with a similar in-conference record. They will host those same Mount Royal Cougars on October 2 and 3 to kick off the 2015-16 season.

These two teams were separated by four points last season, and there's no reason to believe they won't be within a game of one another again this season. Calgary, who finished three points - one win - better than Saskatchewan, will also be in that mix. I expect that Calgary will finish fourth, Regina in fifth-place, and Saskatchewan will finish in sixth-place, but you can roll the dice on these three teams in any way you like. If Mount Royal improves with their impressive recruiting class, we could see four teams battling for three playoff spots late in the season.

For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for all your women's hockey information!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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