The buzz is back at Merlis Belsher Place.
The Saskatchewan U-18 Women’s AAA Hockey League season begins this weekend and after going a year with almost no significant games, the Saskatoon Stars are over the moon with anticipation.
Like most hockey teams, the Stars didn’t have much of the 2020-21 season, playing just two games before the second wave of COVID-19 forced the SFU18AAAHL to suspend play and eventually cancel the rest of the season. Bell.
“We were getting ready to go into games and we were looking forward to it and then all of a sudden it closed again and we had to practice all year,” forward Halle Helperl said.
The Stars tried to make the most of the situation, spending the extra practice time developing skills, but without the opportunity to compete against other teams, it just wasn’t the same.
“It was a mental challenge to come to the track every day. We knew we had to come here to improve, even though we weren’t really playing at all, we knew it would come out at least this year, so we had to prepare for that, ”Helperl said.
But all the work and no game wears off after a while and with the league starting over this fall, the Stars are delighted to be preparing for real opponents again.
“Honestly, it’s very exciting. As if I’ve forgotten how exciting it is to play games and even in preseason I’m seeing the potential that my team has. I think we’re going to be pretty good this year, ”Helperl said.
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Last season was Keyra Buziak’s first with the Stars. A highly touted forward who is expected to be a top point producer this season despite being one of the youngest players on the team, she waited another year to show what she can do at the U18 level.
“Especially since there was nothing of a season last year, we are so excited to come back, and every team has built over the last year that we had and everyone has gotten stronger and so have we,” he said.
The return of a proper season is not only good for the physical and mental health of the players, it is also critical for those hoping to get the attention of college recruiters. Last year, teams were reduced to sending videos of players doing individual skills drills to potential postsecondary programs.
It was better than nothing, but he was still a long way from being able to show his skills in a gaming environment.
“Since none of (the scouts) had a chance to come see us last year, there is a lot more pressure to play as hard as we can this year to get attention,” Buziak said.
All-Star Head Coach Robin Ulrich is proud of what the players were able to accomplish despite the obstacles they faced, but glad they don’t have to go through it again.
“The last two summers that they have worked and the last year of work, they have improved a lot and it is difficult to demonstrate that in a skill session, so the ability to play is so great for them,” he said.
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While the long layoff means the Stars have little experience in the game, with a roster of nine rookies and five other players who were rookies a year ago, they know their competition is in the same boat.
“There is going to be a lot of parity (in the league) this year and I think anybody will beat anybody on any given night if you’re not ready to play and as clichéd as it sounds, that makes it really fun,” Ulrich said.
And with the bonds they have forged through such a tumultuous time together, some fun is long overdue.
“Life can throw you so many different things and you’re going to have to get over it and if you are able to do that, and especially what we all went through last year, if we are able to get over it.” that, we can beat anything this year, ”Helperl said.
The Stars open the season with a pair of road games against the Weyburn Gold Wings on October 9-10. They host the Regina Rebels at Merlis Belsher Place for their first home game on October 16.
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