After dropping their opening contest of the season in Prince Albert, Saturday, Stars head coach Robin Ulrich challenged her veteran players.
“We challenged the grade 12 group before the game, about our compete level,” Ulrich said.
“We said we’re not where we want to be and we expect more of you guys. But, I thought across the board they answered that call.”
The veterans answered the call early —14 seconds into the contest, to be exact.
Off of the opening faceoff, defenceman Kalli Hiebert swung a pass rink wide to a streaking Sydney Mercier who burned around a Bears defender, setting up a two-on-one, she then feathered a pass to the slot where captain Makena Kushniruk ripped a wrist shot top corner to give Saskatoon the early 1-0 lead.
The two connected on two additional plays, Kushniruk finishing the game with a goal and a pair of assists, while Mercier led the way with two and two, en route to a 7-2 victory.
“We were all pretty pumped for our home opener,” Kushniruk said. “We were just all pumping each other up before the game and came out flying.”
“We were really excited to get going, finally,” Mercier added. “After the loss yesterday it fired us up even more.”
It wasn’t just the offensive zone that the Stars excelled in Sunday.
Halfway through the first, still leading 1-0 Bears forward Paris Oleksyn was awarded a penalty shot after taking a few whacks from Samantha Muller while trying to pull away on a partial break.
Newly minted starter Kaitlyn Cadrain stayed cool, calm and collected as Oleksyn slowly wound in on the third-year goalie, before trying a forehand, backhand move that was gobbled up by Cadrain’s left pad.
“We needed that (save) to get the momentum back, and it worked,” Kushniruk said.
“She was huge for us today,” Ulrich added. She’s been so consistent so far, and she really looks like she’s stepping into taking that starters role, and being that mature grade 12 player. I mean, the shots were close, but the scoreboard wasn’t, and I think that’s indicative of having a veteran goalie in there that’s just able to calm things down, make saves and get whistles when we need it.”
Late in the first the Stars doubled their lead on their third powerplay of the afternoon. Jocelyn Fiala’s point shot was deflected by Keyra Buziak in the slot, then stopped by Bears netminder Brooke Archer who stretched out to make the toe save. However, Kaylee Baun was on the doorstep to clean up the rebound doubling the Saskatoon lead.
In the second Haley Kicia got the Bears to within one, however over the next two-and-a-half minutes the Stars scored a pair, courtesy of Mercier, and Buziak, giving them a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Just 20 seconds into the third the Stars were called for a pair of quick penalties, however, the determined effort of their veterans allowed the Stars to kill off the nearly two minute 5-on-3, led again by their veteran core.
“We had Kushniruk and Mercier out on that 5-on-3 for a good chunk of it, and they made a good kill,” Ulrich said. “That was huge for us, they’re our leaders and our best players, and we need them to be our best players.”
The Bears were able to halve the Stars lead halfway through the third on Sophia Zuck’s first goal of the year. But, Saskatoon responded with goals from Halle Helperl, Emma Gaudet, and Mercier’s second to close out the contest.