Matt Johnson, Huskie Athletics
SASKATOON – The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women's hockey team scored late in the first period and didn't look back in a historic home-opener, as they defeated the Alberta Pandas by a score of 1-0, on Friday, Oct. 5, at Merlis Belsher Place.
The game was the first-ever Huskies hockey game to be held at Merlis Belsher Place, as the much-anticipated state of the art building opened its doors to the public for the first time. With 1,064 fans coming out to the rink to see Saskatchewan seal the victory, it was a successful night for all in attendance.
"I think was important for us, being in a new rink to get the first game over with. The result was positive and now let's go from here. The crowd was fantastic, it was more than I expected," Huskies Head Coach Steve Kook said.
Leah Bohlken scored the lone goal of the game for the Huskies, finding the back of the net at 18:12 of the first period.
"Leah was flying tonight. The players picked her as the player of the game, and rightfully so. She had a ton of energy, she was good defensively. She's an offensively gifted defenseman, and for her to jump in the play, that's what we like to see," Kook said.
2017-2018 Canada West Player of the Year Jessica Vance picked up where she left off last year, and was strong in her season debut stopping 24 saves to record the shutout for Saskatchewan. Dayna Owen is net for the Pandas made 16 saves in the loss and was named the third star of the game for her strong performance.
The game was the first of the 2018-19 Canada West Campaign for both teams, which means Saskatchewan will move to 1-0-0, with Alberta slotting in at 0-1-0.
With just under two minutes left in the first period and the Huskies on the penalty kill, Bohlken hopped onto the loose puck, chipped it off the boards and was off to the races. The fourth-year defenceman went coast-to-coast and fired in a shot short-side to record the first goal of the season for the Huskies and the first-ever goal in Merlis Belsher Place.
"That was a pretty special moment, it was a little bit surreal to get the first goal in this beautiful facility. We can see how much effort was put in by everyone and how much money was raised to build this place, it's honestly still a little overwhelming," Bohlken said.
The Huskies took the 1-0 into the first intermission, but the Pandas led the Huskies in terms of shots on goal by a 7-5 margin.
The Huskies had a prime scoring opportunity to add an insurance marker with just over 13 minutes to play in the second period as Bailee Bourassa rifled a shot from inside the slot but was stopped by Owen, keeping the Pandas within striking range.
Minutes later, Saskatchewan continued to pile on the pressure in the Alberta zone. A loose puck found its way to Courtney Cormack, but the fourth-year forward was unable to get her backhander over top of the outstretched glove of Owen.
The Pandas were looking for the equalizer with just under seven minutes remaining in the period, but Vance shut the door on back to back shots fired in by Hannah Olenyk and Abby Benning from just in front of the cage.
Moments later, Alberta forward Amy Boucher broke in alone on Vance, but she was robbed once again, keeping the Huskies up one goal through two periods of play.
With just under four minutes in the third period and the Pandas on the penalty-kill, they were looking for a short-handed marker of their own.
However, Autumn MacDougall's wrister from the hash-marks rang off the iron, despite getting past Vance.
Alberta continued to pour on the pressure but a last-minute scramble in front of the Huskies goal went unfinished, with Vance and company able to seal the victory and escape with full points under their belt in the Canada West regular-season opener.
The Huskies and Pandas will battle for the second time in as many nights with the game getting underway at 7:00 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place. You can watch all the action on canadawest.tv