Ice aiming to be first Winnipeg-based MFHL champs
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The Manitoba Female AAA 18 Hockey League, which played its inaugural season in 2008-09, has never crowned a Winnipeg-based team as its champion.
That could all change this month.
The Winnipeg Ice holds a 1-0 lead over the defending league champion Westman Wildcats in a best-of-five final with Game 2 slated for Sunday at the hockey for all centre.
Game time is 7:15 p.m.
“It is important, especially if we were to be the first Winnipeg team (to win it all),” said Ice captain Ava Bergman on Friday. “I believe we can totally do it if we just keep playing as a team and as one.”
The Ice appear to be well-positioned to beat the Wildcats, rebounding from an early 1-0 deficit to post a 4-1 victory Wednesday in Hartney.
“I would say from the goal line out, this is without a doubt the best Winnipeg Ice team that we’ve ever been able to have together,” said Eugene Kaminsky, in his fifth season as head coach. “In my opinion, both our goalies (are excellent) and our (defensive) corps is probably one of the best D-corps in the league and we probably have the most explosive scorers as a team that we’ve ever had.”
Bergman, a Grade 12 student at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, centres Winnipeg’s top forward line with Grade 11 wingers Haley Braun and Stephanie Jacob, who were 1-2 in league scoring during the regular season.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing with them,” said Bergman, who will play for the University of Saskatchewan next fall. “I feel like we all we have good chemistry together. We know just where to be for a pass or where to support the puck with when they have it.”
Beating the Wildcats would be a major milestone. Westman swept the Ice in the 2022 final and Kaminsky now has a 1-6 playoff record against the Wildcats.
“It was definitely tough,” said Bergman, recalling last year’s final. “Getting swept in the finals is not how you want to end it, but I believe that this year we can do it.”
(Winnipeg Ice leads best-of-five series 1-0)
Game 2: Westman vs. Winnipeg Ice
At hockey for all centre, Sunday, 7:15 p.m.
Game 3: Winnipeg Ice vs. Westman
At Hartney, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
x-Game 4: Westman vs. Winnipeg Ice
At hockey for all centre, Thursday, 7 p.m.
x-Game 5: Winnipeg Ice vs. Westman
A Hartney, Sunday, April 2, 2 p.m.
*x = if necessary*
Westman head coach Guy Williams admits there’s little to choose between the teams — the Wildcats finished one point ahead of the Ice and three points ahead of the third-place Winnipeg Avros during the regular season.
“We’ve got to get the mistakes out of our game that are costing us and execute a little bit better in a couple of situations offensively,” said Williams. “And then sometimes it comes down to puck luck in games. I think they worked hard (Wednesday) and earned the puck luck and we fought the puck in certain situations on the ice. We’re gonna have to earn the puck luck in Winnipeg on Sunday.”
Westman has a lot of confidence in its top line of Hayley Kolosky, Sophia Anderson and Kelsey Huibers. Kolosky has 22 goals and 37 points in 28 regular-season games.
“She is our leading point-getter but when we’re playing well, we’ve got three lines that can score,” said Williams. “In our Game 5 (of the semifinal) against Yellowhead, our top line was shut down and our second line and third line each got two goals. So, that’s another similarity between us and the Ice — we both have three lines that can finish.”
In order to contain a balanced Wildcats offence, the Ice can depend on blue-liner Breanne Comte. Comte was also influential on the offensive end, leading all league defenders with nine goals and 25 points in 28 regular-season games.
“Not only is she a strong scorer but she’s also a very accomplished defender in our zone,” said Kaminsky. “What she’s learned from last year is that she can now own parts of that D-zone and she’s become more physical and more confident in her ability. She clears a lot of space for our goalies to see the puck.”
On Sunday, all-star and league MVP Grace Glover is likely to get the start in net for Westman while Ice goaltender Jordyn Nepinak-Sargent will make her seventh consecutive appearance of the post-season.
The Manitoba winner will go on to face the Saskatchewan champion in a best-of-three inter-provincial final with the winner advancing to the Esso Cup national U18 championship to be played in Prince Albert, Sask., April 23-29.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.