A decade has passed since the last time the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team raised a championship banner.
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In fact, the 2013-14 Canada West championship banner is the only one that’s been raised in program history.
“I look up at the banners right now and there’s one,” said Huskies women’s team head coach Steve Kook. “Our goal is always just to keep adding more.”
With the puck dropping on the 2023-24 Canada West season this weekend, the Huskies enter a unique season which could become the program’s most memorable if the chips fall the right way.
That’s because the Huskies and Saskatoon are set to host the 2024 U Sports Women’s Hockey Championship tournament in March, with their ticket to nationals already punched.
“We don’t want it to become the big elephant in the room that no one ever talks about,” said Kook. “But it’s something that you got to keep in the back of your mind. It’s something that’s a goal, it’s something that you got to see that you can actually do it.”
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It will be the second time the Huskies women’s squad will play for a national championship after defeating the University of New Brunswick to win bronze at the 2022 U Sports Championship.
Current captain Kennedy Brown was on that team and is expecting another memorable season, hoping to claim a different colour of medal on home ice.
“We all kind of have in the back of our heads that this is a pretty cool season for us,” said Brown. “I think we’re all just eager to get the show on the road and show everyone what we’ve got.”
The Huskies enter the 2023-24 season with their most veteran team in years, returning the same core of players who finished fifth in the regular season standings with a 14-14 record but came within one win of reaching Canada West finals last year.
Ranked fourth in the conference’s pre-season coaches poll, the Huskies are feeling a growing hunger entering the season of what’s to come in just a matter of months at Merlis Belsher Place.
“It’s something we definitely have to consider is how exciting that would be to be able to not only host that,” said Brown. “But to win something like that in this barn.”
The Huskies women’s team will host the University of Manitoba Bisons for a pair of games to kick off the 2023-24 season, with a 7:00 pm puck drop Friday and a 5:00 pm start Saturday.
Like the women’s team, the Huskies men’s squad also is coming off a heartbreaking loss in Canada West semi-finals last season to the University of Calgary Dinos.
Finishing the regular season with a 14-10-4 record, the Huskies came within a single victory of reaching the conference finals but fell 6-1 in the deciding game of the series.
“Definitely a lot of motivation,” said Huskies third-year forward Vince Loschiavo. “The league is tight every single year and we want to make sure that we’re at our best. Look at our team this year, I really believe in us and I think we could do something special.”
Gone from the program are the Huskies’ two leading scorers from 2022-23 in graduated captain Connor Hobbs and sharpshooting forward Jared Dmytriw who is now playing overseas in Sweden.
Despite those losses, head coach Brandin Cote feels this year’s team is both quicker and deeper compared to past years.
“Those are two guys that obviously were big cogs in our lineup,” said Cote. “But I would like to think that this year we have a lot more depth throughout our lineup, both on [defence] and at forward.”
Also rated fourth in the pre-season Canada West rankings, the Huskies are returning their goaltending trio of Jordan Kooy, Roddy Ross and Declan Hobbs, as well as several veterans including Rhett Rhinehart, Shane Collins, Chantz Petruic, Justin Ball, Jaxan Kaluski and Loschiavo.
While a path to nationals for the men’s team will have to come from a berth in Canada West finals, it’s a challenge Cote and the Huskies feel up to tackling head on.
“We want to be at the national championship, we want to be at the Canada West final every year,” said Cote. “A lot of things are out of your control that way, but I really do believe that our guys are hungry to take another step as a group.”
The Huskies got the 2023-24 season off on the right foot Thursday evening in Winnipeg, and thanks in part to a pair of goals by Carter Stebbings, defeated the Manitoba Bisons by a 6-1 final.
They continue their season-opening series against the Bisons on Friday afternoon.
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