A season that began with 92 teams has been narrowed down to six – the 2019 Esso Cup competitors have been officially finalized.
The Sudbury Lady Wolves, Halifax Fire, Stoney Creek Sabres, St. Albert Slash, Saskatoon Stars and As de Québec have all secured the opportunity to compete at Canada’s National Female Midget Championship, which starts April 21 in Sudbury, Ont.
Here is a quick overview of the six teams that will vie for gold.
HOST TEAM – SUDBURY LADY WOLVES
The City of Sudbury is eager to create a welcoming atmosphere for the 2019 Esso Cup, while the Lady Wolves will be more fixated on providing a stiff challenge on the ice – and they are poised to do so. The Lady Wolves stormed out of the gate with a 21-game unbeaten streak (19-0-2) before suffering their lone loss in the final game of the LLFHL season. After tough playdown series against the Toronto Aeros and Mississauga Chiefs, the Wolves cruised through the OWHA provincials with a 6-0 record, capped by a 3-2 win over the Stoney Creek Sabres in the final.
Sudbury is looking to become the first host team to hoist the Esso Cup. In the 10-year history of the tournament, only the 2015 Red Deer Chiefs earned a spot in the gold medal game.
ATLANTIC REGION – HALIFAX FIRE
Simply put, the Fire – with nine players who were part of the host Metro Boston Pizza team from last year’s Esso Cup – has been terrific. The club, which finished second in the NSFMHL during the regular season with an 18-2-4 record, went three-for-three against the Cape Breton Panthers in the Nova Scotia semifinals before overcoming a two-game deficit with three-straight wins to prevail over the Northern Selects in the league final. Halifax then brought the fire to the Atlantic Regional, outscoring its opponents 32-9 in five games and clinching its spot in Sudbury with a 5-2 win over the Northern Lightning in the gold medal game.
Halifax is looking to provide the Atlantic a reversal of fortune; the region has finished in sixth place at the past six Esso Cups. Metro Boston Pizza earned the last semifinal berth for the region in 2012.
ONTARIO REGION – STONEY CREEK SABRES
It was not an easy road to the national championship for the Sabres. After a solid 3-1-1 start to the campaign, they only managed one win in their next seven games. Stoney Creek found its form with 7-1-2 run to finish the regular season, and toppled the Buffalo Regals and Burlington Barracudas before falling to Mississauga in the LLFHL South Central Division final. Stoney Creek was in top form at OWHA provincials, winning five of six games to reach the gold medal game against Sudbury (it dropped a narrow 3-2 decision) and clinch the Ontario berth at the Esso Cup.
Stoney Creek will aim to put Ontario back on the Esso Cup podium after the province finished out of the top three for the first time ever in 2018. Ontario has won three gold (Thunder Bay, 2010; Sudbury, 2015; Brantford, 2016), three silver and three bronze medals at the national championship.
PACIFIC REGION – ST. ALBERT SLASH
St. Albert has shown the form of a two-time defending Esso Cup champion since the opening puck drop last fall. The Slash sailed to the top of the AFHL standings with a 26-3-1 record and went 4-0 at provincials – capped by a 5-1 win over the Calgary Fire in the gold medal game – before sweeping the Greater Vancouver Comets in the Pacific Regional to earn the opportunity to go for the three-peat. The roster boasts nine returnees from the 2018 team, five of whom – Taylor Anker, Isabelle Lajoie, Brianna Sank, Makenna Schuttler and Madison Willan – were also part of the 2017 champions.
St. Albert navigated through the last two Esso Cups with a record of 13 wins and one loss. Its lone defeat was a 4-1 preliminary-round setback to the Saskatoon Stars last year.
QUEBEC REGION – AS DE QUÉBEC
The defensive excellence the As de Québec showed during the 2018-19 LHEQ season came up massive when it mattered most during the Coupe Dodge. After losing its first two games at the provincial tournament, the As – who allowed just 60 goals in 30 regular-season affairs – edged the Remparts du Richelieu 2-1 in the quarter-finals and then proceeded to earn back-to-back 1-0 whitewashes over the Harfangs du Triolet and Stars 55 de Mauricie-CDQ. Balanced scoring was also paramount for the club that netted a solid 16-7-7 record as nine players finished with at least 15 points.
The As will attempt to extend Quebec’s medal streak at the Esso Cup to four years. The Express du Richelieu (2016) and Harfangs (2017) picked up silver medals, while the Pionnières de Lanaudière (2018) collected bronze.
WEST REGION – SASKATOON STARS
The Saskatoon Stars are returning to Canada’s National Female Midget Championship with a desire to atone for the painful 2-1 loss they endured at the hands of St. Albert in the 2018 Esso Cup final. Saskatoon has had the look of a championship contender all season as it racked up 149 goals en route to winning 27 of its 28 regular-season games – including its first 20 in a row. The Stars brushed aside the Notre Dame Hounds and Regina Rebels in the SFMAAAHL playoffs, and swept the two-game West Regional against the Westman Wildcats.
Thirteen Stars are back to try and capture the gold medal that eluded them last year. Saskatoon is attending its fourth Esso Cup in five years; it won bronze in 2015 and finished fourth in 2016.
Originally published at http://hockeycanada.ca/news/index?lang=en-ca&id=284188