Cougars chase ACHA national three-peat
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For Assiniboine Community College Cougars women’s hockey head coach Tony Bertone, the chance to compete at the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 2 national championship is something that he looks forward to each year.
“There’s a smile on my face as soon as we arrive there,” Bertone said before he and his squad headed off to Boston on Tuesday morning. “The hockey there is really good and it’s a great reward for the girls with what they go through all year from keeping up their academics (to) going on long road trips.
“I’m so happy that our group gets a chance to compete at this event with everything that they have put into the program.”
Since their first appearance at the event five years ago, the Cougars have made their presence felt.
They captured a national crown in 2019 with a 1-0 win over the Minot State Beavers in Frisco, Texas and retained the title after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic last March with a 2-1 victory over the Dakota College at Bottineau Ladyjacks in St. Louis.
As the Cougars gear up for their Pool B opener against the Michigan State Spartans (16-5-2) at 11:30 this morning, they are looking to bring home their third national title in a row and tie the Rainy River Community College (Minn.) Voyageurs for the most wins in event history.
While ACC is the team to beat, Bertone says he doesn’t feel any extra pressure that comes with being a tournament favourite.
“I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t get nervous when we’re out at the nationals,” Bertone said. “I just enjoy the experience for what it is and whatever happens, happens.
“We’re going to lay our cards on the table and play the best hockey to try and get to the final. If we can do that, I know the girls will be at their best.”
The Cougars were the top-ranked team from the ACHA’s West region after posting a 23-2-1 record.
Their lone setbacks were a pair of road losses to the 26-0 Sault College (Ont.) Cougars after the Christmas break and a 3-1 defeat to the Ladyjacks on Feb. 5 in Bottineau.
“We’ve definitely been tested a bit in some games this year, but we’ve learned from it,” Cougars forward and captain Simone Turner said. “If we happen to face those teams again, we’re going to come out harder and give them our best effort.”
“We didn’t play our best hockey up in the Sault but we didn’t get upset at the girls or bark at them or anything like that,” Bertone added. “We just told them ‘that’s what happens when you take games off and don’t show up.’
“ACC is up at the top now and everyone is trying to knock us off that pedestal, so we need to bring our best game and play our best hockey. The girls didn’t like the taste of losing and they’ve met that adversity, which is good to have sometimes over the course of a season.”
When the Cougars went to the nationals in St. Louis, Turner was the only player who was left from the 2019 squad.
She’s now one of 10 players with experience at the event, as fellow forwards Emmalie Thompson, Aidan Roberts, Alisz Belanger and Savannah Doak are back from last year’s roster, as are blue-liners Jensen Shearer, Laci Gaffrary and Mackenzie Dixon, along with the goaltending tandem of Megan Beswitherick and Geneva Penner.
Turner — who led the ACHA Division 2 ranks in scoring this season with 71 points in 24 games — believes the lessons learned from their run to the title in 2022 should bode well for the squad this year.
“Everyone on the team has been super-hyped to play here for the last couple of weeks,” Turner said. “The intensity level has shifted in practice and it’s already a lot more game-like before we even get to Boston.”
The other seven members of the Cougars roster — blue-liners Kathryn Fischer and Meagan Carnegie and forwards Emma Ramsey, Keely Emms-Finnsson, Kasey Fouillard, Payton Malchuk and Madison Haliuk — will be getting their first taste of an ACHA nationals this week.
According to Emms-Finnsson, the veteran players have been doing a great job of calming the nerves for the new members of the team throughout the course of the campaign.
“They’ve been reminding us that it is just another game of hockey and to go and play our hearts out,” Emms-Finnsson said.
“The experience of being with these girls and being able to travel some pretty long distances to play hockey has been the highlight of my career so far. All of these girls are so talented and to play at the nationals with them means the world to me.”
Following their opening game against Michigan State, the Cougars take on the Vermont Catamounts (14-2-1) at 11:30 a.m. Friday and wrap up Pool B play at 11:45 a.m. Saturday when they meet up with the Adrian College (Mich.) Bulldogs (15-9-2).
The top side in each four-team pool advances to Sunday’s semifinals. The championship game is set for Monday at 9:30 a.m.
“You might look at the schedule and think, well a game a day isn’t that bad, but the level of play is so good that if you lose to one team, you are pretty much done,” Bertone said. “It’s all out of your hands at that point and you don’t hold any cards.”
“If we play our game like we’ve had over the last few weeks, which involves passing the puck quickly and making heads-up plays to create shots, I think we can go all the way,” Emms-Finnsson added.
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LOCALS AT NATIONALS
In addition to the Cougars, Westman is also represented by the following players at the ACHA nationals, which are also being held in Boston this week.
Men’s Division 1
Minot State Beavers
– Landyn Cochrane (Silverton)
– Troy Hamilton (Brandon)
– Riley Wallace (Oak Lake)
Jamestown (N.D.) Jimmies
– Keaton Cline (Killarney)
– Zane MacDonald (Minnedosa)
Men’s Division 2
Dakota College at Bottineau Lumberjacks
– Kolby Adair (Brandon)
– Nick Demchuk (Oakbank)
– Leighton Holstein (Boissevain)
– Brett Janssens (Carberry)
– Logan Mantell (Hartney)
– Rory McNabb (Hamiota)
– Von Mullin (Cartwright)
– Billy Patmore (Pipestone)
– Ryan Patterson (Boissevain)
– Tyson Pringle (Boissevain)
Women’s Division 1
McKendree (Ill.) Bearcats
– Juliana Davis (Onanole)
– Isobelle Hobbs (Deloraine)
Midland (Neb.) Warriors
– Taylor Bell (Brandon)
– Callie Maguire (Minnedosa)
– Rylee Martin (Nesbitt)
– Darbi Poole (McAuley)
– Keagan Shearer (Wawanesa)
– Brynn Tosh (Souris)
Minot State Beavers
– Makenna Beard (Boissevain)
– Gillian Gervin (Boissevain)
– Alisha O’Hara (Chater)
– Krissy Rink (Melita)
Women’s Division 2
Dakota College at Bottineau Ladyjacks
– Jayden Carels (Cypress River)
– Jaida Chartrand (Neepawa)
– Zoe Cupples (Carberry)
– Kindal Degreave (Holland)
– Hannah Funk (Arden)
– Brennah McLaughlin (Neepawa)
– Trinity Tanner (Waywayseecappo)
– Macy Wither (Neepawa)
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