Huskies’ trio claims silver for Canada

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The Canadian women’s hockey team won the fourth medal for Team Canada at the 29th Winter Universiade after capturing a silver medal in a close 2-0 result for host Russia in the gold medal game.

Two current and one former member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team played large roles for team Canada.

Forward and former captain Kaitlin Willoughby, defenceman Leah Bohlken and goaltender Jessica Vance all took centre stage in representing their country at the international level.

Canada wins silver against Russia for the third consecutive Universiade (3-0 score in Granada, Spain in 2015; 4-1 result in Almaty, Kazakhstan). The U SPORTS all-stars had also previously won gold at each of the first three FISU tournaments in 2009 (Harbin, China), 2011 (Erzurum, Turkey) and 2013 (Trentino, Italy) and now have been in seven straight Universade women’s hockey finals since it was introduced as a medal sport in 2009.

What a nail biter of a game.

The Canadian women’s hockey team (4-1; playoffs: 1-1) played stride for stride with host Russia (5-0; playoffs: 2-0) but could not find the back of the net in a contest that was 0-0 until almost halfway through the third with an empty-netter at the end.

Captain Kaitlin Willoughby (Saskatchewan; Prince Albert, Sask.) reflected, “Definitely this was the not the colour of medal we wanted. Talking in the room with the girls, I couldn’t be more proud of how hard we worked and the experiences we had together – that’s something we will never forget and really proud of the whole team.

Russia outshot Canada 42-34 and netminder Jessica Vance (Saskatchewan; Prince Albert, Sask.) stood on her head with several tough, close-in stops throughout the game She stated, “This was an unreal experience as most of us being here at a Universiade for the first time has been pretty cool. We were right in that game and it was disappointing to lose but I think we know that I think we deserved better.”

At the sold-out Arena Sever, the pro-Russian crowd created an electric atmosphere as these teams went back and forth with good scoring chances throughout and had both goalies making tough stops.

In the first, Vance was tasked to make stop after stop as the Russians were looking to pounce early as they did in the round robin game when they won 4-2. Instead it was 0-0 with Russia having a 20-11 advantage on shots in goal.

Canada produced their best period of the tournament in the second as the ice tilted as waves of Canadian rushes almost produced the first goal. After killing off an early penalty, forward Katryne Villeneuve (Moncton; Casselman, Ont.) was denied in the slot and stopped on a backhand while when the red and white had a late power play, they tried to jam the puck under the Russian goalie in a goal mouth scramble. A glorious opportunity presented itself at the end of the period. Forward Tricia Van Vaerenbergh (Lethbridge: Picture Butte, Alta.) stripped a defender at the blueline and walked in all alone but couldn’t bury the shot with only 17 second left in the period. After two, still 0-0 but Canada outshot Russia by a 17-7 margin in the middle frame.

The third period was tense. It seemed the first goal might be the game-winner as both teams continued to push. Vance again was big on stopping numerous chances from the slot and her best might have been a sliding point blank save on a cross-ice pass that produced a one-timer.

A crucial call of delay of game penalty for shooting the puck out of the rink in the defensive zone resulted in the first goal. Canada was just over 30 seconds away from killing the infraction when Russia scored from the point on a screen shot that Vance could not save this time.

For the rest of the period, the Canadians were desperate for an equalizer but to no avail. The last good opportunity fluttered by on a 2-on-1 with about four minutes left as the Russians locked down the neutral zone and slated away the victory with an empty netter and their third consecutive gold in women’s hockey at the Winter Universiade.

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