The Road to the Esso Cup has come to a close.
The Notre Dame Hounds and Northern Selects secured the final two spots on
the weekend; the Hounds finished a two-game sweep of the Westman Wildcats
to claim the West Region title, while the Selects edged the EDZA West Reds
2-1 in the Atlantic Region final.
They will join the Prince Albert Bears (Host), Fraser Valley Rush
(Pacific), Durham West Lightning (Ontario) and Remparts du Richelieu
(Quebec) at Canada’s National Women’s U18 Club Championship, which begins
May 16 in Okotoks, Alta.
Here’s a quick look at all six teams that will compete for a national
HOST TEAM – PRINCE ALBERT BEARS
After more than two years of waiting, it’s finally time for the Bears to
play host to the country’s top teams. Except they’ll be doing it 765
kilometres from home. Prince Albert hit a few speedbumps on the way to the
Esso Cup, finishing with a 10-15-5 record in the Saskatchewan Female U18AAA Hockey League before getting swept by the Saskatoon Stars in the
opening round of the playoffs.
The Bears are making their second appearance at the Esso Cup; they won
SFU18AAAHL and West Region championships in 2017 before going 2-3 in the
preliminary round in Morden, Man., and narrowly missing out on the
ATLANTIC REGION – NORTHERN SELECTS
The Selects have been dominant from start to finish, losing just one of 18
regular-season games in the Maritime Major Female Hockey League before
sweeping East Hants and Halifax to win the MMFHL title. They then romped
through the Atlantic tournament, posting a plus-34 goal differential (36-2)
in a 4-0 preliminary round before Bree MacPherson’s third-period goal beat
the Reds and punched their ticket to Okotoks.
It’s a second trip in three Esso Cups for the Selects, who were the
Atlantic reps in 2018 when Bridgewater, N.S., played host. That year, they
opened with a win over host Metro Boston Pizza before dropping their final
four games and finishing fifth.
ONTARIO REGION – DURHAM WEST LIGHTNING
There was no one close to the Lightning in the U18 AA division of the
Ontario Women’s Hockey League this season; Durham West posted a 21-1-3
record during the regular season with a remarkable 95-19 goal differential.
It was just as good at the OWHA provincials; the Lightning topped its group
in the prelims before running through Saugeen-Maitland, Etobicoke and
Whitby to earn the Ontario spot at the Esso Cup.
Like the Bears, the Lightning are also back after featuring in Morden. That
year, Durham West alternated wins and losses in the preliminary round to
sneak into the semifinals as the No. 4 seed. It dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker
to the eventual national champion St. Albert Slash before rebounding to win
PACIFIC REGION – FRASER VALLEY RUSH
It was a record-setting season for the Rush, who dominated the B.C. Elite Hockey League – 28 wins in 32 games and dominance on offence (140 GF) and
defence (43 GA). Fraser Valley needed a come-from-behind series win in the
BCEHL final against the Northern Capitals, but followed that up with a
historic sweep of the Edmonton Pandas, becoming the first B.C. team to ever
beat the Alberta champs in the Pacific Regional.
It’ll be the third Esso Cup appearance for the Rush. Known then as the
Fraser Valley Phantom, the team served as host when the 2013 tournament was
played in Burnaby, B.C., and was one of the two Pacific reps a year later.
Fraser Valley missed out on the semifinals in both years.
QUEBEC REGION – REMPARTS DU RICHELIEU
The Remparts scuffled their way into the provincial tournament, dropping
two of their last three in the Ligue de hockey d’excellence du Québec and
settling for second place, six points back of the As de Québec. But
Richelieu found its ‘A’ game for the Coupe Dodge provincials, going a
perfect 5-0; the run was capped by a thrilling 1-0 shootout win over the As
in the final, sending the Remparts to Okotoks.
Richelieu was the first-ever Quebec Region champion, finishing sixth at the
2010 tournament in Regina, Sask. The Remparts are the third team from
Richelieu to make the trip to the national championship, along with that
2010 side and the 2016 Express du Richelieu, who earned silver in Weyburn,
WEST REGION – NOTRE DAME HOUNDS
No team comes to Okotoks hotter than the Hounds, who have lost just a
single game in regulation time since the start of December – and just two
all season. Notre Dame romped to the Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey
League title, dropping an overtime game apiece to the Saskatoon Stars and
Regina Rebels, and dispatched the Westman Wildcats on the road in the West
Regional to get back to the Esso Cup.
The Hounds last played at the national championship in 2011, when they won
it all in St. Albert, Sask. They also repped the West Region a year earlier
in Regina, getting all the way to the final before a narrow loss to the
Thunder Bay Queens.