SACKVILLE, N.B. — The Huskies didn't win, but their coach still had the line of the night: "I've never lost and seen so many smiles."
This loss was in the AUS championship — to the first-place and favoured St. Francis Xavier X-Women. X and league MVP Alex Normore had trampled their AUS opponents all season, and their opponents in Sunday's final were these Saint Mary's Huskies, the Huskies who two years ago nearly lost their program and did lose their coach to Ryerson, the Huskies who are one year removed from a one-win season.
There wasn't much reason to smile in the south end of Halifax until things turned around this year. A talented crop of rookies, including goaltender Sienna Cooke and forward Brianna Soper, took hold of the program and ran with it. They even racked up an early win over these same X-Women — as it turns out, the only time X would lose in conference play.
And yet, it was still an uphill battle for SMU. They tried to match up against the X-Women but faced several obstacles, running into penalty trouble and struggling to build on their game-opening goal, ultimately losing by a score of 4-1. After giving up that early goal, the X-Women reeled off four straight unanswered, from four different players, en route to their ninth AUS championship and berth in nationals two weeks from now.
The game was marred by both teams' inability to stay out of the penalty box. The two sides combined for fifteen infractions throughout the game; however, only three of them led to powerplay goals. The game started with Kira Dube being forced to watch from the box while Soper fed Caitlyn Schell. 1-0 SMU.
Brittany Perkins knotted the score up just over three minutes later, and then with the Saint Mary's power play clicking, the X-Women proved they were equal to the task. The Huskies had forward Maggie Poliseno in the box, and Erin Brophy took a feed from captain Jenna Downey and put the X-Women up by one heading into the second frame.
"We asked them [the Huskies] one thing, and it's the same thing I've been asking them from my first days here, demand for nothing but their very best, and today I really think we got it," said SMU head coach Chris Larade after the game.
Larade also noted that the chances could have gone either way. The Huskies came close to evening up the score several times in the early stage of the second period. At one point, captain Rebecca Mosher beat X goaltender Katie Greenway but the puck ricocheted off of both posts and stayed out. After the Huskies got their chances, the X-Women set to work again: Molly MacDonald found the back of the net just past the halfway mark of the second period.
The third period was met with a sense of urgency and undisciplined play from Saint Mary's. The Huskies took four penalties over the course of the period, and also squandered a 1:34 five-on-three power play. Towards the end of the game, with Sarah Maynard in the box for Saint Mary's and Cooke pulled, Normore was sprung with a great pass and fired home the empty netter that clinched the victory for the X-Women.
Chris Larade had a lot of encouraging words for his players. "I think they gained two or three years of experience from this weekend alone."
The AUS also announced the tournament All Stars after the game. As a part of the committee that selected the All Stars and tournament MVP I can say there was a large amount of agreement between myself and the other members. The all-stars were as follows (with some assorted observations from the weekend):
Tournament MVP: Jenna Pitts (defence, St. FX) — an incredible offensive presence on the blue line for the X-Women, she also led a defence that stifled opponents and made the job of Katie Greenway very easy.
Alex Normore (forward, St. FX) — Didn't have to put the team on her back this weekend but took charge and was (pardon the pun) an X-factor when her team needed her to be.
Brianna Soper (forward, Saint Mary's) — Confident and composed out on the ice; did a great job setting up her teammates and finding the lanes for them.
Jordan Miller (forward, St. Thomas) — A reliable presence on offence throughout the tournament and worked well at getting in tight on her opponents and getting the puck to the net.
Rebecca Mosher (defence, Saint Mary's) — A leader for a very young team this weekend. Scored twenty seconds in against St. Thomas, and while she wasn't on the scoresheet aside from that, she led all players in shots and did well to create momentum for the Huskies.
Sienna Cooke (goaltender, Saint Mary's) — The goals she allowed were in close but she saw a lot of shots well throughout the tournament. Great positioning.