LONDON, Ont. – Rookie Abby Shirley tied the game at 2-2 with late in the second period and teammate Kennedy Harris scored the winner in the third, as No. 7 University of Saskatchewan upset No. 2 Saint Mary's University 3-2 at Thompson Arena on Thursday.
The win moves Saskatchewan into a national semifinal on Saturday, where they will face the winner of Thursday night's game between Western and Montreal, while Saint Mary's will play the loser on the consolation side of the bracket.
Post-game, Huskies' head coach Steve Kook pointed to Shirley's second-period goal a momentum-changer.
"You look up and down our bench—they got two unanswered in that second period and our bench was pretty flat, they were chasing their players in our defensive zone," said Kook. "We were playing desperate hockey at that point and I think it was a timely goal from a rookie and that's what you look for in a national championship.
"It was a timely goal from the right player in the right time and the right place. She's a shooter—it's what she needs to do."
Harris' winner—the only power play goal of the game— came with 7:22 left on the clock and sealed the deal for Saskatchewan in a game that saw Saint Mary's control play for large chunks of time. The Canada West finalists still outshot the AUS champions 38-31 in the game.
"I can't fault effort," said SMU head coach Chris Larade. "We played as hard as we possibly could, our effort might have even been a little bit over the top. We were playing a great team—there are eight great teams here and we knew Saskatchewan was going to fit the bill."
Canada West Player of the Year Jessica Vance got the call in net for Saskatchewan, turning aside 29 shots, while SMU's Rebecca Clarke countered with 35 saves.
A SMU penalty just over a minute into the first period allowed the Huskies to get some good looks but Saint Mary's picked up the pace as the period went on, highlighted by an incredible rebound save by Vance on Worndl in tight with just over a minute on the clock.
Saint Mary's controlled play early in the second period and were rewarded with a goal from Caitlin Pejkovic. Pejkovic was in the right place at the right time, tipping in a point shot from teammate Beatrice Harrietha just 1:44 into the middle frame.
The momentum continued in Saint Mary's favour late into the second period and the AUS champions capitalized for their first lead, as Breanna Lanceleve buried the feed from Laura Polak on a two-on-one with 9:57 on the clock.
But rookie Abby Shirley would put Saskatchewan back on even footing heading into the third frame, firing a shot over Clarke's shoulder from a nearly impossible angle with 2:28 on the clock.
"We have so much character in that dressing room," said Harris. "We have a special group for sure. We know when to come together as a team and just push forward."
Saskatchewan will play in Saturday's first semifinal, which is set for 4:00 p.m. ET/1:00 PM PT, while Saint Mary's moves into the consolation semifinal 10:00 a.m. ET/7:00 a.m. PT.