SASKATOON – The Esso Cup is being played in Saskatchewan this year but the Saskatoon Stars have to go through a different province to get there. After winning their second straight Saskatchewan Female Midget Hockey League championship, the Stars are set to face the Manitoba-champion Yellowhead Chiefs for the right to represent the west region at the national tournament.
“I never thought that I’d be part of something that’s so extraordinary,” rookie forward Joelle Fiala said. “When I was coming into this (season) I was so excited just to be a part of the team. I knew we had a team but I didn’t know how far we really were going to go.”
The Stars didn’t play a regional qualifier prior to last year’s Esso Cup appearance, so this weekend will be a new experience for rookies and veterans alike. Not only that, all three games, if necessary, will be played in Manitoba.
Regardless of the venue or what’s at stake, the team’s approach hasn’t changed.
“It’s something that we’ve really, really engrained in the players is the process. You hear that all the time but honestly if you don’t stick to it you start looking ahead and you’re going to find yourself in trouble,” head coach Greg Slobodzian explained.
As for playing the entire series on the road?
“Every time we’ve stepped into an arena, whether it’s (ours) or someone else’s, we’ve sort of looked at it as our own, going into it with the attitude that it’s a sheet of ice just like anywhere,” Slobodzian said.
The coach has a similar philosophy when it comes to Saskatoon’s roster. No matter the situation, anyone can play the hero on any given day.
“The way we run our bench and the fact that we have four lines, a lot of teams don’t even carry four lines in this league,” he said.
Added Stars captain Danielle Nogier, “Any player can go out there at any time and score a goal. I have complete faith in every single player and they all have the ability and skill to be that game-winner for us.”
If they can get two more game-winners, the Stars won’t have to travel very far for their final road trip of the season. The Esso Cup kicks off April 17 in Weyburn.
As for this weekend’s cross-border journey, the Stars series against the Yellowhead Chiefs begins Friday night at 7:30. Game 2 takes place Saturday, also at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will be played at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. All games will be played at the Shoal Lake Communiplex in Shoal Lake, Man.