Serving as the Alberta Pandas captain, the final game of the 2016-17 U Sports season brought with it a fairy tale ending for Sasha Lutz. A March 19 match against the highly competitive McGill Martlets represented a winner take all match for the chance to hoist the Golden Path Trophy and become national champions.
As one of the most prominent teams in the nation, the Pandas are consistently in the championship conversation. Over the last four seasons, the Pandas have established among the elites in Canada West, earning multiple opportunities to compete at Nationals, yet emerging without the Golden Path Trophy. For a player such as Lutz, who has worked tirelessly to bring a title to the Pandas, such persistence brought with it an elusive yet well-deserved brush with glory,
“It really is the best possible way to go out. I have also made it to four final games like this, and it is the first gold I have won!”
Competing at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ontario, it was the setting for a series of remarkable postseason heroics for Lutz. The day prior, Lutz capitalized on a power play opportunity with a goal, while adding an assist on the game-winning goal against an upstart Concordia Stingers squad led by national coach of the year Julie Chu.
Such a superlative multi-point effort on the part of the team captain helped set the tone for the Pandas, who advanced to the national championship game, prevailing against the Stingers by a 6-2 tally. While Lutz was integral in the win, providing an exceptional performance which included not one penalty in the medal round, she remains humble, quickly acknowledging that team success takes greater priority,
“No matter if I get goals or assists I just try to lead by example and contribute to the team’s success as much as possible. It is always nice to get on the score sheet though.”
Gaining the assist on the double overtime clinching goal against McGill on March 19, it was the crowning achievement, a dazzling denouement for a great career that Lutz experienced with the Pandas. Considering that McGill was making their eighth finals appearance in the last 10 seasons, it was not surprising that the contest between such talented squads would need to be resolved in double overtime, where Lutz was credited with the biggest assist of her career, as Taylor Kezama buried the puck past Tricia Deguire, the U Sports Rookie of the Year, for the eighth championship in Pandas history.
With the event taking place in Eastern Canada, where programs such as host team Queen’s, the OUA champion Guelph Gryphons and the perpetually contending McGill Martlets all brought championship ambitions, it would have been understandable if the squads from Canada West felt at a disadvantage. Heading into the tournament, the Pandas were seeded number six.
Despite the fact that the Pandas and the Canada West champion UBC Thunderbirds, who would claim the bronze medal, were definitely not privy to any feelings of home ice advantage, Lutz mentioned how the geographical distance was not a source of discouragement.
“Our biggest focus was to take everything one step at a time. One shift, one period, and one game at a time. With how young of a team we had, this was really important because it was very easy to get excited about outcomes.
As for confidence, we focused on all the greatness we have displayed this year despite the recent upset in the Canada West Final. It wasn’t overly hard to bring back the confidence. With that, we have a very close group and everyone did a very good job of trusting one another.”
During the regular season, Lutz was among the catalysts on offense, setting the tone for the glories to come. Providing 16 points on the strength of 12 assists, Lutz opened the season with a goal scored in a 6-0 home win against the Calgary Dinos, signifying the start towards a riveting season that culminated by ranking first in the nation in games played. In addition, she would also rank third in short-handed goals, while placing ninth in plus/minus rating with a solid +16.
Perhaps the most important number during Lutz’s regular season was the fact that Pandas enjoyed a sterling 10-2-0 mark when she logged at least one point. Having also recorded a pair of multi-point efforts, it was no surprise that the Pandas prevailed in both games.
Among said efforts included a pair of assists in a 4-0 win versus the rival Calgary Dinos occurred on January 20, with her best performance of the season to follow. Consisting of a fantastic four point output against the Lethbridge Pronghorns on February 4, Lutz would prove to be vital to the final outcome.
Scoring once while logging three assists in a brilliant performance, Lutz factored into every Pandas goal, which was part of a crucial 4-3 win in conference play, their ninth straight win, and 16th in 17 games at that time. Adding buoyancy to a determined squad, whose momentum built with every subsequent win, it was the perfect time for Lutz to peak, with the ambitions of the postseason approaching.
While the postseason glories that followed were an unforgettable epilogue to another solid regular season of high quality Pandas hockey, it was all part of a bigger narrative for Lutz. In her fantastic fifth, yet final season, the championship was savored sweeter by the chance to share in its glory with fellow fifth year player, and playoff MVP, Lindsey Post. Standing between the pipes, displaying great poise as Post made 40 saves en route to the gold medal, it helped bring both of their careers to an end in grand fashion, having both emerged as cornerstones for the program.
While the emotions of a long-awaited, hard-fought, well-earned championship shall stand as the greatest legacy in the seasons that Lutz donned the Pandas colors, there are so many other aspects that defined such a memorable time in her career. Although the elation over the championship is still fresh in her mind, there are many other elements that Lutz shall cherish, as she reflects on a proud time in her hockey life,
“There are a million things I could think of but after this year, I am going to miss the friendships and memories. I have never played on a team as close as we were this year and I think that was a huge factor to our success.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Alberta Pandas athletics