For University of Saskatchewan Huskies goaltender Jessica Vance, the U SPORTS National Championship represents some unfinished business.
Weeks after being swept by the University of Manitoba Bisons, she and the Huskies are in London, Ont., looking to claim a national title.
Following Huskies practice Wednesday afternoon, Vance mentioned she was happy with the year she had, and hopeful for the tournament at hand.
“I think our second half was really strong,” Vance said. “We kind of picked it up there after Christmas so we just need to carry that into nationals.”
The Huskies had a strong year in a deep Canada West conference, going 10-2 in the second half of the season and entering the playoffs as the second seed.
The club’s playoff run culminated in a 2-0 series sweep at the hands of Vance’s former team, the Bisons.
“I think we had some confidence going in there,” she said.
“Obviously, Manitoba is ranked number one and they’re a good team and credit to them. But I think our thoughts were good going in, and I think maybe just a bit of an adjustment in the rink and the fans and everything was kind of an eye opener for all of us.”
Looking towards the national championship, Vance noted her team was not concerning itself with vengeance just yet, focusing on winning the national title over simply beating the Bisons.
“It’s always good to have a second chance like this,” she said.
“We can’t take this one for granted and I mean that feeling is not a good feeling when you lose in the finals. So I mean I think it motivates us more and just, kind of, to get things done here.”
The Huskies entered the London tournament in the seventh seed and will face a powerhouse Saint Mary’s squad to open play Thursday. According to Vance though, the “underdog” Huskies are still confident they can win.
“I think we need to work as a team as well as we did in the second half there,” she said.
“We just need to focus on the games that we played really well. Our series against UBC, I think we’re looking at that, and those were some of our best games, so I think we just need to remember how well we can play and play like that.”
The Prince Albert, Sask., native was brought to Manitoba in 2015, but never saw game action in two full seasons with the Bisons. The lack of a legitimate shot with the herd and some more personal needs brought her back to her home province ahead of this season.
“I guess obviously Manitoba was a big move for me,” Vance said.
“I was far away from home and I think that was a major factor. Here at U of S I’m just an hour away from my home so I mean that was probably one of the biggest factors in that, and obviously I guess you do like to see the ice and that wasn’t the situation I was in in Manitoba.”
Vance said she does not regret her return, and that she feels the opportunity to play for the Huskies is better for her all-around.
“Yeah I think it was a better fit for me,” she said. “That’s a tough thing for everyone who’s graduating high school to pick the best fit and I think U of S is the best fit for me.”
The move back to Saskatchewan worked out well for Vance. She posted an incredible 0.77 goals against average – second in Canada West – and a .964 save percentage – the best in the conference – this season.
Her stellar performance in the Huskies goal also gained her personal accolades, as Vance was named the 2017-18 Canada West player of the year and a U SPORTS first team all-Canadian at Wednesday’s award gala.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” she said of the award.
“That’s obviously not what you expect coming off not playing for about two years. So I mean yeah lots of credit goes to my teammates for that because they definitely believed in me when they could’ve just said, ‘she hasn’t been playing for two years’, but they did believe in me so I think a lot of credit goes to them.”
Saskatchewan will be in a quarter final bout with the Saint Mary’s Huskies this afternoon at 3:00 p.m.