‘They left everything on the table’ — Sudbury Lady Wolves settle for silver at Esso Cup

Sudbury Star

Mireille Kingsley of the Sudbury Lady Wolves makes a save during Esso Cup gold-medal game action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, April 27, 2019. The Slash defeated the Lady Wolves 4-1. Gino Donato Photography

For the Sudbury Lady Wolves, a memorable week was capped by a commendable effort, even if it was one that fell just short of the team’s ultimate goal of an Esso Cup national midget AA hockey championship.

Despite drawing first blood in the gold-medal match, the Lady Wolves fell 4-1, with an empty-netter, to the two-time defending champion St. Albert Slash at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex on Saturday.

“It’s obviously upsetting that we placed second,” said Madison Laberge, a standout on the Sudbury blueline throughout the week-long tournament. “But I think we worked together as a team and we worked as hard as we could.

“We got off focus in the second period and that’s where we fell behind, but we worked very hard in this game and I think we deserved the win, but it unfortunately, didn’t happen.”

Taylor Scott, an offensive force for the Lady Wolves all week long, was the lone goal-scorer for Sudbury, with assists going to Mylene Lefebvre and Alexe Clavelle.

Mireille Kingsley, who one day earlier was named top goalie and tournament MVP, made 28 saves for the hosts.

MacKenzie Kordic scored two goals, including the game-winner, while Taylor Anker and Dayle Ross also scored for the Slash. Brianna Sank made 33 saves for the victors.

After a strong first period, the Lady Wolves fell behind on two St. Albert goals in the second, but they — along with approximately half the fans in the packed arena — believed Lefebvre had scored a tying marker late in the frame. After a quick conversation between officials, however, it was waved off.

“We gave it our all, in my opinion, the whole week,” said Lefebvre, Sudbury’s captain. “We really wanted to come out with the win, but that’s not what happened. I’m not happy with the outcome, obviously, but I’m really happy with the effort we put into it this week.”

Though respectful of St. Albert’s own efforts, as well as the team’s skill level, she believed a series of missed calls were also factors in the outcome.

“A lot of calls that weren’t made, in my opinion, were a difference in today’s game,” she said. “A couple of icings that could have been called, that weren’t, penalties that could have been called, as well, that can really shift the momentum of the whole game. And I’m not sure if, when I shot the puck, it went in or it hit the crossbar or not, but if it did go in and they called it off, that definitely shifts the game, as well.”

The Lady Wolves turned up the heat in the third, finding much more success on the forecheck and outshooting the reigning champs 12-10, but a slashing call on Clavelle led to a power-play marker for Kordic. Then, with Kingsley out of the net for an extra attacker in the final minute, Ross put things on ice with a fourth tally.

Katie Chomiak of the Sudbury Lady Wolves takes a shot during Esso Cup gold-medal game action at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, April 27, 2019. The Slash defeated the Lady Wolves 4-1. Gino Donato Photography

“Big picture, it was really good,” Sudbury head coach Jay Duncan said of his team’s effort. “In the game, we thought that puck went in the net and then it would be 2-2 after two. We worked hard, but it just wasn’t there for us. We had some chances, some great chances, we just didn’t score.

“The forecheck was working a lot better, because we started to move our feet again. I think we got tired a little bit in the middle of the game, then we got our feet moving, but at that point in the game, they’re going to a 1-2-2 and dumping pucks down the ice, forcing us to go back and retrieve, that kind of thing, so it’s making you even more tired.”

The energy was certainly there to start the contest, as the Lady Wolves hit the ice to a huge ovation. Things got even louder after Scott fired a power-play marker from close range at 17:14.

But the Slash, who had rebounded from a shutout loss to the Stoney Creek Sabres on Thursday with a big win over the top-seeded Saskatoon Stars in Friday’s semifinal, demonstrated that resilience yet again while outshooting the Lady Wolves 12-9 in the second stanza.

“We just thought that, for as well as we had played this week, we needed to be a bit better and fine-tune our game a bit,” said Dan Auchenberg, St. Albert’s head coach. “We don’t give up a lot and that was the key today, getting back to what we did yesterday, too, playing a very solid defensive game and capitalizing on our opportunities.

“We were a little shaky in the first period today, a little nervous, but we just went in and talked to the girls and said, ‘OK, take a deep breath.’ I said, ‘How did we play such a good game yesterday and now, we’re tightening our sticks?’ They said, ‘Because we believed,’ and I said, ‘OK, you have to get back to believing. Just bring that kind of work ethic, that kind of mindset, and you’ll win.’ ” 

Anker got things going offensively for the Pacific Region reps with a point shot that may have hit something in front of Kingsley, then glanced off the crossbar and into her net at 2:38.

Kordic gave the Slash their first lead with a drag and a shot that beat Kingsley at 11:26.

Sudbury attempted to answer, testing Sank a couple of times before Lefebvre let loose a shot that had much of the crowd on its feet, but officials ruled that the puck had hit the crossbar, rather that going in and back out.

Kingsley demonstrated her MVP form on several St. Albert chances, more than once denying shooters on excellent opportunities from the slot area. She had little chance, however, on Kordic’s power-play marker, as the Slash forward was well placed to drive a shot into an open net.

The Lady Wolves matched their goalie’s effort in the final frame, but Sank was equal to the task. On a handful of occasions, a puck lingered in open ice near the St. Albert goal, only to be cleared away by a dutiful defender.

“I can’t put words to this,” Auchenberg said, motioning towards his players. “They don’t even realize what they have just accomplished. It’s unheard of. I don’t know, it just keeps going. They have never lost in big games.”

He was also complimentary of the Sudbury skaters, as well as the tournament organizers and the community that supported them.

“The tournament was amazing,” Auchenberg said. “This was our third one in a row as a team and the volunteers have been amazing, the hotel, the food, the servers, they were all good, the accommodation was great. And having the stands full here today, that was great, too. I told the girls, ‘They’re cheering for you. Think of it that way.’ ”

The turnout made a strong impression the Sudbury skaters, who play many of their biggest games on the road and, like most local teams, don’t draw large crowds for most action at home.

“It was a great experience throughout the week,” Laberge said. “We had a lot of hometown fans who supported us and they were behind us the entire week.”

Members of the St. Albert Slash celebrate after defeating the Sudbury Lady Wolves 4-1 in the Esso Cup gold-medal game at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Gino Donato Photography

Lefebvre, who returned to the Lady Wolves this season after two years away, called the chance to compete with them again “an honour.”

“I’m really proud of my teammates,” she said. “We’re like a family and being with them through the highs and lows of this season, those were instrumental in how we played here.

“I left for two years and came back for this year and it was a really great experience, coming back to my youth, my childhood, with friends who I have been playing with since I have been nine. I think these memories and these friendships will last forever.”

She couldn’t help but notice there were many young hockey players, including young girls, in the stands this week, and hopes they’ll be inspired to pursue their hockey dreams.

“Seeing them come out and support us, it warmed my heart,” Lefebvre said. “Those girls care and they look up to us. To me, it was very powerful, because they’re the next generation coming up and now, they have something to look forward to, especially with the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) folding. These young girls are coming out to watch us play and we know there’s a passion for it, that people want to watch it.”

Many among the current group of Lady Wolves will depart next season to further their own careers, but Duncan and his staff won’t soon forget the experience of coaching what proved to be a special group.

“It has been awesome,” he said. “We’re just a small team from Sudbury. We don’t do like some of the other associations, bringing kids in from all over the place. These are all homegrown kids, except for one or two that came from Kap and Hearst. Other than that, they’re from Sudbury and there’s very few teams that are able to do that. That, in itself, is magical.

“They’re obviously disappointed now, but they’re going to forget about it and realize the big picture, that they won a silver medal at nationals. We’re proud of them. They worked hard and they left everything on the table. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

Sabres shoot down Stars to win bronze

One day after a disappointing semifinal loss to the Lady Wolves, the Stoney Creek Sabres turned in a stellar performance in the bronze-medal game, defeating the formidable Saskatoon Stars 3-2 in a shootout.

Calli Arnold and Grace Shirley tallied for Saskatoon before Tessa Holk and Alicia Juras, who scored short-handed, replied for Stoney Creek with back-to-back goals in the third.

Overtime settled nothing, so the teams went to a shootout, where Jenna Duarte, Juras and Kawa scored for the Sabres. Joelle Fiala replied for the Stars.

Megan Warrener was superb in making 37 saves to backstop Stoney Creek to victory. Kaitlyn Cadrain made 19 stops for Saskatoon.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

Bronze-medal Esso Cup action between the Stoney Creek Sabres and the Saskatoon Stars at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ontario on Saturday, April 27, 2019. Gino Donato Photography

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