Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor will help lead USask’s women’s hockey team as they host the national championship from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place.
Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor will help lead USask’s women’s hockey team as they host the national championship from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics)

Huskies excited to host national women’s hockey championship

They have been anxiously waiting all season for this chance to make their dreams come true.

By James Shewaga

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) Huskie women’s hockey team will host the top teams in the country from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place as they take to the ice to battle for the right to be called national champions.

For Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor and her teammates, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete for the Canadian championship right on campus at USask.

“I don’t think it’s possible to put into words how excited we are, but the anticipation is unbelievable,” said Lalor, a fifth-year forward who led the Huskies this season with 12 goals and 22 points in 28 games. “Merlis Belsher Place is an amazing place to play, so I can’t even imagine what it is going to be like for nationals, having that building packed with hometown fans and community and friends and family. To be able to play against the best competition in Canada is going to be really special and to have the opportunity to do it at home, there will be no better way to end my career as a Huskie.”

A little over a year ago, the Huskies were awarded the rights to serve as the host team for the 2024 GFL U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship, presented by Connect Energy. While the automatic berth could have served as a bit of a distraction, the Huskies used it as motivation throughout the 2023-24 season. Coach Steve Kook guided the team to an impressive 19-7-1-1 fourth-place record in the Canada West conference – including spending seven weeks in the Top 10 rankings in the country – before falling 2-1 in the best-of-three conference quarter-finals to the Calgary Dinos.

Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor will help lead USask’s women’s hockey team as they host the national championship from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place.
Head coach Steve Kook guided the Huskies to an impressive 19-7-1-1 record this season in the Canada West conference. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics)

Kook said his club is firmly focused on the task at hand heading into nationals.

“It has been on the top of our minds for more than a year since we found out we were awarded the national championship,” said Kook, now in his 19th season of coaching the Huskies. “But I think because our conference is so tight every weekend, our focus has always been on the Canada West conference, first and foremost, before we get to national championship week … For our team, especially for the two-thirds of our team who have been to a national championship before and know the enormity of the situation, we know it is going to be really exciting for all of us.”

Kook is blessed with depth of talent up and down the lineup, but will look to his veteran players – including his seven graduating seniors in particular who earned bronze medals at the 2022 national championship in Charlottetown – to lead the way in the national championship. In addition to Lalor, the Huskies are led by captain Kennedy Brown up front, Canadian World University Games team standout Isabella Pozzi on defence, and Canada West player of the year Camryn Drever in goal. Graduating Huskie forwards Kara Kondrat, Kenzie Lausberg, and Kate Ball will also be looked to for leadership at nationals.

“We have our fifth-year seniors who are so important, and we have a bunch of third years who also got to play in a national championship in their first year, so that is a bonus that we have,” said Kook. “Having the experience of being there is so important to understand the enormity of the situation and how important it is to just stay focused and play your game. We are fortunate to have most of our team having already gone through this situation. Coming out with a medal at nationals has been our goal the whole time, so we will just focus on playing our best when it matters most.”

Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor will help lead USask’s women’s hockey team as they host the national championship from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place.
Huskies all-star Camryn Drever was named the Canada West women’s hockey player of the year and goaltender of the year this season. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics)

After months of preparation, Chief Athletics Officer Shannon Chinn said her Huskie Athletics staff, volunteers, and alumni are excited to host the national championship for the first time right on campus.

“We are very excited in Huskie Athletics to be hosting the top women’s hockey players in the country here in Saskatoon,” she said. “We have great support from the organizing committee, and the community and our staff have all been really involved, so the last push is to get that building full for the event. We are also excited to bring back so many of the women who played in the ’80s. We have more than 75 women who are coming back that week and there are some that have never seen Merlis Belsher Place, so we are very excited to show them the state of our women’s hockey program now and give them a chance to reminisce and feel that nostalgia of what was a really great time in their lives.”

With interest in women’s hockey on the rise with the start of the Professional Women’s Hockey League this season and the Canada-United States rivalry series having recently been played in Saskatchewan, Chinn said this is the perfect time to host the national university women’s championship.

“Absolutely, when you see the excitement and the popularity of women’s hockey right now, coming off the sold-out game at Scotiabank Arena (in Toronto) and how Saskatchewan rallied around the rivalry series between Canada and the United States in Saskatoon and Regina, I think the momentum of women’s hockey right now is unbelievable,” said Chinn. “You will be able to see women playing at nationals at Merlis Belsher Place who are going to go on to play in the PWHL and in the Olympics one day and it is just going to be unbelievable hockey.

Huskies scoring leader Sophie Lalor will help lead USask’s women’s hockey team as they host the national championship from March 14-17 at Merlis Belsher Place.
Captain Kennedy Brown is one of seven graduating seniors on the Huskie women’s hockey team this season. (Photo: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics)

“Our tagline is ‘See Them, Be Them.’ And we are really focused on connecting with the community and we have the entire Saskatoon Comets girls hockey program partnering with us. We want to show all the young hockey players out there just what they can accomplish and show them the way and show them the path to play women’s hockey.”

After coming home with a bronze medal from the Huskies’ remarkable run at the 2022 national championship, Lalor wants to close out her USask career on a winning note on home ice.

“We have a really special group of girls this year and I think what is amazing is that it is not just one or two players, but everyone contributes,” said Lalor, who earned the Canada West conference’s Sportsmanship and Athletic Ability Award this year and was also named a second-team women’s hockey conference all-star. “We are so deep and we have skill and tenacity and hard work all the way up and down the lineup, so I think for us it is going to be about the whole group just working together. We want to show we belong there with the other best teams in the country and we want to be in the hunt for the medals.”


Huskie women’s basketball coach Lisa Thomaidis was named U SPORTS women’s coach of the year on Wednesday, while Huskie standout Gage Grassick was selected as a second-team All-Canadian. Thomaidis was also named Canada West coach of the year for the sixth time in her 25 years at USask, after leading the Huskies to a 19-1 record and to their fourth conference championship title in five years. The Huskies – seeded No.1 in the country – will compete in nationals March 7-10 in Edmonton … Thomaidis will also be going to the Olympics for a fourth time, this time as head coach of the German team that she helped qualify for its first ever Summer Games. Huskies support staff member Connor Jay was also part of the staff of the German team, which qualified by beating the host Brazilian team on Feb. 11 …

Huskie men's hockey player Dawson Holt has been awarded the Canada West conference Student-Athlete Community Service Award for his leadership and volunteer work on campus and in the community … Huskie wrestlers SueAnne Harms and Donovan Neudorf were both selected as U SPORTS Community Service Award winners. Huskie Judah Arthurs earned a silver medal in the men’s 82kg division at the March 2 national championships in Guelph, Ont., while the Huskie women finished third for the team title after winning five silver medals: Abby Wolff, 50kg; Sierra Mullin, 53kg; Harms, 56kg; Caitlin Clatney, 59kg; and Myah Phillips, 83kg …

Huskie men’s basketball player Easton Thimm is the Canada West conference rookie of the year, while fifth-year teammate Alexander Dewar received the conference Student-Athlete Community Service Award … Huskie men’s volleyball setter Noah Opseth has set the all-time USask record for most assists in a season with 1,007 and sits second all-time in the Canada West conference … The Huskies track and field team heads to the national championship in Winnipeg this week, led by Canada West coach of the year Jason Reindl and female assistant coach of the year Karlyn Wells. Complete conference results are available here

Four members of the Huskie football team have been selected to attend CFL combines this month, in advance of the 2024 CFL Draft on April 30. All-star linebacker Nick Wiebe, defensive lineman George Idoko and offensive lineman John Kourtis will go the main CFL Combine in Winnipeg March 19-24, although Wiebe’s participation will be limited as he recovers from knee surgery. Meanwhile, Huskies linebacker Randy Derbas will go the CFL Invitational Combine in Waterloo, Ont., on March 8 … Head coach Sean Payton of the NFL’s Denver Broncos will be the guest speaker headlining the annual Staybridge Suites & Holiday Inn Express University Dogs’ Breakfast XXII in support of Huskie football, on May 2 at Prairieland Park. Tickets for the annual fundraiser are available online here.

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