Monday, 21 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Cowtown

As stated yesterday, there is a major void in the coverage that Canadian collegiate hockey receives from almost everyone. There are a couple of CIS-related blogs out there, but I want to go inside the women's collegiate game as there is nearly no coverage for CIS women's hockey in this country despite hockey being one of our official sports. HBIC is committed to bringing a great awareness to the women's game, so we'll continue with the week-long look at the Canada West women's hockey teams.

Today, we focus on Calgary, Alberta where two teams play - the University of Calgary Dinos and the Mount Royal University Cougars. One team has seen a lot of success in their history while the other is still finding its foothold in the Canada West Conference. While one has aspirations of CIS Championships, the other takes as much joy in beating their cross-town rivals as they do in working towards the playoffs. If one thing is certain, though, these two teams are closer to each other than what their histories would suggest.

The Mount Royal University Cougars are one of the new kids on the block. In 2011-12, they won the ACAC Championship over Grant MacEwen and were promoted for the following season to the Canada West Conference from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. Suddenly, Mount Royal was playing with the big programs like Alberta, Manitoba, and Calgary. Head coach Scott Rivett is entering his eighth season as the Cougars head coach, and he's been the only coach at the helm since the move upward to Canada West. Rivett saw his squad finish with a 6-17-5 record that put them in seventh-place with 39 goals-for and 84 goals-against. Reanna Arnold led the team with 11 assists and 15 points, and both Tanika Dawson and Janessa Jenkins led the team in goals with five apiece. Jess Ross finished just barely ahead of Emma Pincott in terms of time in the blue paint, and Ross' record was 4-9-2 with a 3.05 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

It won't help to see your two leading goal scorers leave your program, but both Tanika Dawson and Janessa Jenkins won't be back for this upcoming season. Joining them are Taralynn Suzuki, Jade Osadchuk, Danielle Klein, Kenzie Menzak, Jess Reid, and Megan Parkyn. That's quite the exodus of players for one of the lowest-scoring teams in the conference, so you know that coach Rivett hit the pavement to find a number of talented ladies to replace the outgoing seniors.

Reanna Arnold will be expected to carry the bulk of the scoring for the returning players. Her 15 points didn't put her into the top-20 in scoring, but it was the best that Mount Royal got out of anyone last season. Dawson and Jenkins were second and third in scoring, respectively, but they only contributed 19 points combined. Sydney Laurin was fourth with seven points, and the Cougars will need a much bigger season out of her and Sarah Weninger if they have any hope of running with the big teams this season.

Shawni Rodeback had a fairly solid season on the blue line, leading the defencemen with four goals and three assists in her 28 games. Jocelyn Froehlich added another four points, but these two ladies make up the bulk of the points scored from the blue line. Defensively, it's not surprising to see all of the rearguards with minus ratings, so coach Rivett has his work cut out for him in implementing a solid defensive system. In saying that, the Cougars have enough talent to cut their goals-against down which should give them a fighting chance in every game.

While Jess Ross played more games and spent more time in the Mount Royal nets, Emma Pincott made a strong case for her to be the starter. Ross' stats are above, but Pincott posted a 2-8-2 record in 15 appearances. Where things look better is her 2.54 GAA and .905 save percentage with one shutout. The rookie outplayed the veteran down the stretch and began starting more games as the season wore on. While Pincott's record doesn't reflect her superior statistics, there's a strong case to be made for Mount Royal building from the net out as they try to assemble a talented squad for this season. Starting with Pincott in net would be a good foundation on which to build.

Remember how I said Scott Rivett needed to hit the pavement to find some talent? Well, his recruiting class is arguably the best in western Canada. He recruited Elisha Cunningham, the leading goal scorer (29) and leading scorer (47) of the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League in 2012-13. She was recruited to play for the famed Notre Dame Hounds program in Saskatchewan, so she'll be up to the task in terms of providing offence. Joining her from the AMMFHL is Kennedy Bozek of the PAC Saints. Bozek was 15th-overall in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists in 32 games. Bozek played in all situations, recording a pair of power-play goals and a shorthanded goal, and she had a pair of game-winning goals. Clutch scoring is something the Cougars can desperately use!

Rivett went out and recruited three players from the Edge Hockey School Mountaineers in Kate Hufnagel, Hali Reardon, and Channia Alexander. Hufnagel had four goals and 12 assists in 27 games. Reardon had four goals and 12 assists in 28 games for Edge. Alexander, a defenceman, will join her older sister Cyrenna on the Cougars' blue line, and she comes in having scored six goals and 13 games in 28 games with the Mountaineers. Chemistry is vitally important in a short CIS season, so getting three women from a high-caliber program like Edge is important. Add in the fact that the Alexander sisters probably know each other very well, and the chemistry is lining up very nicely for the Cougars this season.

Rivett still wasn't done in the recruiting department, though, as he brought in rugged defenceman Chantelle Beadman-Rolph from BC. Beadman-Rolph had four goals and ten assists last season in midget and had more than 40 PIMs in each of her three seasons in midget hockey. For a team that found the penalty box a little too often last season, the Cougars are going to have to find a way for Beadman-Rolph to focus that tenacity with less fouls. He also brought in Talia Terry from the Notre Dame Hounds program where she finished sixth in scoring last season with five goals and nine assists in 28 games. And there's hope that Rivett will activate his one red-shirted player in Moeke Fujimoto this season. Fujimoto was part of the Team Japan entry that qualified for the 2015 Women's World Championship, but she was not selected for the World Championship team. Will the Japanese-born player see time this season?

The Cougars are 2-2-2 in the preseason thus far. They recorded a 2-1 win over Calgary and a 2-1 win over Saskatchewan, but lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames Bantam AAA Boys, lost 3-2 in double-overtime to Regina, and lost 4-1 to Regina. The lone shootout game came against Calgary where they lost in the skills competition, and that gives Mount Royal a 2-1-2 in-conference record in the preseason. They'll open the season on the road against Saskatchewan on October 2.

The University of Calgary Dinos have every reason to shoot for the stars this season as they host the CIS Championship. Head coach Danielle Goyette is looking to improve upon her team's fourth-place finish at 14-9-5 that saw the Dinos score 82 goals-for but surrender 70 goals-against. Russian Iya Gavrilova led the team in goals (21), assists (16), and points (37) last season that helped her to second-overall in conference scoring. Hayley Dowling tended the nets most often for Calgary, posting a record of 9-7-3 with a 2.18 GAA, .912 save percentage, and two shutouts.

You have to wonder how well Calgary would have done had they had Hayley Wickenheiser playing more than just home games. Well, that won't be an issue this season as the veteran, Team Canada member, and arguably the most recognizable name in Canadian women's hockey has played her full eligibility. Gone from the Dinos are Wickenheiser, defenceman Sarah Astle, forwards Janelle Parent, Erika Mitschke, Jenna Smith, and Chelsea Peterson. Parent, Smith, and Wickenheiser represent the second-, third-, and fourth-leading scorers on the team, so there's a major chunk of the offence gone due to eligibility. Combined, 20 goals and 41 assists graduate out of the program with those three players.

There's absolutely no doubt that the offence starts and ends with Gavrilova. She has speed, soft hands, and a nose for the net that is only helped by a strong shot and some excellent vision. Had Gavrilova not gone to the Unversiade Games last winter, there's a good chance she would have won the Canada West scoring title. Instead, she brought home a gold medal where Russia claimed top spot over the Canadians. Losing their top scorers, though, will put more pressure on Heather Berzins and Jessyka Holt to really step up, and it will be interesting to see who slots in with Gavrilova on that top line for the Dinos.

Defensively, the Dinos get good puck movement to their forwards. Stephanie Zvonkovic's 14 points saw 13 of them come as assists and Megan Gregon had eight of her 11 points as assists. Where they could use more from their blue line is in the goal-scoring department as the team collectively had just five goals from the defensive unit. That's simply not good enough at this level, and they'll need to find someone who can shoot the puck to give the forwards more opportunities for deflections and rebounds. While the team is built on speed and a solid transition game, they seem to get hemmed in their own zone a little too often when pressured. Coach Goyette needs to find a stopper-type defenceman who is willing to do the dirty work to keep the puck out of the middle of the ice and out of the Calgary net.

Some may say that the Dinos would have won a few more games last season if they had a few more saves, but I'm not sure that's the case with Dowling. Her stats put her fourth in the country with respect to her goals-against-average, but her save percentage is the lowest of the top-seven netminders. Personally, I thought Dowling played pretty well. Backing her up was rookie Carissa Fischer, and Fischer's numbers weren't bad for a first-year player. She put up a 5-4-0 record in 12 games with a 2.87 GAA, an .855 save percentage, and one shutout. Perhaps the Dinos do need better goaltending, but they'll go with Dowling and Fischer again this season unless something major changes in the preseason.

Danielle Goyette lost six, but went out and got seven players to come in and fill spots. The collective group includes forwards Chelsea Court, Delaney Frey, and Sydney Mullin, defencemen Diane Hitchings, Morgan Loroff and Paige Michalenko, and goaltender Sarah Murray. Frey was a first-team all-star with the Regina Rebels in the SMFAAHL, Loroff is a transfer from Finlandia University in Michigan but is originally from Slave Lake, and Murray was an AMMFHL All-Star this past season. While Calgary's recruiting class isn't full of stars and statistics, they're getting seven very good players who can fill in a number of holes on the roster and make immediate contributions.

The Dinos have only played two preseason games thus far, winning in the shootout over Mount Royal and losing 4-1 to Alberta to push them to a 1-1-0 record thus far. The Dinos will open the season in Regina against the Cougars on October 2, and won't play their first home game until October 16 when they welcome the UBC Thunderbirds to Calgary.

I'm not saying that the Cougars have improved by leaps and bounds, but I think they will move up the standings this season. A top-four finish may be out of the cards, but Mount Royal will improve. Calgary, on the other hand, may slide down the standings after the offensive exodus this past spring. They'll be competitive, but they may find themselves in a dogfight for that fourth-place spot once again.

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

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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