Churchill rebounds to stave off elimination
Bulldogs force winner-take-all showdown against Renards for women’s high school title
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A few minor tweaks produced season-saving results for the Churchill Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs staved off elimination, downing the Centre scolaire Leo-Remillard (CSLR) Renards 5-3 to tie the series at one game apiece and force a winner-take-all rubber match in the Manitoba Women’s High School Hockey League Division 1 championship at Dakota Community Centre Wednesday at 4:20 p.m.
With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs welcomed three regulars back to their lineup. Isabella Carriere, Isabela Huculak and Selene Wozney all made their championship series debut, combining for two goals and five assists.
The Bulldogs peppered the Renards all night, outshooting them 39-32. Wozney scored twice while Kadence Cress, Sydney Stibbard and Lindsay Hamilton also bulged the twine. Goaltender Lexus Remillard, who sat in Game 1, made 29 saves to secure the victory.
“It’s funny because the three people that were missing from Game 1 are leaders on the team, they are dynamic offensively — they’re just great overall hockey players. Missing anyone in general, especially those three, just hurts the team,” said head coach Matt Varnes.
“We were down (defenceman Karsen Craven) today so Selene had to go back on defence, and she just stepped up and had a great game. And I think that’s what everyone in that locker room does.”
It was some much-needed support for a Churchill team that already has a small roster. The Bulldogs played at a major disadvantage in Game 1, icing just eight skaters against a skilled Renards lineup that took full advantage in a 5-2 victory.
“We had to get this big comeback,” Wozney, 15, said. “Me and Isabella couldn’t play the other day so we needed to come out and play hard. We really wanted this game. We made a couple of promising signs so we had to live up to those.”
Meanwhile, for CSLR, Tuesday’s loss ends their bid for a perfect playoff run at five victories out of the required six to win it all.
Notably, Talia Jones continued her outstanding championship, scoring for the fourth time in the series, while Zoe Comte potted two goals, including a tie-breaking tally in the second period that sent the Renards into the final frame with a lead.
It would be the last time CSLR would find twine. The seesaw matchup was decided in the third when Wozney delivered her strike to the Renards, beating Emma Khan on a breakaway with a perfect shot over the left pad to tie things up early in the frame.
The game-winning marker is one Khan clearly wanted back. A shot from Lindsey Hamilton hit the netminder’s pads softly, but momentum carried Khan and the puck over the goaline.
Sydney Stibbard added an insurance goal late in the period, on what was a highlight-reel goal. Stibbard dangled her way past a Renards defender before showing off her quick release to increase the lead to two. It was Stibbard’s third goal in the series.
Wednesday’s matchup holds a little more weight than meets the eye. Churchill and CSLR are both seeking their first Division 1 title in the MWHSHL. It’s a fight for all the marbles.
“We gotta stay dialed, keep up the hard work and just stay focused,” Wozney said. “We gotta stay focused in the dressing room, before the game, our pre-game rituals, our warmup, especially.”
Added Varnes: “The hardest thing to do is close out a series. CSLR had to face that, and now it’s probably a little bit of pressure off of them and now it’s back on us. I have no doubt that we’ll rise to the occasion.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.
Updated on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 8:44 AM CDT: Corrects typos