Willan shoots to score

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Madison Willan is small in stature but packs a big offensive punch for the St. Albert Ron Hodgson Slash.

The 2017 Alberta Female Hockey League rookie of the year is leading the Slash in scoring with 14 points in 18 games after racking up a league-high 25 goals and 50 points in 28 games.

Willan’s six goals are also one less than the team leaders – Tyra Meropoulis, the AFHL’s player of the year, and newcomer Mckenzie Hewett.

“I never take a day off and that’s one of the things that’s helped me the most,” said Willan, a left winger who is almost five-foot-three when she stands on her tippy toes. “I definitely see the ice well. I like to set up lots of plays and I always try to look for open players. I’m always keeping my feet moving and when I get a chance to shoot I always try to score.”

Willan’s most important goal last season was registered 57 seconds into the semifinal at the Esso Cup national championship in Morden, Man., a 1-0 decision against the Durham West (Ont.) Lightning, and in the final the Edmonton product assisted on the golden goal by Meropoulis at 14:41 into overtime to defeat the Harfangs du Triolet (Quebec) of Sherbrooke 1-0.

“There has definitely been a lot of reflective moments on how great nationals was,” said Willan, who finished tied for the tournament lead in points with 10 while scoring a team-high five goals. “But now it’s a new team and a new season so as great as that was we have to move forward with it and just focus on this season.”

Willan, Meropoulis and Camryn Drever, the tournament’s all-star netminder with one goal against in five starts while posting four shutouts, are among the 10 players back from the first team in the Esso Cup’s nine-year history to finish a perfect 7-0 as well as the first Alberta team to win the championship.

“Last year we were kind of balanced with both checking forwards and skilled forwards so this year we have a little more skill in the forwards side,” Willan said. “On defence last year we were solid and we have a few new girls this year.

“We’re still working on the forward side and defensive side as well.”

The Slash are 13-6 (53 GF/26 GA) with 11 games left in league play after skating away with the division pennant last season at 27-2-1 (1119 GF/43 GA).

“It was a slow start at the beginning because we had about 10 people that left,” Willan said. “We get along great and our chemistry is there, we just got to find it on the ice as well.”

Every game is now a battle as the defending national champions.

“Everyone knows who we are and every time we play a team they want to beat us badly so we have to bring our A game every time,” Willan said. “Every team wants to play us hard and we’ve got to match that every game.

“The teams are also more competitive so it makes the league really strong.”

Willan, 16, joined the Slash after compiling 34 goals and 63 points in 30 games with the Edmonton Lightning in the Alberta Major Bantam Female Hockey League and was one of 20 players from 12 hometowns on the AFHL team’s 2016/17 roster.

“We’re getting the top girls from Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Edmonton and all the surrounding areas and it makes for an elite team,” said the Grade 12 St. Francis Xavier High School student.

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.