BLAZE ARTICLES


KENORA TOURNAMENT WRAP-UP

July 19, 2015

Blaze Finish Fourth at Kenora Tournament

With losses piling up in their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League (WWSL) Division 1 campaign, winning was a welcome change of pace for the Portage Blaze.

Winless through eight WWSL regular season games this season, the Blaze opened the Kenora Women’s Invitational Tournament, which took place July 17 to 19, with three straight wins in the preliminary round before falling in the semifinals and eventually settling for fourth-place amongst the 13-team field.

“We’re very happy with the performance,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “I’m hoping this will help us going forward in the regular season. Hopefully we can bring this back to our league play and get a few more wins going down the stretch.”

Ashley Cvetkovic’s first half goal had the Blaze within minutes of winning the bronze medal match on Sunday afternoon, but Gold Diggers rallied to tie the game late before scoring an overtime winner to knock off the Blaze 2-1.

“By the end of that game we were pretty much out of gas, and then we had to play overtime,” Mintenko said. “It was a tough one … but we wound up taking fourth and we’re very happy with that result.”

The game winning goal came on a cross into the Blaze’s box that was headed past goalkeeper Cassandra Cadman just three minutes into overtime.

Cvetkovic put the Blaze ahead 12 minutes into the first half, chipping the ball in from the penalty area after receiving a fortunate bounce from a corner kick that carumed off a defender.

It wasn’t until the final minute of the second half that Gold Diggers responded, capitalizing on an ill-timed offside trap by the Blaze that allowed an attacker through on a partial breakaway. A Portage defender managed to run down the Gold Diggers’ attacker, but not before she got a low shot off that beat Cadman to knot the game at one.

Portage went undefeated in the preliminary round, but ran into a superior Brandon Snipers squad in the semifinals. Brandon had little trouble with the Blaze, thumping them 7-0 to advance to the Kenora Women’s Invitational Tournament final.

“They could finish really well and they could chip our goalkeeper really well,” said Mintenko. “They scored three quick goals in the first 15 minutes and then added two more five minutes into the second half … they were just a very good finishing team.”

The Blaze won their first game since May 30 — when they defeated Blue United 2-1 during the Central Plains Cup at Republic Park — in all competition to open the tournament on Friday, edging host Kenora 1-0. Portage then defeated another Kenora team, Plaza, 5-1 on Saturday morning and followed that up with another 5-1 win over Fort Frances’ Borderlands Bomb Squad.

“Everyone was ecstatic after the Friday night win,” said Mintenko. “And the Blaze players that were here are going to head back to the season feeling a lot more confident.”

Portage’s next WWSL Division 1 match comes July 27 against CSSE Impact at Republic Park. Impact defeated the Blaze 6-0 in their first meeting this season on June 29.

matthew.hermiz@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @PDGhermiz


MSA CUP

July 25, 2015 – 03:00 PM

Two Portage Blaze Players heading to Nationals

Two players from the Portage Blaze women's soccer team are off to nationals after winning a provincial qualifier as part of an age 30-and-over team.

Jolene Dayholos and Karin Lucas, who play for the Blaze, were part of Blue United's winning roster at the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) provincial championships, which took place on Saturday in Winnipeg. Blue United defeated Winnipeg Storm 1-0 to advance to the CSA Club Championships in Vancouver, B.C., from September 24 to 27.

“Playing in the Provincial championship was an amazing opportunity and very exciting. Winning it was even better, it was a terrific feeling,” said Dayholos. “ I feel so privileged to go to Vancouver with this team. The experience of representing our province at a national level is something I couldn't have imagined a few months ago.”

Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko, who is also a member of Blue United's coaching staff, said this is the first time the Blaze have had roster players attending this event.

“I think it will be amazing for Jolene and Karin to experience travelling to a competition like this. They will learn from other teams and be able to bring that knowledge back to the Blaze,” he said.

Mintenko added that two other players on Blue United have some connections to the Blaze. Charity Scantlebury and Ashley Cvetkovic have both played for Portage as guest players at different times.

Only two teams took part in the provincial qualifier, likely due to the travel costs associated with attending nationals in Vancouver, according to Mintenko.

The Blaze's head coach also said Blue United was an underdog against Winnipeg, as the club had lots of players who formerly played in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League (WWSL) Premier Division – the highest level of competition.

“Winnipeg Storm were the odds on favourite in the final with several former Premier players and the majority of players under the age of 35,” he said. Blue United, on the other hand, only had five players under the age of 35 and very few former Premier players.”

matthew.hermiz@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @PDGhermiz


BLAZE VS IMPACT

May 14, 2014 – 07:00 PM

Blaze give up early goal, drop opener

By Kevin Hirschfield, The Graphic

 

Three minutes into their opening game of the season, the Portage Blaze found themselves trailing 1-0.

Certainly not an ideal start to what the Blaze are hoping will be a very successful season.

It would be the only goal they would allow to the CSSE Impact Wednesday at Republic of Manitobah Park, but having to play from behind for almost the entire game hampered the Blaze as they fell by that same 1-0 score once the final whistle sounded.

But Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko said other than the early miscue, the team played reasonably well for their first game of the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 1 season.

“It was our one mismatch of the game where we couldn’t get marked up properly,” said coach Bryan Mintenko of the early goal against. “From there, we got better marking and momentum back. We had quite a few chances on goalmouth scrambles, but just couldn’t get one in.”

This season, CSSE Impact was relegated to Division 1 from the Premier Division, one of three teams who dropped, and Mintenko says the Blaze will need to raise their level against those top squads throughout the year.

“They’re a very good passing team and controlled a lot of possession. There’s some very good teams coming down and we’ll have to step up our play against them,” he said. “We usually do against the top teams and we did today.”

After the early goal, the Impact had more chances to extend the lead, but were either robbed by Blaze goalkeeper Katie Ward or robbed by the crossbar.

Late in the first half, Jade Barrault of the Blaze had maybe the best chance of the night to score for Portage on a partial breakaway, but blasted a ball wide of the net, just missing the outstretched foot of Janelle Wojtowicz for the deflection.

Portage had more chances in the second half, especially in the waning moments, but they couldn’t capitalize on several scrambles in front of the Impact net.

Mintenko is hoping the team will be more potent offensively than they were last season and says despite being shutout in the opening game, the chances were there.

“We’re getting a little panicky in the offensive zone when we’re putting the ball in the penalty area,” he said. “We just need to take our time, find the open player, because we could've had two or three goals if we had just taken an extra second to look around.”

The Blaze will next take on the FC Northwest Titans next Wednesday in Winnipeg where Mintenko hopes his team’s conditioning will be a little bit closer to normal than it was for the opening game.

“We were a little winded at times chasing them around,” he said. “I think it will come. I saw some pretty good things today.”

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch 


BLAZE VS SC HURRICANES

June 1, 2014 – 04:00 PM

Blaze and Hurricanes Finish Even

Written by Dylan Donald on Sunday, 01 June 2014

The Portage Blaze were in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Division 1 action Sunday afternoon, and after dropping their first two games, they came through with a 1-1 tie with the South Central Hurricanes.

For the first forty-five minutes the two squads were quiet in the goal front, although with one minute remaining before the break Janelle Wojtowicz had a header that made it 1-0 for Portage. From there the Blaze shut down last seasons Division 2 champions, although with only five minutes remaining they'd score to notch it at one goal apiece.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko says even though it easily could've been their first victory it's still a step in the right direction.

"It's a positive step to get a point at least. We felt we had this one taken away from us though with the late goal. We just got a little flat footed there in the final few minutes and they caught us on a through ball."

He adds that as a team they're trying to get into a groove and they have an opportunity to do that next weekend.

"We have a tournament coming up, which will help with our team chemistry. We need to keep this going, pick up a win in the next couple of games and get back to an even record."

The Blaze will play Chicas (10 a.m.) and Remington's Snipers (1 p.m.) on Saturday at Republic Park.


 

BLAZE VS SC HURRICANES

June 1, 2014 – 04:00 PM

Blaze give up late goal, settle for draw

By Kevin Hirschfield, The Graphic

They were minutes away from their first win of the season, but a late goal given up by the Portage Blaze Sunday left them feeling a little bit sour following a 1-1 draw with the South Central Hurricanes.

Portage did pick up its first point of the season, and its first goal (from Janelle Wojtowicz), to move to 0-2-1 in Division 1 of the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League.

But the Blaze were looking for the three points and a late breakaway goal by the Hurricanes prevented that from happening.

“It’s a positive step to get a point. We felt we had it taken away from us with the late goal. We got flat-footed there in the final few minutes, it’s a little unfortunate.” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko.

The Hurricanes (1-1-2) moved up a division this season after finishing first in Division 2 in 2013.

After being shut out in their first two contests, Portage finally got on the board in the 44th minute when Wojtowicz headed in a cross from Jillian Enright. Mintenko said a windy day made things difficult for both sides.

“It was very tough to control the ball with the wind and it affected both teams equally,” noted the coach.

The coach made mention of a defensive play by Jenna Rapai that nearly saved the game for the Blaze, when she headed a shot off the goal line late in the game. Rapai worked hard at mid and centre fullback, said Mintenko, and the rest of the club followed suit and upped their game after two straight losses.

“The effort was much better than last week,” Mintenko said. “We were getting to the ball and winning challenges. It’s coming along and we’re definitely being more aggressive.”

Up next for the team is its annual home tournament June 7-8 at Republic of Manitobah Park, known as the Central Plains Cup. Portage opens at 10 a.m. Saturday against Chicas and then plays at 1 p.m. against Remington’s Snipers.

“That will help with chemistry and I think after it, we’ll pick up a few wins (in the regular season) and get back to an even record.”

The Blaze’s next regular season game goes Tuesday, June 10 when they visit Victorious Secret (2-0).

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch

—with files from Johnna Ruocco 


 

BLAZE VS HANOVER HYPE

August 10, 2014 – 04:00 PM

Blaze pick up First Win

Never did the Portage Blaze think it would take nearly three months to snag their first win of the 2014 Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 1 season.

But Sunday’s 2-0 Portage victory over Hanover Hype at Rotary Republic of Manitobah Park showed that there may still be some life left in the Blaze, who are battling to stay out of a relegation spot.

Portage moved to 1-10-2 with the win and moved to within six points of the Hype (3-9-2) for eighth place, a spot that the Blaze need to finish to keep them in Division 1 for next year.

The Blaze were the dominant team from the get-go, despite being without a win, and had a majority of the first-half chances, but were left without a goal as the teams went into the half scoreless.

Finally, at the 57th minute, Crystal Nichol drilled home a shot to open the scoring and put the Blaze in front. Portage kept the pressure on, while at the same time shutting down the Hype and holding them to virtually nothing, and added a second goal in the final moments of the game from Dany Comeau.

It was one of Portage’s highest-scoring efforts of the season, as they now have just seven goals in 13 regular season games.

And coach Bryan Mintenko said the mood around the team was different when it came to their offence, despite struggles all season.

“We got the sense that (the goal) was going to come,” he said. “We just felt more confident and that all we needed was one more good shot.”

The Blaze usually have close to a full bench, but only had two substitutes for Sunday. Turns out that wasn’t such a big problem after all.

“You’re more organized, so it can be good when we have just the two subs,” said Mintenko. “I was able to keep certain people in all game which was effective.”

Nichol, Comeau and Janelle Wojtowicz provided a bevy of chances for Portage up front using their speed and forcing Hanover defenders into tough situations.

Portage still has five games left, including two against the South End Shooters (3-7-2), who they also trail by just six points. The first meeting between the two goes Wednesday at Rotary Republic of Manitobah Park (7 p.m.)

“We have some confidence now and we can hopefully leapfrog them (and Hanover),” said Mintenko.

“We’ll keep fighting for points and hopefully we’ll stay alive here.”

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch 


BLAZE PREPARE FOR 2014 SEASON

May 7, 2014

The Portage Blaze women’s soccer club is preparing for the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League 2014 outdoor season which will see the team return to Division 1 following a 4th place finish last year.

The Blaze had some success last year with the third best goals against average in the division, and a second place finish at the Kenora Invitational Tournament, giving up only one goal in a 1-0 loss to Brandon Snipers. They suffered a tough loss in the semi-finals of the Central Plains Cup in Portage, losing 1-0 to Brandon Chaos to finish fourth.

In league play, the Blaze struggled offensively with the seventh worst goals for average, and that is something they are focusing on for this season.

Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko, returning for his 14th year with the club, mentioned that the offence needs to be better.

“We have a strong defensive core and solid goalkeeping, but our nemesis has been finding the back of the net. We are looking to bolster our offence this year, so we hope to find a couple of new players to give us an edge in the scoring department.”

 The Blaze roster will have a similar look to it this year with a mix of veteran players and new recruits.

Division 1 of the WWSL will include three rural teams this season; joining Portage will be Hanover Hype based out of Steinbach, and South Central Hurricanes based out of Winkler who were promoted following a Division Two championship last year. Mintenko, originally from Oakville, added that it is nice to see rural soccer developing so well.

“Years ago it was just Stonewall and us (Portage Blaze) in the league, but now we have eight rural based teams and three rural teams are in Div 1 near the top”.

The Blaze will once again host a women’s tournament on June 7-8 at Republic Park which sees rural based and Winnipeg based teams competing against one another. The Blaze will travel to the Kenora Invitational tournament on July 18-20.

The Blaze season will open at home on May 14 


BLAZE VS. HANOVER HYPE

May 26, 2013 – 04:00 PM

Blaze Draw with Hype

Portage Blaze midfielder Sarah Mansell was inches away from a four-goal game on Sunday afternoon.

But Mansell clanked two balls off the post in the game's final ten minutes and the Blaze played to a 3-3 draw with the Hanover Hype in WWSL Division 1 action at Republic of Manitobah Park. The Blaze are now 1-1-2 on the season.

Two Mansell shots did find the back of the net in the first half, however, as both teams scored three times in the first 45, making for a wild half.

"It is really an awesome game to watch," said coach Bryan Mintenko of the first half. But it's not one you want as a coach all the time."

The offensive production was a welcome sight to Mintenko, as the Blaze had been shut out in two consecutive games heading into Sunday.

"We could have had more too," said Mintenko. "It's nice to get our offence going. Some really nice shots from our midfield players and a couple breakaways that we couldn't get quality shots on, but at least we're getting the ball up to the forwards."

Oakville's Janelle Wojtowicz opened the scoring after an innocent looking shot from the left side snuck through the hands of the Hanover goaltender. The Hype would score two quick goals soon after, including one where Blaze goaltender Katie Ward bobbled a cross and the Hype were able to tap it into an open net, and took a 2-1 lead.

Mansell would score her first of two to tie the score before the Hype took the lead back after a ball deflected of the Blaze's Kim Cowan and in. Before the half was up, Mansell intercepted a goal kick and put in her second of the game.

After the crazy first half, things calmed down in the second.

"I thought we tightened up real well defensively," said Mintenko. "In the second half, I thought we marked up their main goal scorer and took her completely out of the game."

The Blaze are off from game action until June 5 when they play Victorious Secret at John Blumberg Park, and despite having gone winless in their last three, Mintenko says the Blaze can feel good about their performance going forward.

"We definitely worked hard enough to pick up a win here, but we'll take the tie," said Mintenko. "I think the players are feeling happy about their performance here."

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


 

BLAZE VS FCNW TITANS

July 3, 2013 – 07:30 PM

Blaze Stay Cool in 2-1 Win  

Fittingly, the Portage Blaze had no problems in the blazing heat Wednesday night.

The Blaze picked up a 2-1 win over the FC Northwest Titans in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Division 1 action in their first game in more than two weeks.

The win jumps the Blaze from eighth to fourth in the division and they now have a record of 3-2-3 on the season. It was their first game since June 16 and their first win since June 5, nearly a month to the day.

With the temperature close to 30 degrees all night, the Blaze got on the board early and held off the heat and the Titans to secure the three points.

Katie Ward scored on a header just five minutes into the game to give Portage a 1-0 lead that they would bring into the half.

Eight minutes into the second half, at the 53-minute mark, Meriel Bond pounced on a loose ball off a Sarah Mansell corner and put it top shelf for a 2-0 lead in what would turn out to be the game-winner.

The Titans cut the deficit to one in the 68th minute, but couldn't get the equalizer.

Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko said the good starts to each half were very important and proved to be the difference.

"We had good possession in the first 15 minutes and we were winning most of the balls," he said. "It was the same in the second half, we scored (eight) minutes in. In the middle of that half, we got a little disorganized, but in the last 15-20 minutes, we were able to get possession back and win the challenges and the other team was too deflated by then."

Mintenko said the game plan changed knowing that they would be playing in extreme heat.

"We didn't want to play a lot of long balls," he said. "We wanted to keep everything short and try to maintain possession. We figured we'd be tired and rusty right off the bat, and the added element of heat makes it brutal."

He also said players were substituted in and out more frequently thanks to the conditions.

"That's the good thing about our division, we have unlimited subs, so I was able to shuffle people in and out quite often."

The Blaze's first goal-scorer, Ward, is normally the team's goalkeeper, but has been playing out the last couple of games because of a wrist injury she suffered at the team's home tournament last month.

"She's very aggressive up front and she could have definitely had more goals, so we're very happy with how she's played," said Mintenko. "She's instilled some confidence in our offence."

Nicole Anderson filled in for Ward, and is expected to move back to defence as Ward should be ready to go in net for the Blaze's next game, Sunday at Republic Park against the 0-7-1 Pirates.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


BLAZE VS PIRATES

July 7, 2013 – 07:30 PM

Blaze Burned out in 1-1 draw

The Portage Blaze were expecting to pick up an easy three points on Sunday night at Republic of Manitobah Park.

Instead they were left wondering what went wrong after playing to a 1-1 tie with the Pirates, who are still without a win in Division 1 of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League (0-7-2).

The Blaze, meanwhile, picked up their fourth tie of the season (3-2-4) and have reached the halfway point of the season in fourth place in the 10-team division with 13 points.

"It feels like a loss," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko following the game. "We had lots of chances, but just couldn't finish. It's frustrating all around, but at least we picked up the tie."

The Blaze had the ball most of the game and looked like the better team that they are in the standings, but could only muster a handful of shots on the Pirates goalkeeper.

"We weren't aggressive in the penalty area," said Mintenko, on the lack of shots. "We were putting balls in there, but their keeper was coming out and picking up all the through balls. We were going right in the middle too much and I think we needed to get wider."

The first half was a prime example of that as the Blaze buzzed around the net, but had numerous shots go wide or get blocked.

In the 57th minute, with the game still knotted at zero, the Pirates opened the scoring on a header off a loose ball that Blaze goalkeeper Nicole Anderson couldn't control.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, they came to Portage with no subs, and when one of their players left the game due to an injury with about 25 minutes left, the Blaze had the 10-on-nine advantage the rest of the contest.

That is what they needed to finally strike as Meriel Bond took a pass from Jillian Enright and drilled a ball over the head and outstretched hands of the keeper and into the net for her fourth of the season.

Mintenko said there may have been some overconfidence from his girls heading into this one. The Blaze defeated the Pirates 4-1 May 5 in the teams' season opener.

"We played down to their level a little bit," he said. "We seemed a little tired and our energy level wasn't quite there at times. When teams play short (like the Pirates), sometimes they rally around each other and all work hard."

The team's normal goalkeeper Katie Ward was still not ready to return between the pipes and spent another game at forward. Mintenko says she will more than likely back to her position for the team's next game, July 17, against the Brunswick Sting at Republic of Manitobah Park.

Until then, the team has two practices in which Mintenko says they will work on crosses and getting the ball wide instead of sending it through the middle.

The game also marked the halfway point of the regular season for Portage. With just two losses, the team is happy in that aspect, but says the three wins are something they need to improve on.

"We're happy with only having two losses, but we need to pick up points and stop tying."

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


BLAZE VS BRUNSWICK STING

July 17, 2013 – 07:30 PM

Blaze Sting Brunswick 3-1 

It was one year ago when the Portage Blaze headed into a mid-July tournament in Kenora on a miserable note, falling 4-1 to the Brunswick Sting.

This time, they're off to the Lake of the Woods with a win following a 3-1 victory over those same Sting at Republic of Manitobah Park Wednesday.

Portage moves to 4-2-4 on the season in Division 1 of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League, and is fifth in the 10-team division.

"Everyone did well," said team captain Caitlin Pringle, who served as coach on the night with Bryan Mintenko away. "We were doing lots of passing and talking and we had a lot of breakaways and good shots. It's great to be going into the tournament on a winning note because everyone's hopes get up."

After 30 minutes of scoreless action, Val Desjardins of the Blaze opened the scoring, winning a one-on-one battle with a defender and chipping the ball past the Sting goaltender, who had come out to challenge her.

Another hard-working effort had Jade Barrault make it 2-0 for Portage in the 42nd minute, getting her initial shot blocked, but racing after the rebound and beating the keeper.

Brunswick would finally score in the 78th minute to make it tight, but Barrault used her speed in the 90th minute to clinch the game for Portage with her second of the night.

Portage also had goalkeeper Katie Ward back in her position, after spending more than a month playing up front due to a wrist injury.

"it was really good to see her back," said Pringle. "Her hand has healed up and she didn't back down from anything and played aggressive which was good to see too."

After last year's loss heading into Kenora, the Blaze went on to finish fourth at the tournament. This year, they feel they can do much better.

"We've done progressively better over the years," Pringle said. "We started going there just to have fun and now we're going there to win it. We definitely will be able to be one of the top contenders, typically we are, and we have a full roster going."

There will be 10 teams at this year's tournament, down from previous years, including Ontario teams as well as squads from Brandon and Minnedosa.

"It's always a tough tournament, because it's usually hot and there are lots of injuries, so we always make sure we have a full lineup."

The Blaze will resume their WWSL schedule on July 24 at home against Maniko.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


KENORA WRAP-UP

July 21, 2013

Blaze 2nd in Kenora Tournament

The Portage Blaze gave up one just goal in four games at a tournament in Kenora over the weekend.

Unfortunately for them, it was in the championship game against the Brandon Snipers and it would be the only one scored by either team in the final, as the Blaze settled for second after a 1-0 loss.

With just 26 minutes left to play, a Brandon forward blasted a shot from 25 yards out that went off the crossbar and in. It would be the only goal to beat Blaze keeper Katie Ward in the tournament, who was riding a three-game shutout streak heading into the final.

The tournament was a knockout format, meaning that every game was important. Portage opened their schedule Friday night with a 1-0 win over the Gold Diggers from Kenora. Sarah Mansell, with a hard shot that snuck through the keeper's hand, scored the only goal in the game, despite the Kenora squad getting 14 shots on net, compared to just a handful of chances for Portage.

The Blaze heated up on Saturday, beating the California Raisons of Winnipeg 4-0 to advance to the semifinals. Jill Fast, a guest player for Portage, had two goals while Jade Barrault and Janelle Wojtowicz each had one.

Portage needed some late-game heroics in the semi against Kenora United, where with just 42 seconds left, Adele Butcher fed Val Desjardins off a free kick for the only goal of the game.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said in an email the team was exhausted after that, and couldn't regroup for the final.

"The morning semifinal was a very physical battle, so the Blaze found themselves struggling to keep pace in the final."

The second-place showing is the highest the Blaze have ever finished in the 12 years that they have attended the tournament.

Portage is back in WWSL regular season action, looking to improve their 4-2-4 record against Maniko, Wednesday at Republic of Manitobah Park (7:30 p.m.).

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch 


BLAZE VS SHOOTERS

August 21, 2013 – 07:00 PM

Blaze Blanked again

The Portage Blaze shot themselves in the foot one too many times in the first half of their game Wednesday and the South End Shooters took advantage.

The second-place Shooters scored three times in the opening half en route to a 4-0 shutout of the Blaze in Winnipeg during Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Division 1 action.

It is the second straight 4-0 defeat for the Blaze (lost to first-place Rooster FC 4-0 Aug. 11), who sit in fourth spot with a 7-4-4 record.

Coach Bryan Mintenko said the first few minutes were good for his squad.

"The Blaze did start very well in the first five minutes with two great runs up the middle and two early shots to give the Blaze the early momentum," he said in an email.

Soon after, the Shooters would find the back of the net in the 15th and 17th minute and added another with a minute to go in the first half.

Mintenko was not impressed with the lack of energy from his team in the half.

"We were consistently beaten to the ball and we had a very tough time marking up," he said. "They completely outplayed us in the first half."

Goalkeeper Katie Ward was replaced by Caitlin Pringle in the second half in an attempt to change the momentum, said Mintenko. He said she did a good job when thrown on offence, creating a few chances.

"I think Katie lost some confidence after the first goal which she felt she should have stopped. I know she will work hard in net in our final three games to give us our best chance for a top-three finish," said Mintenko, who mentioned the team's best chance was a Danika Baker shot on a breakaway that missed just wide.

And the Blaze are not far back of third place, just a single point, but are also only two points up on sixth spot in a jam-packed upper half of the 10-team division. Portage hosts the seventh-place Heat FC in their next game, Aug. 28 at Republic of Manitobah Park (7 p.m.), which will also be their final home contest of the season.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch 

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BLAZE VS. HEAT

August 13, 2012 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze temper Heat 5-1
By Dan Falloon, Portage Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze ended their regular season with a bang.

The Blaze (5-5-4) pounded the Heat 5-1 in their Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division finale at Republic of Manitobah Park on Monday night.

Sarah Mansell had a pair of second-half goals to lead the team, while Jade Barrault, Val Desjardins and Caitlin Pringle also tallied for the Blaze.

"Unfortunately, we had to wait to the last game of the season to get our highest goal-scoring output of the season," said head coach Bryan Mintenko. "But it's nice to see to finish off the season."

Portage trailed 1-0 early on, but Barrault was sprung on a breakaway midway through the first half and made no mistake on her shot. Moments later, she set up the Desjardins marker and the side never looked back.

Desjardins felt the goal helped to entrench the Blaze as firmly in control of the contest.

"It was good," said Desjardins. "It put a spark in us to keep going and keep our energy up."

Portage will now participate in a playoff round for cash prizes beginning next Monday when they face league-leading Wolves United, which suffered its only loss at the Blaze's feet this season.

The lone home game for the Blaze will take place on Aug. 28 against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

For more, please see Tuesday's edition of the Portage Daily Graphic.

dan.falloon@sunmedia.ca


BLAZE 2013 OUTDOOR SEASON PREVIEW - Portage Online

April 22, 2013

Blaze Season approaching quickly

The Portage Blaze soccer club is just a couple weeks away from the start of their 2013 season.  Coach Bryan Mintenko says it's been a tough go of practices as they've only been only able to work out of a gym in Winnipeg.  He hopes to get the team on the field for a brief tryout session this weekend.  Mintenko notes so far they have roughly 25 interested in playing this year.

"We've had some of those players out at practices in Winnipeg.  We had a chance to look at some of the new recruits and hopefully we can get the roster down to 20, I would say by May 1st, because our first game is May 5th and I'd like to have a preseason game in there as well."

Mintenko is looking forward to seeing what the girls can do on an open field.  He says it's frustrating to have to work in a gym though they can still work on the basics like ball control and passing.  Due to the current situation of snow covered soccer pitches, Mintenko isn't too certain as to whether or not they'll hit the field for their home opener.

"The Winnipeg Soccer Complex does have artificial turf and it is clear.  So it is possible to have games there.  We may have some away games to start the season and then as soon as the snow is gone we'll be having our home games in Portage."

Mintenko notes during the indoor season they experienced a disturbing trend on the team.

"A lack of offense and we went some of those games without scoring a goal.  Some of those games we tied 0-0 so we still get a point out of those.  So that's a little disturbing trend we want to correct to start the outdoor season."

He's happy however to have 15 returning players to the Blaze.  Mintenko notes that gives him a great base to work as well as having room to bring on 5 new players.  Anyone interested in trying out for the team can click HERE for more information.


 

BLAZE 2013 OUTDOOR SEASON PREVIEW - Daily Graphic

April 25, 2013

Blaze fired up for Season

The Portage Blaze soccer team has been stuck in the middle for the last few years and is fired up to take the next step.

After improving in the standings and moving up a few divisions in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League since the team was formed, the Blaze have consistently finished fourth and fifth place in the ten-team Division 1 in recent years.

"Since we got into Division 1 a few years ago, we've levelled off," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "Over the years, we've been steadily moving up in the league and we've kind of levelled off finishing fourth or fifth. We'd like to be higher than that."

The Blaze will begin their season on May 5 with a certain goal in mind for the 2013 outdoor year.

"I'd like to finish in the top three in the division," said Mintenko.

The Blaze have been practicing for the last couple of weeks and are amping up their schedule with the weather improving and the season getting closer, as they have practices every second day until the beginning of the regular season.

"There's been a bit of a delay with the practices for sure," said Mintenko. "We've been practicing indoors, but we've been able to get outside a few times at John Blumberg. It's actually clear of snow becuase for whatever reason, that area didn't get any. Probably because of the wind there, the snow didn't accumulate."

He says preparation for the season has gone quite smooth and thinks the team will be ready for their opener.

"We've been able to get by here," said Mintenko. "It's been pretty tight, but I think we'll be ready for our first game and I think we might be more prepared than some of the other teams in our division."

Mintenko says he still has some spots available on the team having signed 14 players and being allowed 20 on the roster, which he plans to fill. The 14 players are all returning from last year's squad and for those interested, check out the team's website at portageblaze.com or contact Mintenko at 204-250-2166.

He says there are a few players who recently graduated from high school attending the next few practices and hopes that he can continue to fill his roster.

"I'm hoping to get a good look at them and see if we can add to our team," said Mintenko.

The team plays 18 games, nine in Portage, and will play their first three games on the road in Winnipeg at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex and at John Blumberg Field.

The team also competes in two tournaments, their home tournament in June and a Kenora tournament at the end of the year.

"I'd like to get a bit higher finishes in the tournaments that we go to as well," said Mintenko, setting some more goals for his team. "We won the Portage tournament in 2005, and we've had a lot of second place and third place finishes since then, so we want to try and win that tournament again."

Kenora's a very tough tournament and we've had some higher finishes there, some third place and some fourth-place finishes, but we've never made it to the final so that would be one of our goals."

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


 

BLAZE VS. PIRATES

May 5, 2013 – 08:00 PM

Blaze on Fire in WWSL Opener

The Portage Blaze got their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League season off to a blazing start Sunday.

The Blaze (1-0) upended the Pirates 4-1 in Division 1 action at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex to start their season on a winning note. Jillian Enright scored twice for the Blaze while Danika Baker and Meriel Bond added singles.

Enright’s first tally came 23 minutes into the game when Jade Barrault made a run down the left touch line and into the penalty area, passing the ball to a wide open Enright on the right side, who drilled the ball into the right corner to open the scoring.

Late in the first half, Baker burst up the middle to corral a loose ball, got past the last defender for a breakaway and beat the goaltender on the right side for what turned out to be the eventual game-winner. They quickly added to the lead when Caitlin Pringle placed a cross to the right side of the net and found a wide open Bond, who volleyed a shot into the right corner for a 3-0 lead at the half.

A mental lapse during a free kick opportunity gave the Pirates their only goal of the game, when they took a free kick before the Blaze defenders were set and a Pirates attacker went in alone beating goaltender Katie Ward.

But the Blaze fired back as Enright scored her second of the night just eight minutes later, chipping a 30-yard shot past the Pirates goalkeeper who had come off her line.

The Blaze are next in action on May 15, when they take on the Brunswick Sting at John Blumberg Park.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


 

BLAZE VS MANIKO

July 24, 2013 – 07:30 PM

Blaze extend unbeaten streak to 5 with win

The Portage Blaze continued their hot streak Wednesday night at Republic of Manitobah Park with a 2-1 win over Maniko.

Portage is now 5-2-4 in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's First Division, good for fifth place and are unbeaten in five straight regular season games.

They're also coming off a second-place showing at a tournament in Kenora last weekend and coach Bryan Mintenko says his team is playing as good as they have all year.

"They're really starting to come together," he said. "We had more possession in the second half and we had a majority of the chances. We're happy with the offensive output."

It was actually Maniko who struck first about 30 minutes into the first half, but the Blaze's Danika Baker put a high shot past the keeper late in the half to knot the game at one heading into the break.

With about 18 minutes to play, Sarah Mansell struck for what turned out to be the game-winner and the Blaze escaped with three points over the ninth-place Maniko team.

Mintenko attributes the bit of sloppiness to the team having played several games in the last week.

"Tonight, we were a little sloppy and lazy at times, but I think we were recovering from the tournament a bit and I think we'll be fine for next game," he said. "We almost let them off the hook. They had no substitutions and we really should have had better ball possession in the first half."

Portage's normal goalkeeper Katie Ward was playing up front again after suffering a hand injury in the Kenora tournament, where she injured two of her fingers in the semifinal. She ended up playing the tournament final, but the coach decided it was a good idea to keep her out of the net Wednesday.

"She played well at forward, though," said Mintenko. "I think she''l be back Sunday. She wanted to play tonight, but it was just too much pain."

Sunday will be a big test for the Blaze against the third-place Hanover Hype (6-3-3) in Steinbach, and the Portage squad can jump ahead of Hanover with a win. The two teams played to a 3-3 draw back in May during the Blaze's home opener.

"We're playing a fast team, so we have to keep the ball off their feet and I think we'll come in there with some confidence and should be able to get a good result," Mintenko said.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


BLAZE VS HANOVER HYPE

July 28, 2013 – 04:00 PM

Blaze move into 3rd with win

With six games remaining in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League season, the Portage Blaze have their sights set on promotion.

Sarah Mansell scored twice and the Blaze picked up a 3-0 win over Hanover Hype in Steinbach Sunday, moving into third place in the 10-team first division, three points back of second place. The top two teams in Division 1 at the end of the season earn promotion into the championship division next season.

Portage is now 3-0-2 in their last five games and move their overall record to 6-2-4 on the season.

Coach Bryan Mintenko said it was a solid defensive effort from his girls, which is nothing new as the Blaze have allowed just 16 goals against in 12 games this season, third fewest in the division.

"It was a solid defensive effort as Meriel Bond, Adele Butcher and Kim Cowan played the entire game in very hot conditions and completely shut down the Hype attack," said Mintenko. "Meriel Bond was given the task of marking the division's goal scoring leader, Hanover Hype's Julika Kehler, and Bond won the battle preventing Kehler from getting any quality shots on net."

It was Portage's leading scorer, Sarah Mansell, who potted the game's first goal in the 64th minute with a shot from 25 yards out that sailed over the Hype keeper's head and in. Mansell played a role in the Blaze's second goal just three minutes later, sending a corner kick into the penalty area where Val Desjardins headed a shot into the lower left side.

And Mansell added her second of the night and eighth of the year with 10 minutes to go, intercepting a goal kick and chipping a shot over the keeper.

Regular Portage keeper Katie Ward was still playing forward due to a sprained finger suffered at the team's tournament in Kenora and Nicole Anderson filled in, picking up the shutout in net.

The Blaze will face another tough opponent, Victorious Secret (6-3-2), in their next contest on Aug. 7 at Republic of Manitobah Park.

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch 


BLAZE VS VICTORIOUS SECRET

August 7, 2013 – 07:00 PM

Two 2nd half goals lead Blaze to victory

For the second straight game, the Portage Blaze came out on fire in the second half and picked up a victory.

Portage scored twice in the game's final 45 minutes, with goals from Sarah Mansell and Meriel Bond, to defeat Victorious Secret 2-0 at Republic of Manitobah Park Wedensday.

It came after the Blaze's last game against Hanover, when they broke a scoreless tie in the second half and scored three goals to pick up the three points.

"Sometimes we have a slow start," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "Today, we were a bit disorganized and we talked about better ball possession at the half. We started winning more challenges in the second half."

The win pushes the Blaze's unbeaten streak to seven (5-0-2) and improve their record to 7-2-4 on the year, good for third place in Division 1 of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League and three points back of second place.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said the last time the Blaze were this red-hot was back in 2005 when they won 10 straight games.

"I called it yesterday. I said I would like to pick up a 2-0 victory and that's what we ended up getting. It's nice to get the result and it was a strong defensive effort," Mintenko said. "We did a good job shutting down their speedy forwards."

Mintenko says two of his players used to play for Victorious Secret (6-4-3, fourth place) and they were able to give some tips about their old team.

"They kind of gave us the advice and the inside scoop to mark up their two big players," said Mintenko. "We were also told to take chip-shots, because their goalie doesn't handle them well."

And sure enough, that second piece of advice resulted in Portage's first goal around the 50th minute as the team's leading scorer, Mansell, let go of a long chipshot from the left side of the net that sailed over the keeper and in for her ninth of the year.

At around the 70th minute, Meriel Bond banged home a rebound for her fifth of the year to give Portage the insurance they needed. Katie Ward was back in net for Portage and picked up the shutout.

"It's nice to get some distance from some teams, so hopefully we can keep the streak going and try to go for second," he said.

The Blaze have a big contest coming Sunday evening in Winnipeg against the first-place and unbeaten Rooster FC (11-0-3).

"We're looking forward to the challenge," said Mintenko. "I would like to put up a good performance on Sunday. A win would be amazing and a tie would be a great result. We're going to try to put some pressure on their back defenders to see if we can pop one in and play defence for the most part."

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


BLAZE VS HEAT

August 28, 2013 – 07:00 PM

 

Scoring Struggles Continue for Blaze

The Portage Blaze's quest to finish in the top three of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's First Division has taken a hit thanks to, fittingly, three straight games without a goal.

Portage (7-4-5) couldn't find the back of the net again in a 0-0 draw with Heat FC at Republic of Manitobah Park Wednesday, the third consecutive contest they've shot blanks.

Mind you, those two previous games were against the top two teams in the league (Rooster FC, SE Shooters). Portage's opponent Wednesday was in the lower half of the league and even though the chances were there, the score still read zero at the end.

"Last practice, we worked on our ball-possession and passing and it was great today," Mintenko said. "We had loads of ball possession, probably 60-70 per cent and didn't give up many chances at all, maybe two shots on the night."

That all adds up to a lack of finish, and with two games to go in the season, Mintenko says it can't happen again.

"Obviously, in the next two games, we need to put the ball in the net," he said. "I'm not worried about our defence to hold them to zero like we did tonight, but we need to put the ball in."

The Blaze had some of their best chances midway through the first half, with Jenna Rapai coming close on several opportunities. As the sun set near the end of the second half and visibility became a concern, Portage had a couple more cracks at a goal with Janelle Wojtowicz and Dany Comeau barely missing shots from point-blank range.

Promotion is pretty much out of the question with Rooster and the Shooters having all but locked up the top two spots in the division. But Mintenko's goal for his team at the beginning of the season was to finish in the top three and that is still within reach as Portage sits just two points back of Victorious Secret.

"Strange things can happen down the stretch," he said. "Lower teams can knock off higher teams and anything can happen. I still think we can get third or fourth, hopefully third. I think in the next two games, we'll definitely work hard to finish around the net."

Portage's next game goes Sept. 3 against the FC Northwest Titans and the Blaze are focused on breaking their goose egg early and often in that one.

"Next game, we may push another forward up front and try to get that first goal," Mintenkos said. "We didn't give up much on defence tonight, so we'll concentrate on offence."

kevin.hirschfield@sunmedia.ca

twitter@pdghirsch


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

May 9, 2012 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze edged by Maniko 
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze were a little panicked in the first half of their Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division matchup with Maniko on Wednesday.

That ended up costing the Blaze in a 2-1 loss, as both Maniko goals came in the first half with the wind. In the second half, Sarah Mansell potted her second goal in as many games for the Blaze (1-1), but they couldn't find the equalizer.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said with a new Maniko scheme and an unfavourable wind, the opponent was able to make life difficult for the Blaze.

"We were very disorganized in the first half," said Mintenko. "Maniko had a lot of forwards up front and that confused us. We couldn't get our marking properly."

Maniko opened the scoring on a breakaway at the 14-minute mark, and then got the eventual winner late in the half on a tough play.

"Just before the end of the half, hey had a shot come in to our keeper (Katie Ward)," said Mintenko. "She collected the ball and then it fell out of her hands and fell right to one of their forwards for the second goal."

Mintenko felt his side was improved after the break, as the offence kept the Blaze from having to play much defence.

"We were a bit better organized in the second half. The wind did die down within the first 15 minutes," said Mintenko. "Maniko wasn't in our end for much of the second half — only a few chances.

"We definitely had more offence in the second half, but just couldn't get any quality shots on net. We had a couple of really close chances that just went wide and a couple of nice saves by their keeper."

Mansell's goal came with about eight minutes left on the clock, and a strike from just inside the penalty area set up by Janelle Wojtowicz.

The Blaze will resume action May 25 when the SE Shooters visit Republic of Manitobah Park. The Blaze defeated the Shooters in exhibition action already this year.

dan.falloon@sunmedia.ca


BLAZE VS. WOLVES

July 30, 2012 – 08:00 PM


Blaze blanked by Wolves
By Dan Falloon, Portage Daily Graphic


The Portage Blaze went home frustrated once again on Monday night.

The Blaze suffered their fourth shutout of the season against league-leading Wolves United in Winnipeg, this time falling 2-0.

Portage (4-5-4) has held to one goal or fewer in seven of 13 contests this season, which explains the team's struggle to move up the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division standings. The club's most successful game of the season, though, came against Wolves United (11-1) in the team's only loss of the season thus far — a 4-1 Portage win at home on June 15.

However, the Wolves were ready for Portage this time around, suffocating the attack and outshooting the Blaze by a ratio of approximately four-to-one, said coach Bryan Mintenko.

"It was 0-0 at halftime, then 10 minutes into the second half, they scored their first," said Mintenko. "With 10 minutes remaining they scored another one, kind of a goalmouth scramble.

"I would say they had 20 shots or so on the night and we only had about five. We just didn't have the ball possession and didn't have much of an attack."

Portage will play its last game of the regular season on Aug. 13 when the Heat visit Republic of Manitobah Park at 7 p.m. Portage will look to avenge a 2-1 loss at the Heat's hands on June 19.

For more, please see Tuesday's edition of the Portage Daily Graphic.

dan.falloon@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: PDGdfalloon


BLAZE INDOOR SEASON WRAP-UP

March 11, 2013 – 11:00 PM

Blaze close out Indoor Season on Hot Streak

The Portage Blaze women’s soccer club wrapped up the 2012/13 Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Indoor Season on March 11 with a come-from- behind 3-3 tie against Aftershock at the U of M Indoor Soccer Complex.

 With the tie, the Blaze finished with seven wins, seven ties and four losses, good for fifth place out of 10 teams in the WWSL’s 3rd Division.

 The tie marked the 11th straight game without a loss for the Blaze, who had six wins and five ties dating back to Dec. 17.

Not enough for playoffs

The strong second half of the season was not enough to put the Blaze into the top three however, as a slow start to the season cost them some valuable points.

 “We only had two wins by the midway point, and we had the most amount of ties in our division (seven), so turning some of those ties into wins would have put us in the top three,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko.

“That is something we will have to address for the 2013 outdoor season” he added. 

Positives

 The Blaze can take some positives out of the indoor season, noted Mintenko, as they went on a run of 11 straight undefeated games.

“We were the hottest team in the second half of the season, after a slow start to indoor.

“Our confidence level was high right to the finish. We were out working teams and having fun, so we need to carry that over to the outdoor season.”

 The Blaze will kick off the 2013 outdoor season on May 12, with tryouts being held in April. 

Mintenko will be back for his 13th season and he is hoping that 13 is a lucky number for the team this year.

“We finished 5th in Div. 1 last year, and we have sort of reached a plateau in recent years after steadily moving up through the league since the team was formed.

“Our last tournament win was in 2005, and we’ve had several top finishes since then, so we are due for another tournament win,” said Mintenko.

 More details regarding the tryout schedule will be provided in April with the Blaze roster being announced in early May. 

Twitter@TheDailyGraphic


BLAZE VS. ROOSTER FC

April 29, 2013 – 07:00 PM

Blaze play to exhibition draw

Kevin Hirschfield, The Graphic

The Blaze opened the scoring with just three minutes to go in the first half as Janelle Wojtowicz fired a shot into the right-hand corner of the goal on a breakaway after a pass from Val Desjardins. Portage added to their lead midway through the second half as Courtney Nichol converted a cross from Meriel Bond.

But the Blaze were working against a very strong wind in the second half, according to coach Bryan Mintenko, and Rooster FC fought back, cutting the deficit to 2-1 with 10 minutes remaining and evening the score with two minutes to go.

The Blaze confirmed their roster after the game with 16 players returning and four new bodies added to the team. Portage opens their WWSL Division 1 regular season schedule against the Pirates on May 5 in Winnipeg.


 

BLAZE VS. HANOVER HYPE

May 6, 2012 – 05:30 PM

 

Blaze overwhelm Hype in opener 
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze couldn't have gotten off to a much better start to their Winnipeg Women's Soccer League season.

The Blaze (1-0-0) defeated the Hanover Hype 2-0 at Republic of Manitobah Park on Sunday afternoon.

Team captain Caitlin Pringle scored the team's first goal of the season just eight minutes in, while Janelle Wojtowicz put the icing on the cake by converting short-side on the Hype goaltender in the second half.

Katie Ward stood tall in net to pitch the shutout.

Pringle was honoured to put home the Blaze's first goal of the regular season and the eventual game winner.

"Any time you get to score a goal, it feels good. You don't get a lot of chances to do it," said Pringle. "It was perfect. The wind helped me out, let it hang up a little bit.

"There were lots of good passes to it, so it was a good team effort."

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said he was impressed with the offence, as it generated several chances and put the pressure on the Hype. On the flip side, Ward wasn't tested often, but was sharp when needed as the defence was able to suffocate the Hanover charge.

"Only two went in, but you only need one or two to win," said Mintenko. "We didn't have to contend with too much on defence. There were a few dangerous chances, but we were able to push it outside and up the field."

As the Blaze struggled to score goals in the latter third of the 2011 season, Mintenko went into this year's season looking to upgrade the attack. Wojtowicz is a rookie who's paid immediate dividends on the scoresheet, while others have also contributed.

"Four of them (rookie players) are very good offensively," said Mintenko. "I could tell from the tryouts that we would have a bit better offence, so I signed those girls up.


"Janelle had a nice one, and she also scored in the preseason game. She works hard; so does Jade (Barrault) — all of our forwards and outside midfielders work really hard, and especially this game, we worked really hard."

For more, please see Monday's edition of the Portage Daily Graphic.

dan.falloon@sunmedia.ca

Click here for game photos


 

BLAZE VS. SE SHOOTERS

April 30, 2012 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze finish preseason undefeated

By Daily Graphic Staff

The Portage Blaze are set for the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League season after an undefeated exhibition schedule.

The Blaze completed the preseason with a 2-0 record after edging the SE Shooters 2-1 at John Blumberg Park on Monday.

Early in the game, the Blaze stood tall defensively as Katie Ward made numerous stops and Emily Wright negated a close call by clearing a ball off the goal line in the first half.

Rookie tryout Janelle Wojtowicz opened the scoring in the second half when an attempted cross bounced back in her direction and she buried the ball.

The Shooters tied the game with 12 minutes to go, as Jamie Routledge, who played in net for the second half, attempted to clear the ball, but it bounced off an offside forward and into the net.

However, the unfortunate result didn't stop the Blaze from gunning for the win as Danika Baker kicked home a Sarah Mansell rebound for the game winner.

The team's home opener will take place Sunday against the Hanover Hype at 5:30 p.m.


BLAZE VS. WOLVES

August 3, 2011 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze comeback thwarted by Wolves United
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze used a pair of quick strikes to get themselves back into their Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division game with Wolves United, but couldn't fully complete the comeback in a 3-2 loss.

Moments after Wolves United (9-4-0) struck for a 2-0 lead, Val Desjardins swept up to the left of the Wolves goal and blasted a shot high into the opposite corner right at the end of the first half.

Desjardins was thrilled to try to get her team back in the contest, especially stemming momentum that Wolves United was gaining.

"It was awesome," said Desjardins. "Just to give our team a boost and start the second half strong."

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said that Desjardins' goal gave the Blaze a lift.

"To respond like that is a good thing to see going into half," said Mintenko. "In the second half we were able to get some good control and possession and were able to get a couple of chances that just went wide. Otherwise we would have been able to win this one."

Portage (6-5-2) struck again quickly in the second half, as Thiaya Brazeau was sprung with a ball that she deposited to tie the game.

However, midway through the half, Wolves United was able to set up the winner past Blaze goalie Carrie Blanchard.

Mintenko pinned the early deficit on some scrambly play from the Blaze in their own end.

"We had a couple of really bad giveaways with put the ball back into the middle," said Mintenko. "It set it up for them. All they had to do was tee it up and put in those two goals.

"There were a couple of bad bounces that led to those giveaways."
  

However, after the Blaze got their legs, Mintenko felt that the team improved as the game progressed.

"We had good pressure, they had good pressure," said Mintenko. "It was a pretty heated game. There was some bickering back and forth and some yelling back and forth and a couple of yellow cards.

"It was a pretty hard-fought game."

Desjardins felt that the Blaze were better able to adapt to Wolves United's game plan as the game went on.

"We focused more on passing, being strong in the middle and shutting them down," said Desjardins. "They were forcing us to play really strong on one side, which kept a lot of gaps open for them to move in, so that was something that we had to adjust to."

It was the Blaze's second 3-2 loss of the year to Wolves United, and Mintenko hopes to be able to get another shot at them next season. The two losses are the difference between the two teams, as Wolves United boosted its third-place cushion to seven points over the fourth-place Blaze, who had the opportunity to move to within a single point.

"Hopefully we're all in the same division again next year and we'll be able to get some revenge against them," said Mintenko. "We match up well against them. We're right next to them in the standings, so it made for a good game."

The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Blaze, who will travel to Steinbach to face the Hanover Hype (4-7-1) on Wednesday. The teams tied 3-3 in their first meeting of the season.

"We gave up a couple of really bad goals in that game, too, and we came back to tie it in the second half," said Mintenko. "We'll want to come out more aggressive in the first half, get the first goal, and try to hold them defensively this time around."

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. SWEAT SHACK SPIRIT

July 27, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze upset Spirit
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze got a huge boost to their fortunes this week after a pair of major victories in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division action.

After holding off the PTSC Extreme 1-0 on Monday, the Blaze (6-4-2) upstaged that with a tidy 3-1 victory over the visiting Sweat Shack Spirit (10-2-1) at Republic of Manitobah Park on Wednesday.

Sarah Mansell got the Blaze on the board with a penalty-kick marker in the first half. Though Sweat Shack got the equalizer before the first 45 minutes were complete, Thiaya Brazeau found the back of the net twice in the second half to secure the win.

Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko was proud of his team in the pair of wins.

"It's a huge confidence-booster," said Mintenko. "We played really hard this week.

"We played well defensively, and we were able to get a bit more offence today."

The Blaze have played top teams well this year, finishing the season series against the Spirit at 1-1 while having tied the league-leading FCNW Starz in their only meeting.

"(The Spirit is) a strong team, and have had a lot of perseverance throughout the season. We've had injuries and we've bounced back, and we just fight hard right to the finish," said Mintenko. "It doesn't matter who it is, if it's the first-place team or second place."

Mansell said that it was key to get the first goal to dictate the game.

"We needed to come out and be on top right at the beginning," said Mansell. "From there, we just kept up the pressure and were marking very well."

Mintenko agreed, especially as Sweat Shack had no available substitutions.


"They were very tired by halftime, and we had a full bench," said Mintenko. "We just basically outworked them this game.

"In the second half, you could see they were very tired and not moving towards the ball at all. We were able to win more challenges in the second half and just outwork them."

Mintenko was impressed with Mansell's tally to put the Blaze ahead.

"A penalty kick is a pressure shot and she made it," said Mintenko. "That set the tone for the rest of the game."

As well, Mintenko was impressed with sniper Brazeau, knocking home a pair to keep her among the league leaders.

"She stepped up tonight and put two in — one on a very nice breakaway, a nice run, and another one she picked up a rebound and put home the insurance goal," said Mintenko.

Mansell, meanwhile, has been happy with the way that the offence has jelled in recent games this year.

"(We've had) a lot more passing. Thiaya's second goal of the night was good passing from Courtney (Nichol) and myself and she put it in," said Mansell. "If we can see more give-and-gos like that, we'll have more scoring opportunities."

The Spirit had captured the Blaze's home tournament earlier this season, so Wednesday's win was a measure of revenge for Portage.

With the win, the Blaze climbed to within a point of third-place Wolves United, who were also in action on Wednesday night. The two teams will face off in Portage's next action, a 7 p.m. game at Republic of Manitobah Park on Aug. 3.

Mansell said that the Blaze need to keep up their strong defensive play in order to be successful.

"We've been doing really well with marking defensively, and if we can keep that up, put a quick goal in at the start, then I think games are ours," said Mansell.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. PTSC EXTREME

July 25, 2011 – 08:00 PM

 

Blaze blank Extreme
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze had an opportunity to hop into sole possession of fourth place in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division on Monday night.

The Blaze (5-4-2) did just that, blanking the PTSC Extreme 1-0 in Winnipeg to leapfrog the Extreme.

Jill Fast knocked home the only goal of the game 12 minutes into play.

"Meriel Bond made a run down the left side, all the way down the touchline," said Mintenko. "She went all the way down to the goal line, cut in toward the goal, and just laid a nice little pass back to Jill Fast, who put a shot in from about eight yards out.

"It was a very nice play to get the first goal, and then from that point, we just focused on defence and held them off until the end."

Backup keeper Katie Ward stood tall to record the shutout in net. It wasn't easy, though, as the Extreme pushed for the equalizer in the latter 45 minutes.

"We spent a lot of the second half in our own end defending, and there were only a few times when we were able to know the ball down into their attacking area and get a couple of shots," said Mintenko."They kept pushing up their defenders up into the attack, so we had to be really sharp."

Ward came through in some breathtaking moments for the Blaze,

"She made some nice saves towards the end on a couple of corner kicks," said Mintenko. "They pushed up everybody into the penalty area, so there were some tense moments there, but she was able to smother the ball and kick it back out."

Mintenko said that the Blaze were thrilled to bounce back after getting drilled 4-1 by the Brunswick Sting at home last Wednesday.

"We're pretty happy with that, considering the game that we had last week, kind of a stinker," said Mintenko.


The Blaze also got a measure of revenge against the Extreme, who downed Portage 3-1 just 12 days ago.

"When we played them, we were just about to go off to Kenora, so I think we weren't quite focusing on that game. We were thinking about the tournament ahead and did not play a good game," said Mintenko.

Mintenko said that the Extreme were still fresh in the Blaze's minds when setting out the game plan.

"We knew who to mark up. We knew the strong players, and in today's game we were able to do that and put on a strong defensive performance," said Mintenko. "We were strong on the ball. We won possession of the ball at midfield."

Danika Baker returned from injury for the Blaze, while Fast and Sarah Mansell were bothered by nagging injuries, but aren't expected to miss time.

The Blaze will next see action on Wednesday night when the Sweat Shack Spirit visit Republic of Manitobah Park for a 7:30 p.m. game. The Spirit were 9-1-1 heading into Monday night's action with a league-high 36 goals for.

"Sweat Shack is another top team," said Mintenko. "Hopefully on Wednesday, we can get some revenge against Sweat Shack. They've had our number this year, so hopefully we can pick up a win or a tie."

The Spirit shut out Portage 4-0 in their first meeting in league play this season.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


KENORA TOURNAMENT WRAP-UP

July 19, 2011

 

Blaze bronze at Kenora tourney
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze recorded their best-ever finish at the annual Kenora Women's Soccer Tournament in Ontario over the weekend.

The Blaze scored on all four of their penalty kicks to knock off BA United in the third place game. Meriel Bond, Adele Butcher, Sarah Mansell and Jenn Herdman scored on their penalty kick attempts, while Mansell had the only goal of regulation time for the Blaze.

Coach Bryan Mintenko said that the team was proud of its showing.

"We were pretty excited about it. We were very happy with the way we played," said Mintenko. "We had a great round-robin and just lost the semifinal game 2-1.

"All the way through the tournament we played very well, considering the conditions were very hot."

The Blaze have attended the tournament for 11 years, so a high finish was a long time coming.

"We've been going to this tournament for many years and it's one of the toughest tournaments around," said Mintenko. "There's very good competition and it's very tough to make the playoffs."

Mintenko said that goalie Carrie Blanchard showed well in the face of United's top shooters.

"She was able to be a little intimidating in net, and one of their shooters missed the net and one put it off the post," said Mintenko.

As for the Blaze's own shooters, Mintenko said that he had a good idea of who to send out, as the team practices kicks throughout the season.

"I know which ones are clutch. It is very nerve-wracking," said Mintenko. "The first shooter to go up was Meriel, and she was very nervous, but I just told them to relax and place the shot — you don't have to hit it too hard, you just have to place it properly."


Mintenko said that the first three shooters kicked left, while Herdman placed hers to the right to keep the United goalie guessing.

The Blaze advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive year after posting a sparking 3-0 record in round-robin play, allowing just one goal in the three games.

Katie Ward and Herdman scored in the tournament-opening 2-1 win over Kenora Taggs, while Thiaya Brazeau notched a pair and Ward added a single in a 3-0 win over Minnedosa in Game 2. The Blaze wrapped the round-robin with a 2-0 win over the Snipers, getting goals from Jill Fast and Ashley Williams.

Once in the playoffs, the Blaze fell 2-1 to Victorious Secret in the A-side semifinal, with Bond getting a goal late to bring Portage close.

With only four goals allowed in the five games, Mintenko credited his defenders with solid play for the entire weekend, and not just in the Blaze zone.

"That's typical of our defence," said Mintenko. "At times, I even had the defenders jumping up into the attack. Ashley Williams, one of the defenders, scored a header in the third round-robin game."

Mintenko said that the heat played a factor in the way the weekend played out, but the Blaze were fortunate to have five substitutions on the bench — more than many of their opponents. While some players did develop some heatstroke symptoms. Mintenko said that the team took several precautions to try to avoid such conditions.

"We tried to stay in the shade between games," said Mintenko. "We had canopies at the field and umbrellas, and tried to get as much shade and water as possible.

"During the game itself, the heat was just unbearable. There was no cloud in the sky the entire weekend, so we had to do those things."

Mintenko added that fortunately, the games had only 30-minute halves as opposed to the regular 45.

"This tournament is like a survival of the fittest, and fortunately, we were one of the teams that was able to overcome some of the obstacles," said Mintenko.

The Blaze will be back in action on Wednesday night when the Brunswick Sting visit Republic of Manitobah Park for a 7:30 p.m. game.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. SNIPERS

July 6, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze take down Snipers
By Ron Thomson

A pair of goals in the final 12 minutes sealed victory for the Portage Blaze in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League play Wednesday night.

On the road facing the Snipers at Red River College, the Blaze took the match 4-2.

Portage got off to a quick start in the contest. Jill Fast volleyed in a free kick from Sarah Mansel to open the scoring 14 minutes in and spark Blaze offence.

Two minutes later, Courtney Nichol passed the ball to Thiaya Brazeau on the left wing. Brazeau beat a defender and put home a shot.

"At practice on Tuesday I told the team that I wanted to come out with a more aggressive start," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "The two previous games we've been laying back too much and letting the opposition control the play and have more possession."

After the early Blaze goals the Snipers got back into the game.

"It was a very hot night. Both teams were affected by the heat and we couldn't maintain the pace we started out with," Mintenko said. "It slowed down a bit and that allowed the other team to gain momentum and they were able to get two goals before the half to tie it up."

A Portage giveaway just outside the penalty area allowed a Snipers forward to chip in a shot with 17 minutes remaining in the half.

With 11 minutes remaining, Portage keeper Carrie Blanchard was unable to corral a loose ball in the penalty area and a Snipers forward tapped it in to even score 2-2 at the half.

"All of our scoring came in the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes, so we kind of laid back in between there," Mintenko said.

In the second half, the Blaze gathered the momentum back.


"The momentum was starting to come back on our side and we were able to get a few more chances as the half went on," Mintenko said. "With 15 minutes to go, we really started to pour it on and we realized that this is a team that we should be doing better against."

With 12 minutes remaining, Mansell took control with on a long run down the right touch line. Mansell took the ball all the way to the goal-line and chipped in a shot from almost at the goal-line.

"It was the perfect shot," Mintenko said. "That was a pretty nice shot. A nice way to get a game-winner."

With just seven minutes remaining, Brazeau made a similar run down the right side and chipped in a shot along the goal-line. The ball went off the keeper's hands and fell to forward Katie Ward who knocked it in for the insurance marker.

The Blaze, 4-2-2, have won their last two and sit in fourth place in Division 1. Up next, the Blaze take on the sixth-place PTSC Extreme on Wednesday in Portage at Republic of Manitobah Park.

"We're hoping to keep this winning streak we have going," Mintenko said.

"I'd like to start the game similar to what we did against the Snipers. Be more aggressive, try to get the quick goal and this time hold the lead and not let the other team gain some momentum."

rthomson@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

June 27, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze on right end of wild finish
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze were on the victorious end of a wild finish in Winnipeg on Monday night.

The Blaze (3-2-2) scored both of their goals in the last 10 minutes to secure a 2-1 comeback victory over Maniko in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division action.

After allowing the first goal of the game with just 15 minutes to play, Kathy Stewart evened the game in the 82nd minute before Cassandra Camden notched the winner in the 88th minute.

Stewart's goal came on a Meriel Bond rebound set up by Courtney Nichol, while Camden's marker came off of a Maniko turnover.

Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko said that Maniko (0-6-1) held the majority of the play before tallying their goal.

"Getting scored on kind of woke them up," said Mintenko. "Throughout the game, we were letting our opponents control much of the play and letting them have most of the ball posession.

"I think our team realized that this was a team that we should not be losing to, so they poured on the pressure after that."

Stewart, who played for the Blaze last year, was in her first game with the team this season as she rejoined the team after a laundry list of injuries to Blaze players.

"She had a great game," said Mintenko. "She said that she was a little out of shape, but I didn't notice that. I thought she played really well.

"She hustled all game, won challenges at midfield and had some nice runs on the wing."

In Blaze injury news, Tiffany Holmes returned to the lineup from a torn ACL on Monday, while Ashley Williams (hamstring) is expected to return to the lineup on July 6.


Mintenko said that Holmes isn't quite up to full game speed yet, but expects her to regain her touch over the next several games.

"It was her first game back, so she played most of the game — we only had one sub," said Mintenko. "Throughout the course of the game, her touch on the ball was getting a bit better, and I think over the next couple of games, she should be back into proper form and she should get used to her (knee) brace and run a little bit faster."

Meanwhile, captain Caitlin Pringle (torn MCL) began rehab this week, and is healing well, though a return date is not yet known. Mintenko hopes to see Pringle back sometime in August. Danika Baker (broken collarbone) will be sidelined at least three more weeks, and Heidi Robinson (broken fibula) is out for the season.

"It's been a tough start to the season losing our captain three games into the season," said Mintenko. "We've had some bad luck with injuries, so hopefully that's the end of it and our players will come back soon.

"Hopefully we'll stay healthy for the rest of the season."

The Blaze are currently fifth in the 10-team league with 11 points.

Their next action will come against the Snipers in Winnipeg on July 6.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. FCNW STARZ

June 22, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze earn draw against top team
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze got a major confidence boost on Wednesday night after playing the league-leading FCNW Starz to a draw at Republic of Manitobah Park.

The Blaze (2-2-2) opened the scoring on a Meriel Bond strike with just a minute remaining in the first half. Bond's tally on a feed from Sarah Mansell is just the second goal that the Starz (6-0-1) have allowed this season.

Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said that scoring going right into halftime provided a huge lift for the beleaguered Blaze.

"We had a lot of shots against us in the first half, and we just knew that if we could keep them off the board and stay strong defensively that we could pick up a goal or two and win this thing," said Mintenko.

FCNW responded early in the second half when a ball stopped short of Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard and a Starz forward knocked it home.

Blanchard stopped a plethora of other opportunities over the course of the game, including a jumping save on a heavy shot in the second half to keep the game even.

"I felt like I had a good game. It's probably one of my best this season so far," said Blanchard. "It was kind of a downer to let that one goal it, but I let it slide.

"I felt really on my game tonight, doing well and had everything covered."

FCNW played much of the game in the Portage end, and head coach Bryan Mintenko credited Blanchard's performance as a cornerstone of the draw.

"They're a very good ball-control team. They had the majority of the possession on the night," said Mintenko. "Carrie had to be very sharp, and she was — turned aside a lot of shots.

"We were fortunate enough to goal a goal in the first half on our third shot."


Blanchard said that her defenders were doing plenty of things right to help her out.

"(They were) sticking tight to their players, clearing the ball out, hustling," said Blanchard. "The Starz are a fast team, and they were keeping up with them, keeping pace."

Mintenko noted that the Starz have bombed other teams by huge margins this season, so to keep the FCNW offence in check should be a confidence boost.

"We can build from this," said Mintenko. "We're right there in the middle, in striking distance of the top spots, so it's kind of where we want to be at this point in the season.

"Hopefully we can give this team another good challenge next time and maybe pick up a win."

Blanchard said that the result should serve the Blaze well going forward.

"Our record's not too bad right now," said Blanchard. "Now that we know that we can keep up with the top team in the league, that's definitely a confidence booster, for sure."

Portage will next see action on Monday when it faces Maniko in Winnipeg. The Blaze defeated Maniko 6-0 back on May 27.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE VS. HANOVER HYPE

June 12, 2011 – 05:00 PM

 

Blaze battle back to draw Hype
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze came back from two goals down to earn a draw with the Hanover Hype in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League action on Sunday afternoon.

The Blaze (2-2-1) struggled in the first half, allowing a trio of tallies en route to digging a 3-1 halftime hole. Sarah Mansell scored for the Blaze midway through the first to bring Portage to within 2-1 before Hanover stuck again.

The Blaze came out stronger in the second half, getting markers from Thiaya Brazeau and Meriel Bond to come away with the draw.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said the Blaze's comeback all started with a tightening up in the defensive zone.

"At halftime, we talked about how we needed to be much better defensively," said Mintenko. "Giving up two goals on through balls — we should have been able to defend those.

"I was looking for a much better effort in the second half and the players agreed."

Buoyed by sturdy defensive play, Mintenko said that the Blaze were able to increase their aggressiveness to notch the tying pair.

"We pressured them a lot more in the second half, were able to win a lot more challenges in the middle," said Mintenko. "That's where we won the game was in the middle.

"We were able to generate some offence that way and pick up a couple of late goals to tie it up."

Assistant captain Terri Mauws, a defender, said that the team clamped down defensively after the tough first half.

"We realized we were down and we started to mark up better," said Mauws. "We got a better system on defence where we stayed with our man instead of letting them go shoot and score.


"We changed some little things at the back end."

Mauws said that being able to come away with a point in such a way should help to boost the Blaze's confidence.

"It's good for us," said Mauws. "It would be nicer to start three up, though.

"It's nice to know that we have the ability to come back and get our second wind even when we lose some subs because of injuries."

Mintenko agreed.

"I think we'll be able to build from this," said Mintenko. "It's always nice to come back, especially being down two goals.

"We've always been a good finishing team. In the last 20 minutes or so, we've always been able to pull it ou of the fire, so it was nice to be able to get two here.

"We'll definitely use this more the rest of the season."

Mintenko admitted that the Blaze seemed to take a win against the 0-3-1 Hype for granted early in the matchup.

"We kind of took them a little lightly there in the first half," said Mintenko. "We let them in, laid off, and let them come way too deep into our own end.

"We had to get a couple of wakeup calls to come out in the second half with a better effort and start pressuring them a little bit."

The Blaze will next travel to Winnipeg to face the SE Shooters (2-1) on Wednesday night.

There are aspects of the game that Mintenko wants to see improved going forward.

"We're still a little bit disorganized in the midfield. Some of our touches still seem a little off," said Mintenko. "We need to get a little better ball control in the backfield.

"I'm happy with the way our offence responded, so next game we'll try to get off to a start like that instead of finishing like that."

Mauws wants to see the Blaze play the game like they did in the second half, employing a style that puts more pressure on the opponent.

"We're going to have to be more aggressive," said Mauws. "We're usually a fairly aggressive team and I think we kind of sat back this game."


BLAZE VS. WOLVES

June 8, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze edged by Wolves
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze fell back to .500 with a loss to Wolves United in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League action on Wednesday night.

The Blaze (2-2) played the game shorthanded, having just a single sub in the first half, but came into halftime with a 1-0 lead on a goal from Cassandra Camden. Keeper Katie Ward set up the play, punting the ball to set up a Camden breakaway. Jill Fast tried to extend the lead before the half was out, but was foiled by the crossbar.

However, Wolves United notched three consecutive goals on an exhausted Blaze defence corps to take the lead.

Meriel Bond brought the Blaze to within one with four minutes to go after picking off the Wolves' goal kick, but Portage was unable to muster the equalizer before time ran out.

The Blaze will look to stay above the break-even mark when the Hanover Hype visit Republic Park for a 5 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


PORTAGE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

 

Blaze set to host home tournament
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze are looking forward to the 16-team Central Plains Cup, slated for this weekend at Republic of Manitobah Park.

The Blaze will face the Sweat Shack Spirit — who came away with a 4-0 win when the teams met on Monday — to open the tournament on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Portage will then take to the field shortly afterwards to face the Brandon Outlaws at 1 p.m.

Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko expects to handle the quick turnaround well, as he's expecting 18 players to suit up this weekend.

"We'll have lots of subs on the bench," said Mintenko. "In that second game of the day, I'll look down the bench and see who's still in good shape for the day and play them a little bit more to try to get around the fatigue factor."

Portage will wrap up the tournament on Sunday against the T-Devils at 11:15 a.m.

Mintenko said that first-year Blaze player Cassandra Camden, formerly of the Outlaws, told him that the team is in the 'middle of the pack' of the Brandon league. However, he said that Portage can't take the team lightly, especially since it's a new opponent.

As for the T-Devils, it's been a couple of years since the teams have met as the T-Devils were relegated to second division. However, Mintenko said that the team has shuffled its roster and may be primed for a rise again.

"Even though they're in a lower division, they could pull off an upset, so we'll have to watch out," said Mintenko.

The top two teams in each pool qualify for the playoff round, with the top teams making the A-side playoffs, and the second-place teams taking part in the B-side place.

"The first game of the tournament is key," said Mintenko. "Basically, the winner of that game will most likely get first place in the pool."

The Blaze will have to play without captain Caitlin Pringle, who suffered a second-degree MCL tear in Winnipeg on Monday. She'll be reevaluated next week, Mintenko expects Pringle to miss about two months of play.


The tournament will give the team an opportunity to learn how to play without one of its top players.

"I'm going to have to move some people around. We might have to have a different system this weekend and just try to adjust for her loss at the centre-midfield position," said Mintenko.

Last year, the Blaze finished first in the round-robin before losing 2-0 to eventual champion Rooster in the semifinal. Rooster will not be back as they have been promoted to premier, but the runners-up Southeast Shooters will return.

Portage won the tournament in 2005, beating Southside FC in the final, and have also finished second twice, most recently in 2009.


BLAZE VS. SWEAT SHACK SPIRIT

May 30, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze handed first loss
By Dan Falloon
Portage Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze saw their unbeaten start extinguished on a drizzly Winnipeg night on Monday.

The Blaze (2-1-0) allowed four Sweat Shack Spirit goals in the final 25 minutes of play to fall 4-0 in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League first division action.

Coach Bryan Mintenko said that the Blaze looked to get off to a good start, finding the net 10 minutes in, but the goal was called back on a close offside call.

"The first 20 minutes or so was even," said Mintenko. "It looked like we were going to have some early momentum but (the goal) was called back.

Team captain Caitlin Pringle, a centre-midfielder, left the game with an injury and will be evaluated later in the week.

"It may be a ligament tear in her knee, but we're hoping it's not that serious," said Mintenko.

Mintenko said that the loss of Pringle was a big one, changing the course of the game.

"From that point on, we didn't have much ball possession at midfield, so slowly from that point on, the Sweat Shack Spirit started to get more chances," said Mintenko. "They were able to get quite a few shots off."

In addition to the four second-half goals, Mintenko said that Sweat Shack also hit the goal post three times.

"The field was in horrible shape, but they seemed to adjust to it a bit better," said Mintenko. "The grass was really long, which makes for a bad touch on the ball. When you try to pass a ball, the grass just stops it completely."

Mintenko said that the game was a learning experience for his defenders, who started to run out of gas in the face of the Spirit attack.


"They definitely saw what kind of level we need to play at," said Mintenko. "They (Sweat Shack) were moving the ball around really well, playing it back to their defenders. Their midfield players were always in the right spot. They were playing it out to the wing will.

"Our defence actually played a very good game, with Kim Cowan and Jill Fast at stopper. They were all over the place. Our outside defenders were always chasing down their wingers.

"It was just an onslaught that they had to contend with."

The Blaze will have a chance to get revenge on the Spirit when they meet at the Blaze's home tournament at Republic Park on Saturday.

Portage will continue WWSL action on June 8 when they again travel to Winnipeg to face Wolves United at Red River College.


BLAZE VS BRUNSWICK STING

May 18, 2011 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze take opener
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze were looking to boost their offence in the 2011 campaign.

If their season opener was any indication, they're off to an encouraging start to their Winnipeg Women's Soccer League schedule.

The Blaze (1-0) blitzed the Brunswick Sting for a trio of unanswered tallies in a 3-1 win at John Blumberg Park in Headingley on Wednesday night.

The Sting opened the scoring with a chip shot over keeper Carrie Blanchard, but rookie forward Heidi Robinson responded with a similar goal just two minutes later to knot the game.

Portage took the lead in the second half on a Sarah Mansell header, which was set up by Tanis Mauws in the 60th minute. The Blaze added some insurance five minutes later when rookie Courtney Nichol set up a Meriel Bond strike.

Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko said that the win was a great way to start the season.

"It was a good start," said Mintenko. "We pretty much controlled the play. The Brunswick Sting were only in our half maybe 10 times over the course of the game.

"They only had shots from outside the penalty area."

Offensively, Mintenko wanted to try some new tactics this season to generate offence, and was able to do that, especially in the second half.

"In the second half, especially, we used the wing more and we were able to get more shots and a few more crosses towards the net," said Mintenko. "We've been working on finishing around the goal. We've been working on heading the ball and the game-winner was on a header from Sarah Mansell.

"It's good that things that we've been working on in practice are helping out in the games."


Mintenko said that the team remained calm after allowing the first goal, as they had confidence as they'd played strongly up until that point.

"We had the majority of the offence, so we knew it was only a matter of time," said Mintenko. "As it turned out, only two minutes later, we were able to tie it up."

In addition to the rookies who hit the scoresheet, Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko was also happy with the play of Val Desjardins and Cassandra Camden in their respective debuts, as both achieved some shots on goal.

"Already, the rookies are benefitting the club," said Mintenko. "It's nice to have the rookies helping out already."

Mintenko said that the rookies looked better than in practice and in the team's one exhibition game, which is encouraging for games to come.

"We had a little bit more ball control and some better passing from our rookies. They started to get better, and so did our veterans," said Mintenko.

The Blaze will first see home action on May 27 when they host Maniko at Republic Park at 7:30 p.m.

sports@cpheraldleader.com


BLAZE SEASON REVIEW

May 12, 2011

 

Blaze look to boost attack
By Dan Falloon

The Portage Blaze weren't exactly setting opponents' nets ablaze last season.

The Blaze scored a league-low 24 goals en route to posting a 3-7-6 record in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's first division in 2010, and head coach Bryan Mintenko said that igniting the attack is a top priority for 2011.

"Last year, our team had some problems scoring goals, so that's something I want to fix for this year," said Mintenko. "I would like our team to be a bit more aggressive and try to get the first goal."

Mintenko hopes that a quick attack will be able to catch teams off-guard this season.

"We do have some speedy forwards, and some speed on the wings, too, so I'm hoping to take advantage of that," said Mintenko. "(We want to) push the ball deep into the attacking zone and get the ball deep into the attacking area."

The Blaze opened the preseason with a 1-0 win over the SE Shooters in Winnipeg on Monday, with Caitlin Pringle notching the game's only goal in the first half. Even with just the one goal, Mintenko saw signs of an offensive breakout.

"We had a couple of breakaways last night that were turned aside because of a poor field," said Mintenko. "There were a couple of through balls that hit a puddle."

Carrie Blanchard and Katie Ward shared the shutout in goal.

The Blaze will open their season on May 18 against the Brunswick Sting in Winnipeg before kicking off their home slate on May 27 against Maniko at Republic Park.

Mintenko plans to use the home field to the Blaze's benefit. He estimated that the fields at Republic Park are approximately 15 yards wider and 10 yards longer than many others found in the league, and he hopes to make the most of that space this season.

"The teams that come out from Winnipeg aren't used to such a big field," said Mintenko. "They don't realize that you can put the ball very wide and try to get around their defenders on the wide side of the field."

Defensively, the Blaze allowed just 31 goals, the fourth-fewest in the nine team league.

"Our team has always been strong defensively, and I expect that to continue this year," said Mintenko.

In terms of the roster, the Blaze have 15 returning players, and Mintenko said that to have so many returnees bodes well.

"A lot of them are long-serving members of the team," said Mintenko. "It's good to have the veteran leadership and the team chemistry.

"Hopefully that will help us out with the new additions that we've made, we'll be able to start out the season well with some good team cohesion."

Midfielder Pringle, an eight-year veteran of the club, was voted by players to be the team's captain for this season. Mintenko agreed with the players' choice.

"She provides a lot of leadership on the field. She plays in a centre-midfield position, which is kind of like the quarterback of the team for soccer," said Mintenko. "You're organizing the players on the field and organizing the set plays — free kicks and that sort of thing."

Mintenko added that Pringle provides a boost to the team's morale with a positive attitude, be it during a game, during warmups, or during practice.


BLAZE VS SSC UNITED

August 29, 2010 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze Finish On A High Note
Written by Jeff Dyck

The Portage Blaze finally played they way they wanted to all year, earning a win in their season finale. The Portage Blaze ended their 2010 season in style last night. Playing host to SSC United, the Blaze got in a hole early. The visitors put one past reserve keeper Caitlin Pringle and held a 1-0 lead at half-time.

The Blaze came out flying in the second half though and just minutes in, United was called for a hand-ball in the box, giving Portage a penalty kick. Chelsea Herdman stepped up and buried the goal, tying things at 1-1.

Four minutes later, the Blaze got something that's eluded most of this season, a lucky break. Thiaya Brazeau burst into the zone but lost control of the ball in the box. The United defender tried to clear it but her kick went off of Brazeau's knee and into the back of the net, giving Portage the 2-1 edge.

United stormed back, looking for the equalizer as the light began to fade. Pringle made several big saves in the dying minutes, keeping the Blaze on top.

Portage got their insurance marker with just seconds left. Off of a corner-kick clear, Brazeau beat the defenders deep in her own zone and sprinted 80 yards on a breakaway, finishing with a beautiful fake on the SSC keeper and her second goal of the game.

The clock ran out on United as Portage walked out of Republic Park with the 3-1 victory. Coach Bryan Mintenko says after a season of disappointment, it was a great finish.

The Blaze finish the 2010 season with a record of 3-7-6 in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League . The win also guaranteed Portage will stay in the First Division and avoid relegation for next season.

Check out the highlights from yesterday's game!

HIGHLIGHTS




BLAZE vs SE SHOOTERS

June 13, 2010 – 07:00 PM

 

Portage On-Line

The Portage Blaze put together a great comeback effort last night.

Playing host to the SE Shooters in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League First Division , Portage fell behind 1-0 before a Jill Fast chip shot went in off a Shooters defender, evening things at 1-1.

The second half saw the Shooters jump out to 3-1 lead and it looked like things were going towards a loss for Portage. Thiaya Brazeau lit a fire under her team though. The winger notched a quick response goal, cutting the lead to one. A few minutes later, she went in on a breakaway before being taken down in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. Sarah Mansell stepped up to take it and picked the corner, tying things at 3-3.

That would be the final as Portage's record goes to 1-2-2.

Next up for the Blaze is a meeting with the Titans on June 25th at Blumberg Park in Headingley.


PORTAGE BLAZE TOURNAMENT WRAP-UP

June 7, 2010

 

Blaze fare well as tourney hosts Blaze fare well as tourney hosts
By Eric Mackenzie
The Daily Graphic
  
The only two goals the Portage Blaze allowed in the Central Plains Challenge Cup were costly, holding the women's soccer team back from a second-straight championship final appearance in the event.

Rooster F.C. knocked off the Blaze 2-0 in Sunday's A-side semifinal at Republic of Manitobah Park, though the Portage crew came away from the tournament feeling good about the way it played.

"We did pretty well, I think, all tournament. We only surrendered the two goals for the entire tournament in this game, so it was pretty close," said captain Adele Butcher following the loss. "Certainly, leading up to this game, we had a lot of good team play."

Going back to last week's regular season win over the Brunswick Sting, the Blaze hadn't allowed a goal in four straight games before meeting Rooster, whom they'll play again in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League play on Wednesday.


BLAZE vs SNIPERS

May 19, 2010 – 07:30 PM

 

Portage On-Line


It was a beautiful day for soccer yesterday.

The Portage Blaze made the trip to Headingley to face the Snipers at John Blumberg Park.

It was the visitors from Portage who opened the scoring. Sarah Mansell scored the first of the year for the Blaze, giving them the early lead. Before the first half was over, the Snipers responded, making it a 1-1 tie at the half.

The Blaze came out flat and surrendered an early goal in the second half. Battling back from the 2-1 deficit, the Blaze poured on the pressure, getting several quality chances on the Snipers net.

Finally, midway through the half, Meriel Bond knocked home a rebound, knotting things at 2-2. Both teams had several more shots but both keepers were equal to the task, ending the game in a draw.

Click on the Portage On-line link below to view highlights and post game interviews.


BLAZE VS CCC UNITED

December 19, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Portage Blaze unbeaten in last four contests
Posted By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team shook off their offensive woes on Saturday while extending its' unbeaten streak to four games.

The Blaze, who had gone through the first six contests of the season without posting more than two goals in a game, exploded for four in the first half against the Chilean Community Centre United en route to a 5-0 win at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex.

"We definitely got the offence going," said head coach Bryan Mintenko. "We came out with a little more pep than the last couple games, and went to the net pretty hard looking for rebounds.

"We had a lot of accurate shots on net...and that produced a lot of rebounds that we were able to clean up on, and we had some pretty nice passing plays as well. They had a pretty slow defence, so we were able to move the ball around to open space."

Daily Graphic Sports


BLAZE VS MANIKO

August 23, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze end season on high note
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team wrapped up their season in style, coming through with their largest offensive output of the summer on Sunday at Republic of Manitobah Park.

The Blaze took advantage of a depleted Maniko squad en route to a 6-1 win, as the visitors were never able to field more than 10 players at a time.

Chelsea Herdman led the offensive charge with two goals, while Laura Stewart, Jillian Enright, Dany Comeau and Thiaya Brazeau added single tallies.

"It was a nice way to finish off the season, with a big win," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "They were a little short-handed...they have some injuries. We were able to, obviously, take advantage of that. We pushed another forward up, and generated a lot of offence.

"In the second half, I was able to have some fun with it and move some people around. I put Dany up front, who's normally a defender, and she scored her first goal ever in her soccer career, so she was excited about that. It was nice to do those type of things."

At the opening whistle, Maniko had just eight players on the field, and the Blaze made them pay for the shortage before the game was a minute old with Enright putting a shot through goalkeeper Genevieve Huberdeau's hands.

Jill Fast nearly made it a two goal game 10 minutes later when she caught the crossbar from 30 yards out, but Laura Stewart wouldn't be denied on a long chance of her own midway through the half, scoring from five yards outside the box. Just before the half was out, Herdman deposited her first of the night after the recently returned Sarah Mansell worked the ball in front.

Herdman tallied again around the 65th minute, as a pass across the goal mouth from Brazeau eluded Huberdeau. Maniko broke up the Blaze goal-keeper Carrie Blanchard's shutout bid moments later on a nice play in front, but Portage responded just two minutes later. Comeau got free in the left side of the box, and lobbed one over top of Huberdeau to make it 5-1.

Brazeau then capped off the scoring in the final minutes, hammering one to the back of the net from close range with Maniko down to just nine players. "It was definitely an advantage on a bigger field, to have more subs when they had none" said Fast. "We just outplayed them, too, even though they had no subs".

It wasn't such a fun finish to the year for Ruth Stewart, who suffered a hip injury on a challenge early in the first half, and had to be helped off the field.

With the win, Portage's record ended at 8-6-4 for the year, good enough for a 4th place finish in the WWSL 1st Division. Considering the Blaze set a pre-season goal to finish in the top five for their first year in the division, Fast said the summer was a success.

"Our first year in 2nd Division, it was a struggle just to stay in the division" she said. "We did pretty well here for a first year...we improved this year too. We had a rough start to the year with all the injuries, and I'm sure we'll be better next year".

The Blaze were undefeated in the final five games to crack the top five, and Mintenko was thrilled with the finish. "It's a big jump in skill level from 2nd division to First" he said. "For next year, I think we'll push for a top three finish. It was definitely a good year for us".

The Blaze will play an exhibition game against Canadian Mennonite University next month before the indoor season kicks off in mid-October.


BLAZE VS MANIKO

August 23, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze Burn Maniko In Season Finale
By Jeff Dyck
Portage On-Line
 
The Portage Blaze wrapped up their first season in the First Division of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League in style last night.
Just minutes into the game, Jillian Enright put the Blaze on top with a shot that blazed past the Maniko keeper. Leading scorer Laura Stewart would chip in with another to make it 2-0 before Chelsea Herdman put home a pair.

Maniko would cut into the lead but the Blaze would continue the pressure getting two more goals, one from Dany Comeau and one from Thiaya Brazeau.

Carrie Blanchard stood tall the rest of the way, making several saves to keep Maniko off the board and make it a 6-1 Blaze win.

Afterwards, Comeau was pleased with how Portage finished the season and thrilled to score a goal, the first of her career.

The Blaze finish the season with a record of 8 wins, 6 losses and 4 draws.


BLAZE VS BRUNSWICK STING

August 19, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Portage Blaze blank Brunswick Sting 1-0
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team achieved a pre-season goal with a win at Red River College in Winnipeg on Wednesday. The Blaze blanked Brunswick Sting 1-0 and with the three points, solidified their 4th place position in the WWSL's 1st Division standings.

While Portage can not move up any higher than fourth, it also can't finish any lower than fifth in the 10 team circuit after Wednesday's result.

"We had set a goal of finishing in the top five, so we've achieved that" said Blaze head coach, Bryan Mintenko. "There will be some results coming in that we have to wait on, but I think we can still finish in fourth".

The only team that can still catch the Blaze (7-6-4) are the Sting (6-8-2) who are five points back with two games in hand. Mintenko said Wednesday's game was a back and forth affair, as both teams had a handful of good scoring chances despite the low score.

"They put in a much better performance in today" he said, as the Blaze won an earlier meeting between the two teams on July 8. "They had one go off the post; we had one go off the post as well. They also dropped one off the crossbar on a corner kick that went out of play".

Blaze midfielder Jill Fast netted the game's only goal in the 60th minute, putting away another long free kick from five yards outside the box. Her shot caught the bottom half of the crossbar and bounced in for what would stand up as the game winner.

"It was a really great shot" said Mintenko. "She's had a few of those this year. That has been really important for us this year - the set plays and the corner kicks by Jill".

Meanwhile, Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard had another good outing on Wednesday, turning away a number of shots to pick up the clean sheet. "She had a couple of really nice stops on corner kicks, so she definitely earned her shutout tonight" said Mintenko.

In some other good news for the Blaze, Sarah Mansell returned to the lineup on Wednesday, seeing her first game action since suffering a ligament tear in her ankle against Maniko on June 29.

"She's been working hard to get back in the lineup, going to physiotherapy and doing rehab at home", said Mintenko. "She played limited time tonight...but she looked confident on her challenges and she wasn't worried about her ankle, since she's wearing an ankle brace. She had good touch on the ball, and I'll have her playing on Sunday as well".

The Blaze will wrap up the year on Sunday, hosting Maniko at Republic Park for a 7pm start. Portage fell 2-1 when the two teams met earlier this year, but the Blaze will look to rebound by carrying on a tradition of strong finishes to the year. "We always play well in the last game of the season. I don't think we've ever lost, we've always either won or tied" said Mintenko. "Back at home, we're going to use our wide field, and our speed on the wings and up front. We'll try to get two or three goals early and hold that lead. We were pretty dominant against Maniko last time, but knocked a couple off the crossbar, and just had some bad luck there. I think we'll come out with lots of offence".


BLAZE VS. SAINT JAMES LEGENDS

August 12, 2009 – 07:00 PM

Blaze Earn Draw With Legends
By Jeff Dyck
Portage On-Line



The Portage Blaze fought to a 1-1 draw with the St. James Legends in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League action last night.
The Blaze came out hard and were rewarded early when Laura Stewart bent a beautiful shot over the keeper and into the corner to make it 1-0 Blaze.

The Legends would fire back before the first half was over, tying things at 1.

The second half saw the Portage Blaze put on a ton of pressure, leading to several quality scoring chances. Luck would not be on their side though as several shots rang off the cross bar or went just wide.

On the other end, Carrie Blanchard put together another solid performance in net, making several key saves to keep things tied up.

The tie puts Portage's record at 6-6-3 in the First Division.

Next up for Portage is a meeting with the Brunswick Sting in Winnipeg next Wednesday. The Blaze won the first meeting between the two clubs 1-0 back on July 8th.


BLAZE VS SAINT JAMES LEGENDS

August 12, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze tie Legends 1-1
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The top three is not to be this year for the Portage Blaze women's soccer team. The Blaze battled the Saint James Legends to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday at Republic Park, and the result means that Portage can finish no higher than fourth in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's First Division standings.

The Blaze have just two games left in their season, and remained six points back of the Legends for third place with the tie.

"I think we could have won that one, and it would have put us in the hunt for third place," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "But, it was a really good game, especially in the second half, defensively.

"I'm happy with the tie, but with a few more minutes, I think we would have cracked one in there." Portage put on plenty of pressure early on to grab a 1-0 lead, and had all kinds of chances in the final 10 minutes to notch a go-ahead goal.

Meriel Bond had a great chance down the right side stymied when Legends' goalkeeper Sarah Armistead charged out to meet her with 10 minutes to play. Laura Stewart, who netted Portage's only goal, had a couple of late chances of her own, but the Blaze were never able to get a clean shot off in the dying minutes.

"They had an excellent keeper" said Mintenko. "She came out and cleared the ball away really well. That was the difference right there. Their keeper kept them in it, basically, when we were pressuring pretty hard in the 2nd half".

Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard wasn't half bad herself, her best stop coming with about 20 minutes to play as she deflected a hard shot from inside the box up and over the crossbar to keep things tied. "She had an amazing game" said Mintenko. "She really sacrificed her body for the team, and picked up the tie for us."

Blanchard did get some help from Dany Comeau late in the first half while clinging to a 1-0 lead, as Comeau ran into the post to clear a ball away that was trickling towards an empty net. "A tie isn't too bad. It's definitely better than a loss" said Blanchard. "Near the very end there, we're starting to get a little more pressure. These guys work well under pressure, and I think it was them realizing we needed to pick it up a little bit".

Stewart's goal was a beauty, putting the Blaze ahead in the game's 25th minute. From the far right side of the penalty area, Stewart laced a ball overtop of Armistead to catch the inside of the far post, giving her three goals in the past two games. Portage's Thiaya Brazeau nearly opened the scoring in the first 10 minutes, bouncing one off the top of the crossbar off a great crossing feed from Bond, as the Blaze had the Legend's hemmed into their own end for most of the game's first 30 minutes.

Saint James came up with the equalizer inside the final five minutes of the first half, as the Legends Michelle Jamieson got free down the middle and beat Blanchard to the right side.

The Blaze now have two games remaining before the season wraps up, and currently hold down fourth place in the standings with a record of 6-6-4. SSC United are in 5th place, four points back of the Blaze with two games in hand, so the Blaze are looking to finish the season with a pair of wins to hold on to fourth spot.

"For our first year here (in division one), I think we're going pretty good" said Blanchard.

Next up for the Blaze are the Brunswick Sting (5-5-2) who sit in sixth place and are still in the mix for 4th place as well. The two teams will meet up on August 19 at Red River College in Winnipeg. Portage then wrap up the season at home on August 25th, hosting the second place Maniko (10-4-1) at Republic Park.





BLAZE VS. MAPLES JUVENTUS STARS

August 5, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze jolt MJ Stars 5-0
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Janine Massinon scored twice Wednesday to help the Portage Blaze women's soccer team back to the win column at Republic of Manitobah Park.

The Blaze hammered the Maples Juventus Stars 5-0, taking control of the contest in the opening minutes and never looking back.

"They gave us a lot of time," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "A lot of time to shoot, a lot of time to pass. We got in some nice crosses, and it was nice to see some of the girls finish tonight."

With extra time to work with the ball on Wednesday, the Blaze were able to return to their possession-style of offence with great success.

"Also, on this big field, most teams aren't used to it, so we were able to get it out to the wings," said Mintenko. "Ball possession was pretty strong tonight."

Massinon opened the scoring three minutes into the game, finishing a crossing pass from Chelsea Herdman to give Portage the 1-0 lead.

It would stay that way until the final minute of the first half, when Jill Fast dropped a corner kick inside the six-yard box for Tanis Mauws to volley home. The onslaught continued right after half-time, as Massinon put away her second of the night from just inside the penalty area to make it 3-0. Laura Stewart then placed a shot under the bar 10 minutes into the half, while Herdman later beat two defenders to deposit another and arrive at the 5-0 final.

Blaze goal-keeper Carrie Blanchard had little work on the night to pick up the clean sheet. Mintenko was also pleased to see his club share the offensive load in the victory. "That was nice to see" he said, "Janine was shooting really well in warm-ups, so I could tell she was going to have a good game, and she did. We definitely spread it around tonight".

With the victory, the Blaze improved to 5-6-3 on the year, while Maples remained in the WWSL 1st Division basement at 2-10. "It's nice to play teams that are a little further down in the standings, but the next four games will be really tough for us", said Mintenko. "They're against teams all around us in the standings, so it's going to be a fight to the finish".

The Blaze pulled themselves up into a tie for fourth spot in the division with Wednesday's win, and Mintenko thinks that would be a good spot to finish the year considering how tight the standings are.

"A lot of the teams are pretty close between 4th and 8th place, so anything can happen in the next few games" he said.

But with 14 games in the books, the Blaze have played more than any other team in the division, meaning they'll have fewer opportunities to pick up points along the way.

The Blaze return to action on Monday against SSC United at John Blumberg Park.


BLAZE VS. SNIPERS

July 29, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Sniped down in a Blaze of glory
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team won't get the finish they want in the standings if they don't find some finish around the net.

The Blaze were blanked 2-0 by the Snipers Wednesday at John Blumberg Park, as they were unable to find the net on a night when most of the chances went Portage's way.

For a second-straight game, the Blaze put a couple of balls off the post, including one by Portage's Meriel Bond that summed up the kind of luck the club is having around the goal.

“Meriel kicked one off the post, and it rolled along the goal line and hit the other post and went out,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “We're getting no breaks.”

Portage's Laura Stewart also put one off the crossbar in the loss, while the Blaze missed on a handful of other opportunities in tight.

“We're struggling with our finish right now,” said Mintenko. “We also had a couple of shots in close that we hammered over the net.”

The Snipers scored the eventual game-winner 15 minutes into the first half, while adding another in the final five minutes to round out the scoring.

The first goal came when the Snipers managed to put a nice through ball up to one of their quick forwards, who got around Kim Cowan and beat Blaze goal-keeper Carrie Blanchard to the corner.

On the late insurance marker, the Blaze were caught creeping up into the Snipers zone while trying to find an equalizer, allowing a Snipers forward to connect on a nice shot from just inside the box. "We had to do something, so we had to move the forwards and midfield up to try and get a goal" said Mintenko. "We had all the pressure up until that point, it was a frustrating one".

With the loss, Portage fell to 4-6-3 on the year, and sit in 7th place in the WWSL 1st Division standings. The Snipers, meanwhile, improved to 4-6-2 and pulled within one point of the Blaze, joining the crowded race for the divisions top three spots.

The Blaze will be happy to return home for their next game, as conditions at John Blumberg on Wednesday made for some sloppy soccer. "It rained almost half of the game, and it's not a very good field out at Blumberg, so it got pretty muddy" said Mintenko. "Four of our next five games are on really nice fields, so we should be able to get back to our normal possession style, and be able to move the ball a little bit better".

The Maples Juventus Stars, who are at the bottom of the standings with just one victory on the year, are up next for the Blaze. A weaker opponent could give the Blaze a much needed victory when the two teams hook up on Wednesday at Republic Park, but Mintenko warned about taking them lightly.

"They're at the bottom of the division, but they're still fighting for points" he said. "It could still be a tough game".

Wednesday's game gets underway at 7 pm.


BLAZE VS. SNIPERS

July 29, 2009 – 07:30 PM

Blaze get sniped
By Jeff Dyck
Portage On-line

The Portage Blaze took on the Snipers in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League First Division action last night.
In what's quickly becoming a recurring theme for the Portage Blaze this season, the weather wreaked havoc on the field from minute number one. With rain pelting the grass, both teams played cautiously, looking for the other to make a mistake.

The Snipers would strike first midway through the first half. Portage brought some offensive pressure late in the first but couldn't find the twine.

The second half belonged to Portage. The Blaze used precision passing and smart thinking to get several quality chances but the lucky breaks weren't there. After several crossbars and posts, it looked like Meriel Bond would finally crack the goose egg but her shot hit one past, skidded across the goal line, hit the other post and came back out. The Snipers would add another one late to take the game 2-0.

Coach Bryan Mintenko says it was disappointing, seeing his team dominate ball possession and get so many good chances, just not being able to bury them.

Next up for the Blaze is a meeting with the Maples Juventus Stars on August 5th at Republic Park.


BLAZE VS. BLACK MAGIC

July 22, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze win close game
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

For a while on Wednesday, it looked like it would be the same old story for the Portage Blaze women's soccer team.

Once again, the Blaze dominated ball possession and scoring opportunities at Republic of Manitobah Park, but just couldn't seem to find the go-ahead goal.

That was until Portage's Jill Fast placed a perfect free kick over the visiting goalkeeper from 30 yards out in the 85th minute to lift the Blaze to a 2-1 win.

"It seemed like the soccer karma gods were against us again," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "It was 1-1 all the way through, we had loads of chances, loads of crosses, and one off the crossbar. Finally,...Jill scored an amazing goal. It was really nice to see that one go in."

Portage's Janine Massinon opened the scoring 20 minutes into the first half, chipping a shot over the Black Magic keeper from just inside the box. The Magic managed to tie the game 10 minutes later on one of their few chances on the night. After the Blaze lost control of the ball on their side of half, the Black Magic's Rachel Rosenblat put a shot just inside the right post past Portage goalkeeper Denise Harding.

A light drizzle that came on at the end of the first half turned into a driving rain to start the second, and the conditions seemed to bog down the Portage offence.

But when the rain disappeared, the Blaze went back to work with a number of chances, the first of which came from Laura Stewart when she clanged one off the crossbar on a partial break. Massinon and Stewart each had more chances as the half wore on, but it would be Fast who played the hero.

"Because I'm a right footed kicker, the angle was perfect to go over her", said Fast, who booted it in from the far right side of the pitch. "We needed more shots. I'm just glad it ended well".

Mintenko was thrilled with the way his team controlled the ball in the victory, much as they did in their games over the weekend at their tournament in Kenora. "Ball possession has been unbelievable" he said. "At the Kenora tournament, it was like that, and I like to see that it's carried over to league play".

With Wednesday's win, the Blaze improved to 4-5-2 for the year, and vaulted up into a tie for fourth spot in the WWSL First Division standings. With the divisions bottom two clubs on the schedule for two of the Portage's next three games, Mintenko feels like his team is in a good position to make a 2nd half charge to the top of the standings. "We've got a couple of weaker teams coming up, T-Devils and Maples, so I think we could string a few wins together and get some momentum going" he said. "Maybe even finish in the top three".

Portage takes on T-Devils for their next action as the two teams will meet up in Winnipeg on Monday.


BLAZE VS. BLACK MAGIC

July 22, 2009 – 07:30 PM
 

Blaze Burn Black Magic
By Jeff Dyck
Portage On-line

Despite some pouring rain, the Portage Blaze clawed their way back into the win column with a gritty win.
The Blaze, fresh off the Kenora Invitational Tournament on the weekend, were back at home last night to welcome Black Magic. The two teams met earlier this month and fought to a 2-2 draw.

The two teams came out hard with some back and forth action early. Janine Massinon would put the home team on top midway through the first half on a strong kick that got past the Black Magic keeper.

The visitors would keep up the attack though and late in the first half, tallied the tying goal past a sprawling Denise Harding. Harding made some solid saves in the half filling in for Carrie Blanchard between the pipes.

The second half saw the Blaze control most of the play, getting several quality chances. Laura Stewart came close with a solid shot midway through the half but watched as it rang off the crossbar. With just seven minutes left in the contest, the Blaze were awarded a free kick in enemy territory and the strong boot of Jill Fast proved to be too much for the keeper to handle as the kick arched perfectly to find the twine.

The Blaze held strong the rest of the way, solidifying the 2-1 win.

The victory improves Portage's record to 5-4-2 in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's First Division. Their next action is Monday, July 27th, when they travel to Winnipeg to meet the T-Devils


KENORA TOURNAMENT WRAP-UP

July 21, 2009

 

Blaze weekend tournament a success
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team finally made their annual venture to Kenora a successful one this past weekend.

Having never qualified for the playoffs at the Kenora Women's Soccer Tournament before, the Blaze put together a solid round-robin to reach the next round and finish in the top 8 out of 16 teams in attendance.

"We're pretty happy with it, especially considering last year we only had one goal for in the entire round robin" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "This year, we had 11 goals for in the round robin, two wins, and one tough loss. We controlled every game with, I would say, at least 90 percent ball possession in all of them".

By finishing 2-1 in the round robin, the Blaze were edged out for top spot in their pool by Tryst, which took a 1 goal victory over Blaze to earn the first seed. But, the Blaze did advance to the playoffs for teams seeded 5th - 8th, where they lost another close one on penalty kicks.

Taking on Hap's out of Kenora for the right to advance to the 5th place game, Portage's Jill Fast sent a nice chip pass through to Meriel Bond, who went in and scored on a breakaway with 10 minutes remaining to make it 1-1 and send the game to extra time. Neither team was able to score in the overtime period, and Hap's converted it's first four shootout attempts, while Portage was stopped twice, eliminating the Blaze from the tournament.

In the past, the Blaze have come to Kenora and struggled to play their own game, and the nerves were back again early in their tournament opener against the Kenora Rush. However, Portage managed to find it's groove after scoring five minutes in, adding two more before half-time and three more in the second to take a 6-0 victory.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves" said Mintenko. "They're 30 minutes halves, so you do want to get a quick goal. In the first couple of minutes of the first game, we didn't have possession very much, and were panicking a bit. We were getting a little worried, because we could see they were a weaker team, but we settled in after getting that first goal".

Bond scored twice in the win, while Laura Stewart, Jillian Enright, Thiaya Brazeau and Fast also tallied for Portage. Taking on Tryst in their next game, the Blaze simply couldn't finish on their chances, stymied by a five defender line that clogged things up in the middle.

Laura Stewart did find the net for Portage, but Tryst took advantage of an own goal and a breakaway to score twice on just a handful of chances throughout the match for a 2-1 win.

The Blaze managed to redeem themselves in more than one way against the Minnedosa Lakers to wrap up the round robin, playing an aggressive style en route to a 4-1 win. It was the first time in eight tries that Portage was able to defeat Minnedosa.

"That was a big victory" said Mintenko, as his team also eliminated the Lakers in the process. "All of our games have been close with Minnedosa in the past, but we've tied them twice and lost 5 times, so it was nice to finally get a win over them after meeting them several times over the years in tournaments".

The win was especially sweet for former Laker Thiaya Brazeau, who netted the eventual game winner in the first half against her old club. Bond, Laura Stewart and Kathy Stewart also scored in the win.

The Blaze came out of the weekend injury free, and brought along former players Caitlin Pringle and Brenda Brelinski to Kenora. "As the tournament went on, (Pringle) really stepped it up, and I had her playing up front and on the wing as well. We had quite a bit more offence with her in the line-up" Mintenko said of last year's team captain. "Brenda played on the left side at mid-field, and she had a good tournament as well".

The Blaze will look to roll the momentum they established over the weekend into their next WWSL contest, which comes Wednesday night against the Black Magic at Republic Park.

The two teams battled to a 2-2 tie when they last met up on July 6, though Mintenko thinks they'll be more successful putting offensive pressure on them this time around.

"When we were down 2-1 against them last time, we did push a third forward up, and that really helped out quite a bit, and we were able to tie up the game late" he said. "I think we will do that right from the start, get a good lead and hold it as opposed to waiting for them to make the move".

At 3-5-2, Portage sits eighth out of 10 teams in the WWSL's First Division standings, but a win on Wednesday could vault them up into a tie for 4th spot. Game time is 7:30pm.


BLAZE VS. FC BARCELONA

July 15, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze drop match, head to tourney
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

For whatever reason, Mother Nature has been on Barcelona FC's side while taking on the Portage Blaze women's soccer team this season.

Just as in the season opener between the two clubs back in May, Barcelona FC put a strong wind to good use in the first half Wednesday, building up a 4-0 lead after 45 minutes en route to a 5-1 win at John Blumberg Park.

“Once again, we lost the coin toss and had to go against a pretty strong wind, and it was really cold out there tonight,” Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said following the loss. “Working against the

wind is very tiring. It's unfortunate, because I'd like to see how we can do against them on a normal day. Maybe if we started out with the wind tonight, it would have been a different story, because we might have been able to put some pressure on early.”

The Blaze were able to hold Barcelona off the scoreboard for the first 25 minutes, but the home side broke through by catching Portage goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard out of position to take a 1-0 lead.

“We needed her to dive across, and she didn't quite get over for us,” said Mintenko. “That was a tough goal to give up, and then they put in three more over the next 20 minutes.”

Jill Fast replied for Portage midway through the second half, converting one of a number of chances the Blaze were able to manufacture with the wind at their backs. Fast won the ball on Barcelona's side of half, and beat a defender down the left side before beating the keeper with a low shot to the short side.

"It was a really tough angle, because she was pretty close to the end line" said Mintenko. "Our bench just erupted when she scored the goal. We were looking for any kind of confidence and any kind of momentum".

The Blaze had 5 corner kicks in the 2nd half, and put some good pressure on Barcelona, but were turned away by a hot goal keeper at the other end. Wednesday's official let plenty of rough play go on in the contest, and tempers reached a boiling point with just two minutes to play when a Barcelona player struck Portage's Janine Massinon with a backhanded slap to the face to earn a red card.

"There was some shouting at the end between teams, but we all shook hands and walked off the field, and that was it" said Mintenko. "At least the referee did get one call right there at the end. It was a pretty brutal performance by him".

With the loss, the Blaze fell to 3-5-2 on their WWSL First Division Season, while Barcelona remained the division's only undefeated club at 8-0-2.

TOURNAMENT TIME

The Blaze can now turn their attention to the Kenora Women's Invitational Tournament, a 16 team affair that gets underway on Friday.

"This is the highlight of the summer for us" said Mintenko. "We get a campsite by the lake, work hard on the field, and then relax and unwind the rest of the weekend. It is truly the best team-bonding event of the entire summer."

Portage is guaranteed three round robin games at the tournament, and will have to finish in the top half of the standings in their four team pool to advance to Sunday's playoffs.

The Blaze have been put into a pool with Kenora's Rush, whom they'll open up the tournament against on Friday. "Kenora always produces great soccer teams, so Rush should be a challenge for us" said Mintenko. "I think we will play a 4-3-3 system and come at them hard with loads of offence. With 30 minute halves, you really have to get on the board first and push to keep the lead".

Also in Portage's pool are WWSL 3rd division representatives Tryst and the Minnedosa Lakers. The Blaze will take on both clubs on Saturday afternoon. "We have only played Tryst in indoor, and they have been moving up consistently in the WWSL. They will be looking to knock off a Div 1 team, so we need to be careful with them" said Mintenko.

Meanwhile, the Lakers have two former Blaze players in their line-up, Roxanna Smith and Jackie Gordon, while Portage has two former Lakers on its roster in Thiaya Brazeau and the injured Sarah Mansell, making for a good rivalry. The Blaze are 0-5-2 against Minnedosa in their history. "That should be a great game to wrap up the round robin" said Mintenko. "It will be Minnedosa's third game of the day, so they will be ripe for the picking. We really want to get the better of them this year."

In total, five teams from the Kenora area will be taking part in this weekend's tournament, while Portage may run into some familiar opponents, with WWSL First Division rivals Barcelona FC and Snipers also in action there this weekend.

Although wins have been hard to come by in league play for the Blaze lately, Mintenko said he's anticipating his club can put together a weekend similar to the one that allowed them to take second place at the Central Plains Challenge Cup earlier this year.

"I think we can make some noise at Kenora this year, and pick up some prize money" he said. "We have confidence, and we are working hard, so we just need to focus on getting points in the round robin. Of all the years we have traveled, I am excited about this year the most" said Mintenko.








BLAZE VS. BRUNSWICK STING

July 8, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Portage Blaze take sting out of Brunswick
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Denise Harding's first-half tally was enough for the Portage Blaze women's soccer team to snap their five-game winless skid Wednesday at Republic of Manitobah Park.

Harding scored with under 10 minutes to play in the opening period to give the Blaze a 1-0 victory over the Brunswick Sting.

"It was much needed," Harding said of the Blaze's third win of the season. "We needed the win to boost the morale around the team, so it was really good."

Head coach Bryan Mintenko, looking to play a more aggressive style in Wednesday's contest, moved a third forward up front with great results.

"It worked out well for us," he said. "(The Sting) didn't have any subs, and they were tired after the first 20 minutes — you could see that they were struggling. With our third forward up front, we had a lot of pressure up front … loads of shots on net, and a lot of opportunities."

On the scoring play, Laura Stewart fired a hard shot on goal that the Brunswick goalkeeper couldn't get a handle on, and Harding was right on the doorstep to put away the rebound.

The Blaze controlled the pace for the remainder of the game, as the Sting rarely entered Portage's end of the field in the second half. "Our ball possession was much better this game," said Mintenko. "We won pretty much every challenge out there tonight. It was an amazing game, one of the best I've seen this season for winning the ball and gaining possession after losing the ball".

However, Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard had to be sharp late in the game, as she was forced to make a difficult stop with under four minutes remaining. "That was the play of the game right there," said Mintenko. "Just along the goal line there, diving to pick up a rebound. That saved it for us, and we needed this win".

Blanchard, meanwhile, had nothing but praise for her team's defensive effort on the night. "They played very well tonight" she said. "They kept it in Brunswicks end for most of the game, and that was just good aggressive play and getting to the ball first. I think that's what's been our problem lately - not getting to the ball when we should be".

Mintenko also picked out a couple of players who stood out on the defensive end. "Jill (Fast) at midfield, and then at stopper, was unbelievable" he said. "They couldn't get anything by Jill, and they couldn't get anything by Thiaya (Brazeau) up the middle".

With the victory, the Blaze improved to 3-4-2 on their WWSL First Division season, pulling themselves up into a tie for fifth in the process. They now sit three points back of the fourth place Sting whose record dropped to 4-2-2.

"It's a huge three points for us" said Mintenko, whose club picked up their first win since topping the Maples Juventus Stars 3-0 back on June 3. "Hopefully, we'll just keep moving up from here".

The Blaze had a full bench for Wednesday's game and put it to good use. "We had seven subs today - a little bit more than I'd like to have", said Mintenko. "But it was nice to have those bodies so I could rest up some players with nagging injuries".

New Blaze signing Danika Baker made her debut in Wednesday's game, through she didn't much time on the pitch. "She played limited time today, but she'll definitely get back into the lineup as she gets back into shape and gets her touch back".

Portage will travel to Headingley on July 15 for a meeting with FC Barcelona at John Blumberg Park. Barcelona is the only team in the division yet to suffer a loss, leading the standings at 6-0-2.


BLAZE VS. BLACK MAGIC

July 6, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze tie Black Magic 2-2 on the road
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Meriel Bond came through with another clutch goal for the Portage Blaze women's soccer team Monday to earn her team a tie with the Black Magic at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg.

Bond tallied with just 30 seconds left in regulation to tie things up, as the two teams battled to a 2-2 tie. The first-year Blaze forward has come through with a number of late or timely goals for the team this season, so head coach Bryan Mintenko wasn't surprised to see the young sniper stun the opposition once more.

"It's pretty amazing," he said. "She's had a great season so far coming through in the dying minutes. She works very hard, so she deserves those goals. She's becoming one of our clutch players, and it's been a lot of fun to watch."

The pitch at Assiniboine Park wasn't in the greatest of condition Monday, and the spotty field aided both teams on scoring plays during the contest.

"I would say it's one of the worst fields that we have, and we mostly use it for rescheduled games, which this one was," said Mintenko, as Monday's battle was a make-up date for a May 13 rain-out. "The penalty areas are just completely void of any grass at all — they're just dirt, sand and rough spots. "It makes us really appreciate our field in Portage."

The Black Magic took a 1-0 lead nine minutes in on a shot from well outside the 18 yard box that went in off Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard's hands. The early adversity brought the Portage Blaze to life, and the Blaze would tie things up midway through the first half. Jill Fast threw a hard shot on goal that deflected off a Black Magic defender, and skipped off a rough patch on the field to find the back of the net.

The Blaze controlled the play through to halftime, and continued to pressure into the second half, but found themselves down a goal once again on a ball that took a strange hop off a bare spot on the field and past Blanchard.

Portage appeared destined to lose 2-1 for a fourth time this season until Thiaya Brazeau won a challenge at midfield and spotted Bond at the top of the penalty area. Bond had the ball taken away by a Black Magic defender, but fought hard to regain possession, and fired a shot inside the right post to give Portage the single point.

The Blaze now sit at 2-4-2 on their WWSL First Division season, and are tied for seventh out of the 10 teams in the standings. "Picking up the tie might seem like a small thing, but one point in the standings can be huge", said Mintenko. "Especially because we're towards the bottom of the standings right now and trying to climb back up".

Mintenko added he was pleased with the debut of newcomer Chelsea Herdman, as well as with recently age-advanced defender Breann Sharp, who both suited up as permanent members of the line-up for the first time Monday.

When the Blaze host the Brunswick Sting at Republic Park on Wednesday, Mintenko said his club will be looking to play a little more aggressively from the opening whistle. "I think next time out, we'll try to come with a lot of offence right off the beginning and try to get the first goal and hang on to the lead from there", he said. "We seem to wait for the other team to make a move and then respond to that rather than coming out to get the first goal".

The Sting (4-2-1) are fourth in the division standings heading into Wednesday's game, and should give the Blaze a good test as Portage looks to end a winless skid that has now reached five games.

"They were in Premier a few years ago, and I know a lot of those players have played at a high level before," said Mintenko. "They'll be a tough opponent, but we're due for a victory. The girls are itching for another win, so I think we'll come out with a strong performance on Wednesday". Wednesday's kickoff goes at 7:30pm.


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

June 30, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze lose game, Mansell
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Both the injuries and losses continue to pile up for the Portage Blaze women's soccer team.

Blaze midfielder Sarah Mansell became the latest member to of the squad to go down to injury on Monday in a 2-1 loss to Maniko at Lagimodiere Park in Winnipeg.

With 10 minutes remaining, and the game tied, Mansell landed awkwardly on her ankle, resulting in torn ligaments, bringing her WWSL First Division season to an end.

"It looks like she's done, which is pretty unfortunate", said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "She was coming back to defend and caught a bad part on the pitch. The pitch had some uneven areas, as most fields do in Winnipeg have, and landed wrong on it. She's a pretty tough girl, but you could tell she was in a lot of pain".

Mansell nearly opened the scoring just four minutes in putting a ball off the crossbar. The Blaze had the majority of the possession in the first half, but still trailed by a goal after 45 minutes.

Maniko received a fortunate bounce off Portage defender Dany Comeau, as one of their forwards was wide-open to corral the ball and beat Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard on the right side.

The Blaze would respond 12 minutes into the second half on a goal from Meriel Bond. Laura Stewart got free from a defender to let a hard shot go on net, which the Maniko keeper turned aside, but Bond was in the right place at the right time to tap home the rebound for a tie game.

Portage continued to pressure, but was on the wrong end of another bad bounce off Kim Cowan with 6 minutes to play. "Kim rarely makes mistakes on defence, but she just got a bad bounce off of her foot - bumped the ball behind her, and their forward was able to pick up the ball and go in on a breakaway" said Mintenko. "It looked like we could have won 4-1 at one point...but we just had two unlucky bounces on defence that were the difference".

The Blaze are now sitting at 2-4-1 for the season, and have gone 0-3-1 in their last four outings. All three losses in the winless skid have been by 2-1 counts.

The injuries sure haven't helped, as the Blaze roster was decimated earlier in the season, and had already lost Tiffany Holmes for the year prior to Mansell going down. "It's very frustrating...and we don't think it has anything to do with over-working or from burn-out" said Mintenko. "We've played a lot of soccer so far, and we have a lot of soccer left, but they are all in good shape and good condition, so I don't think that's the issue. It's just been some unlucky incidents that have happened".

Thankfully for Portage, reinforcements are on the way. Chelsea Herdman, a former player for the division rival SSC United was expected to make her debut in Monday's game, but her arrival in the lineup won't come until Portage's next action.

Local youngster Breann Sharp, meanwhile, will find a permanent place on the Blaze after the MSA granted her an age advancement. Sharp, a full-back, has been practicing with the team through the summer, and appeared in a June 15 draw against SSC United, putting in an excellent showing.

"Chelsea and Breann are both in good shape, and they should help us out quite a bit" said Mintenko. "Chelsea is a former Premier player who will bring stability to centre midfield and, hopefully, put in a few goals for us. Breann works pretty hard, and she's a good athlete. We need players like that who can stay injury free".

Both Herdman and Sharp will be in the lineup on Monday when the Blaze take on the Black Magic at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg.

While the Blaze haven't found much success themselves lately, some players from the team have continued to make an impact with the Premier Division's Classics. The Classics are in first place in the Premier B Division at 5-2-1. Bond and Laura and Kathy Stewart played up with the Classics on Tuesday, though they were topped 2-0 by the Premier A Division leading Jabronis.

"That was the first time that they had been called-up, and they did very well" said Mintenko. "We're happy about the affiliation with the Classics and we're going to keep that going for next year, and hopefully we can help the Classics move up from Pool B to Pool A".


BLAZE VS. SAINT JAMES LEGENDS

June 24, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze winded in loss
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer team had more than jus the Saint James Legends to battle against Wednesday night at John Blumberg Park.

The Blaze were downed 2-1 by the Legends in a rain soaked affair in Headingley, as Saint James took advantage of the weather in the first half and held on for the win.

"It pretty much rained the whole game. I'm talking rain that was going sideways" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "Right at kick-off, the rain picked up, and there were tornado like winds. With the John Blumberg Softball complex right next to us, it was like a dust storm when the wind picked up. It was a pretty scary scene there at the beginning".

The Legends had the wind at their backs for the first half, and managed to put two balls past Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard before the first 45 minute period was up. "Carrie wasn't as mobile as she normally is because she just ran the half marathon on Sunday" said Mintenko. "Her feet were pretty sore today still, and she wasn't able to get across to either of those shots - they picked the corner. Those were a couple of tough goals for her".

The Blaze started taking it to Saint James Legends in the 2nd half, and broke through with a goal from Meriel Bond at the 70 minute mark. Laura Stewart sent a shot in on goal that the Legends keeper got a piece of, but Bond was on the doorstep to outrun a defender to the loose ball and put it home.

Portage pressed hard for an equalizer, but was unable to find one as time ran out. "Saint James really didn't get into our half that often. They only had one or two shots in the second half, and that was it" said Mintenko. "We really controlled the play in the second half, and had good pressure on the net, but we just couldn't finish it off tonight. Both teams were cold, and it's hard work running against that wind. I'd bet you it was gusting up to 80km/h".

With the loss, the Blaze saw their record drop to 2-3-1 for their WWSL First Division season, while the Legends improved to 5-2.

In some good news for the Blaze, all of the club's previously injured players were able to suit up in Wednesday's game, with the exception of Tiffany Holmes, who is done for the year with a torn ACL. "Adele Butcher felt pretty good, and so did Ashley Williams" said Mintenko. "Jillian Enright was back, and Sarah Mansell was back in and played a strong game. We had a nice nine day break there, and that really helped out with those injuries".

Portage will have a new face in the lineup for its next game, which comes up on Monday in Winnipeg against Maniko. Mintenko has signed Chelsea Herdman to the team, a castoff from SSC United. She was looking for a club to join after starting the year injured. "She's a centre mid-field player" said Mintenko. "We've got a lot of good depth there, so I'm going to put her at centre mid, and push somebody like Sarah up front. It gives us more options for our forwards if we can have Chelsea playing at centre-mid".

Blaze to face familiar Maniko

The Blaze bench boss also said he plans to bring two more players into the fold next month.

Maniko is a team Portage is fairly familiar with, as the two clubs moved up to the First Division together this year. "We've played against them for several years now" said Mintenko. "It looks like they've bolstered their roster a little bit with some scorers, but I know we can compete against them. Hopefully we can bounce back with a win". The Blaze and Maniko split their two meetings in the second division last season.

Meanwhile, Blaze players continue to make an impact with the Classics of the Premier Division. "They're 5-1 now, and we've had Blaze players in the line-up for five of those six games" said Mintenko. "Jill Fast has been playing in most of them...and she's going to play with them again Thursday. "They're doing quite well, and our affiliation is working out great. It just proves that Jill is one of the best players in the province, I would say. She can compete with any of the girls in that Premier Division. I'm glad she's enjoying it, and I'm hoping she brings back the things she learns to our team".


BLAZE VS. SAINT JAMES LEGENDS

June 24, 2009 – 07:30 PM

Portage On-Line

What's A Little Rain?
By Jeff Dyck

The Portage Blaze proved their toughness and will to compete last night in some of the most extreme conditions.
With raging winds and rain pelting the field, the Portage Blaze women's soccer team braved on, facing the St. James Legends in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's First Division.

With the wind pushing in towards the Blaze, it was a struggle just to move the ball up field. The Legends would take advantage of the wind at their backs, putting two goals behind Portage keeper Carrie Blanchard. Blanchard's mobility was also hampered last night as she was just three days removed from running in the Manitoba Marathon.

As time ticked away in the game, the Blaze upped the pressure, getting several quality chances but just couldn't seem to put one away. Then with about ten minutes to play, the wind and rain halted, just in time for Laura Stewart to break in alone and get a shot on goal. The ball skipped towards the net and as it lay on the goal line, Meriel Bond broke in and tapped it home to put Portage on the board. Unfortunately for the Blaze, time would run out on their comeback attempt, leading to a 2-1 loss.

One positive for the Blaze was the return of several key players from injury including Sarah Mansell, Jillian Enright, Adele Butcher and co-captain Terri Mauws.

Next action for the Blaze will be on Monday, June 29th as they visit Maniko.




BLAZE VS SSC UNITED

June 15, 2009 – 07:30 PM

Portage On-Line

Blaze Pull Out Spectacular Comeback

The Portage Blaze pulled together when they needed it most.
The Blaze played host to SSC United in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League First Division action. The visitors would strike early and late in the game held a 2-0 lead.

Portage would wake up and press the attack in the waning minutes. Laura Stewart broke in alone and beat the visiting keeper to cut the lead in half with just over five minutes remaining. As time continued to tick down, a mad scramble in front of the United net led to the ball finding the foot of Kathy Stewart who would make no mistake, evening the game at two. That's where the game would end as the Blaze pick up a hard fought and well deserved draw.

Injury trouble continues to haunt the Blaze. They'll be without Tiffany Holmes for the rest of the season after she suffered a torn ACL in the Central Plains Challenge Cup at the beginning of the month. Co-captain Terri Mauws missed last night's game with a sprained foot. Adele Butcher played sparingly after suffering some hamstring issues and Jillian Enright started but was pulled after several minutes after experiencing pain in her injured knee. She'll miss a couple of games while she looks to get her knee back to 100%.

Portage's record now sits at 2-2-1. Their next action is June 24th as they visit the St. James Legends.



BLAZE VS. SSC UNITED

June 15, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Stewart Sisters Fired Up
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Stewart sisters of the Portage Blaze women's soccer team caught fire just in time to scrape out a 2-2 draw with SSC United Monday at Republic Park and rebound from a loss on their home pitch Friday.

Laura and Kathy Stewart each tallied in the final 13 minutes of Monday's game to erase a two goal deficit and give the Blaze their first tie of the WWSL First Division season. SSC United led at the half and added a second goal with just 15 minutes to play before the Blaze offence finally came alive.

"I think everyone realized we were doing poorly, and everyone just stepped up their game" Laura Stewart said of the late charge. "Everyone just had more energy in the last half".

With a number of regulars out of the lineup, the Blaze seemed to find their groove as the game went on. Just two minutes after United took a 2-0 lead, Portage's Thiaya Brazeau sent a great ball through to Laura Stewart, who got loose on a break and deposited the ball past the charging goalkeeper.

Then with under five minutes remaining, Kathy Stewart got hold of a ball right in front of the United goal following a free kick into the penalty area and put it to the back of the net for the tie game.

Janine Massinon had a good showing for the Blaze, filling in at goalkeeper with regular netminder Carrie Blanchard away, while youth call-up Breann Sharp had an outstanding game at defender on Monday.

For a 2nd straight game, the Blaze were without a good chunk of their regular roster, as injuries have taken their toll on the team. However, Portage at least had the luxury of one sub on the sidelines Monday, which they did not have on June 12.

In that game, a severely understaffed Blaze squad that featured just eight regular players fell 2-1 to the Snipers after battling to tie things up in the 2nd half. "We still have some nagging injuries, and we had some girls away" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko.

Young call-ups stepped up, says Blaze coach

"I was able to call-up some youth players (for the June 12 game), and signed another player temporarily in order to get 11 on the field. The girls fought hard, considering we had no subs, but we just ran out of gas in the last 10 minutes" the coach said.

The rain on June 12 made it tough for either team to move the ball in the early going, but the Snipers took a 1-0 lead into the half after tallying at the 22 minute mark. Portage's Jill Fast unleashed a cannon from outside the penalty area 12 minutes into the second half, and the ball deflected off a Snipers defender and in to knot things up.

But the Snipers took advantage of the wilting Blaze late in the contest, restoring their lead with just nine minutes left in regulation.

"We had more pressure, and we controlled the play for the most part" said Mintenko, whose team topped the Snipers during the Central Plains Challenge Cup two weekends ago. "I think with a full bench, we would have given them a better challenge. We'll take them on again later this season, so hopefully we'll rebound in that one".

The Blaze now sit at 2-2-1 for the season. Despite the loss on June 12, Mintenko still found positives from the game, especially in the play of youth call-ups Lauren Ford and Jessica Dyck.

"They did really well" he said. "I had Lauren playing up front and at centre-midfield. She played aggressively and won quite a few challenges. Jessica played up on the wing and made a few nice crosses, so I was pretty happy with the way they played".

Mintenko also brought back former Blaze player Brenda Brelinski for the game, while Denise Harding did the goalkeeping duties with Blanchard unavailable.

The list of injured Portage players has been lengthy since the home tournament, but the Blaze will likely be getting a couple of players back fro their next action - coming on June 24 against St.James Legends at John Blumberg Park. Fullback Terri Mauws (sprained foot) will probably suit up for that contest, as will sweeper Adele Butcher (hamstring).

Midfielder Tiffany Holmes, however, is done for the season with a torn ACL, while fellow midfielder Jillian Enright is expected to miss a couple more games with a knee injury.


BLAZE VS SNIPERS

June 12, 2009 – 07:00 PM

CENTRAL PLAINS CUP RESULTS

June 6, 2009

 

Barcelona puts out Blaze in tourney final
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

First, FC Barcelona spoiled the Portage Blaze's debut in the WWSL First Division. On Sunday, they were back at it again, this time topping the Blaze in the final of Portage's own tournament.

FC Barcelona captured the Central Plains Challenge Cup and the $1200 grand prize with a 4-0 win over the Blaze at Republic Park. Barcelona remained the only team to defeat Portage in league or tournament play this season, though playing five games in two days had taken its toll on the Blaze by the time the final rolled around. "If we had been fresh, it would have been a different game I think" said Blaze mid-fielder Jill Fast. "They're a good team, and they move the ball well, but we just didn't have any subs. We were all injured and sore after playing five games".

The list of wounded Blaze players kept getting bigger as the tournament went on. "We had Terri Mauws go down with a possible fracture on her foot, Tiffany Holmes went down with a torn ACL, and Ashley Williams had to sit out with a lower leg injury" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko.

Meanwhile, Sarah Mansell, Adele Butcher, Jillian Enright, Meriel Bond and Carrie Blanchard were all forced to play through injury in the final with Portage out of subs.

However, the Blaze were extremely pleased to be runners-up in the 16 team tournament. "It was a great tournament for us" said Mintenko. "The girls showed excellent physical and mental toughness, playing through injuries. I would have to say that in our nine years of existence, this was our best tournament performance".

FC Barcelona built up a 2-0 lead just 12 minutes into the 30 minute half, then added another pair late in the 2nd half for the championship.

Blaze undefeated before final match

"We were just out of steam; fatigue was showing" said Mintenko. "Barcelona controlled the passing, and we gave the ball away a lot".

Getting trounced in the final didn't diminish an outstanding weekend of play from the Blaze, who were undefeated in the tournament until meeting up with Barcelona. Portage advanced to the final by hammering WWSL Second Division representatives Southside FC 6-1 in the semi-final.

Southside jumped out to an early lead, scoring three minutes in, but that's all they would put past Blaze keeper Blanchard. Bond knotted things up before the half, and the Blaze poured it on after the break.

Enright, Thiaya Brazeau, and the newly signed Denise Harding had second half strikes, while Laura Stewart added a pair in the rout. "I know the team well, so I knew we were going to get that first goal back" said Mintenko. "I joked on the bench that the goal didn't matter, and we were going to win 5-1".

The Blaze had the third seed for the playoff round after finishing first in their pool at 2-0-1. They opened up things Saturday morning with a 1-0 victory over MacGregor United, getting the lone goal from Meriel Bond with just four minutes to go, then drawing with the Pirates of the 5th Division 2-2.

Mansell and Bond tallied in the tie, with Bond coming through with another late marker to pull even. By prevailing 2-1 in a Sunday morning meeting with division rival Snipers, the Blaze punched their ticket to the championship semi against the 2nd seeded Southside FC.

Harding put a pass away from Stewart five minutes in to give Portage the early lead, while Bond broke a tie game with another buzzer beater, this time with two minutes left. "Meriel was like the Paul Henderson of this tournament, scoring two game-winning and two game-tying goals" said Mintenko. "Last year, we couldn't score at our tournament, and this year we really opened things up".

The Blaze return to their WWSL schedule on Friday, welcoming the Snipers back to Republic Park for a 7:30pm kick-off.


BLAZE VS. MAPLES JUVENTUS STARS

June 3, 2009 – 07:30 PM

 

Portage Blaze battle it out for second straight shutout
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze senior women's soccer team can turn their attention to the tournament they'll be hosting this weekend after putting themselves on a little winning streak Wednesday.

Tanis Mauws scored twice to lead the Blaze to a 3-0 win over the MJ Stars at Maples Community Centre in Winnipeg. With the victory, their second straight, Portage improved to 2-1 in WWSL First Division season. "It could have been a much closer game, but they had some bad luck around the net" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko after the win. "We just really finished a lot better on our chances".

Mauws opened up the scoring in the first half to give the Blaze a 1-0 lead a the break. Sarah Mansell crossed the ball in from deep in the Stars' end, and Mauws was parked in front to touch it past the Maples goalkeeper on the left side.

The Stars pressed hard for an equalizer before the half was out, putting one off the post and a handful more just wide, but were unable to beat Blaze netminder Carrie Blanchard.

"We were back on our heels for a bit, but we built some momentum off of their misses" said Mintenko. "In the second half, we came out pressuring again". The Blaze needed little time in the 2nd half to increase their lead, as Mauws deposited her second of the game just two minutes in. Laura Stewart made a run down the left side, sent a crossing pass from near the end line, and Mauws hammered the waist high ball to the corner of the goal.

Stewart continued to give the Stars some trouble in their own end, and was rewarded for her efforts by drawing a foul inside the Maples penalty area. The striker was tackled from behind after speeding around a defender to give the Blaze a penalty kick. Mansell took the kick, and placed it in the top right corner to make it 3-0 Portage. "Even though Laura earned it, Sarah is pretty solid on her penalty kicks, so I had her take it" said Mintenko. "The goalkeeper didn't have a chance".

Maples tried to get on the board, but was held at bay by the Blaze until time ran out. "They were pretty deflated after the penalty kick" said Mintenko. "We just kept the ball and closed it out".

Having put together back to back shutout victories, Mintenko said he's pleased with the way his club is playing defensively. "We have Ashley Williams back there playing sweeper, and we have Adele Butcher back from Halifax where she was going to school, playing sweeper as well" he said. "Those are some very solid players there, and they're really doing well".

Home Tournament

The Blaze will host the Central Plains Challenge Cup on Saturday and Sunday at Republic Park, and the team is feeling good heading into the 16 team tournament. "We're looking forward to it", said Mintenko. "We have a lot of confidence going in, so it should be a lot of fun. It's always a good tournament and team-bonding weekend for us".

The Blaze open up the round-robin against MacGregor United on Saturday at 10am, and will take on the Pirates of the WWSL's 5th Division at 1pm.

They will then wrap up the pool play against the division rival Snipers on Sunday morning. A neat feature of the weekend's tournament is the shootout contest, which will take place immediately after Portage's second game on Saturday.

Each team will put one shooter and one goalkeeper in the contest, which goes two rounds with a winning keeper and shooter determined by point totals. Points are awarded based on if or how a goal is scored. Shooters in each round get a penalty kick and a chance from 20 yards out with 5 seconds on the clock. "It's something different for the teams coming out, and they have a lot of fun with it" said Mintenko.

Called Up

In other team news, Blaze call-ups continue to make an impact with the Classics of the WWSL Premier Division. Jill Fast helped the Classics to a 2-1 win over the South End Shooters last week, and will suit up for the team again Friday with Mansell against the Titans.

"The Classics are 2-0 now, and our players have factored into the wins both times" said Mintenko.


BLAZE VS. T-DEVILS

June 2, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

New Recruits a-Blaze
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze have a couple of newcomers to thank for their first win of the WWSL First Division season.

First year player Sarah Mansell scored twice, while fellow Blaze rookie Thiaya Brazeau had the other in a 3-0 win over the T-Devils Sunday at Republic park. "It was nice playing up front, and the team was working well", said Mansell, who scored both of her goals in the first half. "We had good passes using the whole field, which was good to see".

The two new Blaze players, both from Minnedosa, helped Portage control the play for most of the match, as Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard wasn't tested too often in the win.

"Tonight, the Minnedosa girls really stepped up" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "They were very solid when I put them at midfield as well, and they have good accuracy up front. I can use them pretty much anywhere".

The Blaze got on the board 25 minutes into the game, as Mansell converted on a corner kick taken by Jill Fast to give Portage a 1-0 lead. Mansell deposited her 2nd of the contest with under 10 minutes left to play in the half as Meriel Bond caught the T-Devils goalkeeper out of position and sent a crossing pass for Mansell to deflect in.

The T-Devils threatened to cut into the lead late in the half, getting a good chance in close, but Blanchard was able to make the first stop before the Blaze defence cleared the ball out of trouble.

Both teams continued to pressure through the second half, getting a few decent opportunities before Brazeau broke through for the third Portage goal. Brazeau got the ball down near the left post to freeze the goalkeeper, and put a bad angle shot towards the net that bounced off a T-Devils defender and in to make it 3-0 with just seven minutes to play.

"I thought tonight was a very good passing game, and we had good ball possession" said Mintenko.

"We dominated the first half for ball possession using our wide field. Some of their players mentioned that they weren't used to playing on as large of a field, and they kind of got lost out there.

"In the 2nd half, they really pressured us quite hard, so we were back on our heels for about 20 minutes there. But we withstood it and Thiaya got the late one". With the win, Portage improved to 1-1 in the First Division standings, and Mintenko was excited for the teams first successful result since capturing the 2nd Division title in 2008 to earn a promotion.

"We're all pretty happy about that" he said. "This is the first time we've faced this team, and a lot of the teams are new to us this year. We're just kind of feeling them out in the first games. The 2nd half of the season is when we'll really be able to strategize a bit more because we'll have faced them at lease once".

The Blaze play their next game on Wednesday against the MJ Stars at the Maples Community Centre in Winnipeg.


BLAZE VS FC BARCELONA

May 22, 2009 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze Battle Wind, FC Barcelona
By Tyler Zdan
The Daily Graphic

Mother Nature and a stingy FC Barcelona conspired to ensure that the first game for the Portage Blaze in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer
League's First Division would not be a memorable one. The Blaze, who were promoted to the First Division after finishing first in the Second Division last season, dropped their season opener 4-0 to FC Barcelona at Republic of Manitobah Park on a very blustery
Friday evening.

Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said the weather played a huge factor  in his team's season-opening defeat.
"(The weather) was pretty huge," he said. "The wind was probably the worst I've ever seen — 60-70 km/h wind — and we lost the coin toss, so
we had to attack into that wind in the first half. "Running into that wind is a lot of work. The girls were getting tired,  and (FC Barcelona) had a lot of pressure in our end." The ferocious winds weakend Portage's chances of mounting any offensive charges, and also knocked down a number of clears from the home side, which allowed FC Barcelona to keep them hemmed into their own end for much of the frame.

The visitors opened the scoring midway through the first, scoring on a low shot from outside the penalty box that found the corner of the Blaze goal. Chances in tight led to the second and third goals, while a long shot that snuck past the Portage goalkeeper rounded out the scoring in the frame. Mintenko said his team tried to mount a comeback in the second half, but was tuckered out. "They were pretty tired from having to run into the wind in the first half," he said.

Despite their increasing fatigue, the Blaze were able to take advantage of the switch in sides and with the wind at their backs, managed a handful of chances, but couldn't capitalize. Mintenko said a tight defence from FC Barcelona, as well as a bit of bad luck, helped the visitors keep his team off the scoreboard. "We had eight corner kicks from Jill Fast, but they had a lot of defenders in the penalty area and were able to clear away those
cornerkicks," Minenko explained. "They were pretty good defensively, but we also had some shots that went just wide." Mintenko said, despite the loss, he was pleased with the effort from his players.

"They worked hard in the second half. Even though they were down four, they just kept working," he said. He added while one game isn't the most effective measuring stick, he is confident that his club will be able to run with the top guns in its first season in the WWSL First Division.
"I think we can compete in the First Division," he said. "We're pretty sure that we can play with these other clubs." Portage will return to action on Sunday, when it hosts the T-Devils at Republic Park.

Mintenko said he is confident that his club will be able to rebound from the season and snag a win against the T-Devils. "(The T-Devils), they lost their first game to Maniko, and Maniko was the team that finished second (behind Portage) in the Second Division last year," Mintenko explained. "I think, based on that score, that we  should be able to challenge them. Manaco — we didn't have too much trouble with them last year, so we should be able to bounce back from this first loss."

Game time on Sunday is 7 p.m.

Premier players

Two Portage Blaze players got a taste of play in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's Premier Division last week, as Fast and Sarah Mansell
were called up to play with Classics in their match against South End United on May 21.

The Blaze's Premier Division affiliate was in tough against the defending provincial champion United squad, but pulled off a 1-0 win,
thanks in large part to the play of the two Portagers. Mansell assisted on the contest's only goal, while defender Fast helped shut down a strong United attack that features a handful of Manitoba Bisons players, as well as two Canadian national team players.


BLAZE SEASON PREVIEW

May 8, 2009

 

Blaze Solidify Outdoor Roster
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Bryan Mintenko is confident that this year's Portage Blaze roster is even stronger than the one that captured a WWSL Second Division title at the end of last summer.

The Blaze head coach released the team's roster for the 2009 season on Thursday as the team prepares for play at the next level up after it's promotion to the First Division.

"I was a little worried when I lost my two centre midfield players in Caitlin Pringle and tanya Burch", said Mintenko. "They were my two strongest players. But it's really evened out. The players that we've lost, we've replaced with equally skilled players and we've added some pretty good players that are passionate. "Compared to last year, I think this is a better roster".

The 18 player squad was selected after the Blaze were blanked 3-0 in a preseason game against Rooster FC of the 2nd division at John Blumberg park in Headingley on Wednesday.

"We moved some around in the 2nd half, trying to see where some people might be able to fit this season" said Mintenko, as the Blaze gave up all three goals after half-time. "We learned a few things from that, and we'll use it for the season. It was a good wake up call".

After sitting out last season, Tanis and Terri Mauws have returned to the team, and will act as Portage's captains. Sweeper Ashley Williams and midfielder Kim Cowan have been named assistant captains. The Blaze have four new faces for the outdoor season, including a pair of players from Minnedosa - Sarah Mansell and Thiaya Brazeau - that will fill the hole at midfield with the departure of Burch and Pringle.

"They're two great additions" said Mintenko. "They were looking for a women's team to play on...came out to a couple of practices, really enjoyed it, and decided to join". Mintenko said both players are skilled enough to play any position on the pitch, but will both be slotted in at centre mid-field.

Meanwhile, newcomer Meriel Bond opted to join up with the Blaze after a successful indoor campaign with the team. The striker from Poplar Point found immediate chemistry with her new teammates when joining Portage midway through the season. "She's a pretty good fit for our team - a small town girl with a positive attitude who works hard" said Mintenko. "On Wednesday I had her up front with Laura Stewart, and they worked pretty well together, so I think that will be a good tandem for outdoor".

Winger Jillian Enright will make her debut with the Blaze this season, having just recently arrived in Manitoba. Enright, who hails from Guelph Ontario, was recruited by Blaze stopper Jill Fast when the two played rec hockey together this winter. "She calls herself a 'digger'" said Mintenko, "not so much of a finesse player, but someone who will win the ball on challenges, and keep possession of the ball. Those are the kind of players I like to have on the team".

Another addition to the Blaze this season comes on the bench, as Mark Nunn will help out Mintenko with coaching. "He knows the game pretty well, so I'll have some help on the bench, and an extra set of eyes" said Mintenko.

Goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard is back for her 7th year with the team, one of the several veterans on the roster. Stewart led the Blaze in scoring during last year's championship season, and Mintenko will look to her as one of Portage's offensive leaders. "Laura Stewart will be up there for our team again in goal scoring, and Meriel Bond will be up there as well", he said. "I'm looking forward to having those rookies step up and put a few to the back of the net".

The Blaze have one pre-season game match up remaining as they'll take on the Classics of the Premier division at Blumberg park on Saturday at 2pm. Their first division schedule opens up on May 13 against Black Magic while their home-opener at Republic Park goes May 22 against FC Barcelona.


BLAZE VS SC HURRICANES

May 2, 2009 – 02:00 PM

 

ROOKIES STAND OUT IN FIRST PORTAGE BLAZE ACTION
BY TYLER ZDAN
THE DAILY GRAPHIC

Fresh faces have become a familiar sight for the Portage Blaze Women's Soccer club as it has begun rounding out its roster for the 2009 outdoor season.

Don't mistake the club's youthful exuberance for inexperience or vulnerability, however, because you just might get burned. That was exactly what happened to the Division 2 South Central Hurricanes at Republic Of Manitobah Park Saturday, as Blaze rookies figured in all three of Portage's goals in a 3-1 victory.

Blaze newcomer Meriel Bond picked up a goal and an assist in the contest, while fellow freshmen Thiaya Brazeau and Jillian Enright each added as assist of their own.

Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said he was thrilled with the play of the three young players, and hinted their play in the first pre-season game has all but cemented their spots in the regular line-up. "It was a nice surprise", he said. "I was expecting them to play well because they were trying to crack the line-up, but I didn't expect them to get in on the offence like that. With the way they played, they've probably succeeded (at making the line up) at this time".

While the rookies were sharp for the Blaze on Saturday, the club's veterans put on a fine show as well. The team's top goal scorer from 2008, Laura Stewart, notched a pair of goals to kick off the outdoor campaign, while the goaltender, Carrie Blanchard, was nearly unbeatable between the posts.

Stewart opened up the scoring only five minutes into the match, as she converted a chip pass from Brazeau for a 1-0 lead. Portage opened up a 2-0 lead shortly thereafter, as Bond picked up her first goal in a Blaze uniform. She took a feed from Enright and found the top corner of the Hurricanes net for the 2-0 marker.

From there, the Blaze kept pressing, but the Hurricanes kept them off the board for the remainder of the first half. The 2nd half didn't start well for the Blaze, as a defensive lapse early in the frame allowed the Hurricanes to draw within one. Defender Ashley Williams mis-struck a clearing attempt which took a bizarre bounce past a stunned Blanchard as the Hurricanes narrowed the gap to 2-1.

The Blaze bounced back, however, regaining the two goal lead in the 84th minute when Stewart took a breakaway pass from Bond and pulled a slick deke on the Hurricanes netminder. With the goaltender down and out, she tapped it in to cement the win.

Mintenko said Stewart's second goal was electrifying, and a perfect example of how she has grown as a player. "She's being more creative with the ball" he said. "Last year, on the breakaway she usually would have just shot, but this time she took her time and faked the shot before she did that deke." Mintenko added he'll be looking for more of the same throughout the season. "I'm looking for another big season from her, and she started if off right with those two goals".

On the defensive side of the ball, Mintenko said he was impressed with William's effort. "That was the first time she played as sweeper, so she was pretty nervous about being the last defender between the offence and the goaltender," Mintenko explained, "but she played really well".

With only two pre-season games remaining for the Blaze before their May 13 season opener, Mintenko said there will be some tough decisions over who will make the final cut. He currently has 25 players trying out for the club, but must pare that down to 20 for opening day.

The 2009 season will be the Blaze's first in Division 1 of the WWSL. They played in Division 2 last season, and earned promotion after finishing first.

Challenging Season Ahead: Mintenko

Mintenko said the team isn't expecting to repeat the first place finish from last season in the new, much tougher division, but added they will be looking for at least a top five finish. "We're coming off a really good year last year, so hopefully we can carry that momentum into the season" he said.

"It'll be a challenging year for us, but hopefully we'll finish top five. When you're coming into a new division, and all the teams are new, I think a top five finish is a good goal".

Portage has also chosen to affiliate itself with an upper tier team. The club has reached an agreement with the Classics of the Premier division, which will allow Blaze players to be called up to the premier club throughout the season.

"The affiliation benefits them and it benefits us", Mintenko explained. "It benefits them because if they are short, or want to add to their roster for a game, they'll call me up and ask me to send some players up. It benefits us because when those players come back down to play with us, they'll have that experience of playing with and against the best competition."

The club will take on Rooster FC of Division 2 on Wednesday, and will close out the preseason with a match against Classics of Premier division on Saturday. Both games will be held at John Blumberg Park in Headingley.

The club opens up its season on May 13 against Black Magic at Blumberg park, game time is 7:30pm. They open their WWSL Division 1 season on May 13.


BLAZE VS. BALL BUSTERS

March 27, 2009 – 09:30 PM

 

Blaze end the season with a win
By Eric MacKenzie
Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team finished off their season with a big victory, but got no closer to finding out if they'll be promoted next year.

A 5-3 win over Ball Busters Friday at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex saw the Blaze finish fourth in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Third Division standings.

Portage was hoping on a top-three placing to guarantee themselves a shot at promotion for the 2009-10 campaign, but head coach Bryan Mintenko said there's still a chance for the club to move up.

"If a team in one of the higher divisions folds, then there could be a chance for another team to move up," he said, adding that teams defaulting two or more games are subject to demotion as well. "It's an outside chance, but it's still a possibility."

The Blaze finished their indoor season with 12 wins, three draws and five losses, putting them three points back of the third-place Chicas.

They won't receive word about their standing for promotion until September.

In Friday's game, Laura Stewart put the Blaze on the board six minutes in, converting a crossing pass from Meriel Bond for a 1-0 lead.

Five minutes later, defender Janine Massinon picked off an errant goal kick up the middle, and hammered it to the back of the Ball Busters net to put Portage up by two.


BLAZE VS. ICE

March 16, 2009 – 08:30 PM

 

Ice cool Blaze
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Too bad for the Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team that Ice picked up a red-hot striker.

A forward from the first-place Ice scored three times and helped set up another, as they topped the Blaze 4-1 Monday at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex.

With the loss, the Blaze had their three-game win streak in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Third Division snapped.

Head coach Bryan Mintenko said the one player that had their number Monday wasn't in the lineup the two other times the Blaze met Ice this season.

"Basically, it was the one player on their team that destroyed us tonight, and I don't recall her from the last two games," he said. "She was pretty deadly tonight with some accurate shots."


BLAZE VS. RAVE

March 10, 2009 – 09:15 PM

 

Laura Stewart remains hot for Blaze
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

Another win on Tuesday has put a top three finish and a divisional promotion well within reach for the Portage Blaze women's indoor team. The Blaze blanked Rave 2-0 at the U of M Soccer Complex for their third straight win, solidifying their spot near the top of the WWSL 3rd Division standings.

Laura Stewart had her second straight two goal game for Portage, scoring once in each half to power the Blaze to victory. "We totally took them out of the game with our ball possession, and played really aggressively" said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "All they could do was try to foul us, and they gave us a lot of kick-ins on the side and corner kicks". "They didn't really have much of an offence at all, so all we needed to do was get one or two goals, and that's what we did".

Janine Massinon, a natural defender, was pressed into goal-keeping duty for the first time this season, and turned away seven shots for the clean sheet. Mintenko was thrilled with her inaugural performance in front of the net. "Basically, I told her to just come out of the net and clear away any crosses or passes, and she came out quite a bit to clear the ball back upfield" he said. "She really didn't have to touch the ball much with her hands, I was really happy with the way she played".

When the two teams last met on Dec. 9, Rave emerged with a 2-1 win, but Portage seemed to frustrate its opponents more as the game went on in Tuesday's contest. "Last time we played Rave, we just didn't match their aggressiveness - they're a pushy team" he said. "This time around, we matched their aggressive play, and we could tell it was frustrating them. There were a couple of occasions where their players were yelling at each other, or yelling at the referee begging for a call. You could tell they were off their game."

Stewart notched her first of the night 11 minutes into the game to give Portage a 1-0 lead. Jill Fast sent in a great through ball in front, which Stewart hammered into the right side of the net for her ninth strike of the season. Her team leading 10th of the campaign came near the midway point of the 2nd half on a tremendous individual effort. Stewart left two defenders in her wake with some nifty footwork up the left wing, and the Rave goal-keeper could do nothing but watch as the Blaze forward blasted one inside the left post to arrive at the final score. "The defenders were caught flat-footed, and really couldn't stop her" said Mintenko. "The last few games, she's really turned it on".

With Tuesday's win, the Blaze improved their record on the year to 11-4-3, and still occupy third spot in the standings with two games left in the season. Chicas are just one point back of Portage for third, and hold a game in hand. Chicas next two contests come against the leagues bottom dwellers, before rounding out the schedule against the 2nd place Maples Titans. The Blaze need to win their remaining two games and hope for the Titans to knock off Chicas to guarantee a top three finish and stay in the running for promotion next season.

Portage will face league leaders Ice on Monday back at the U of M for a third time this season, having lost and tied the previous meetings. Both clubs are strong defensively, as the two have combined for just one goal in two games already in the books.

"They have a very skilled goalkeeper and a pretty tough defence, so that's why the games have been pretty low scoring, but we've been good defensively too" said Mintenko, whose team has allowed a division low 12 goals against this season. "It would be nice to get our offence going, but I think it will be another close, defensive game. "I'm hoping Laura, Meriel Bond, and Jill can come through and score some big goals for us".

Since Monday's game is a must win for the Blaze, Mintenko said he won't hesitate to take some gambles offensively to try and come away with three points against Ice. "I'm going to try to get the defenders involved in the offence - push one up to try and get them in on the attack" he said. "It's a little risky to do that, but we need some goals against this team."


BLAZE VS. CHICAS

 

Blaze in the hunt for a promotion
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team are exactly where they want to be with just three games left on the schedule.

With wins Sunday and Tuesday this week, the Blaze moved up into third spot in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Third Division standings.

They're looking for a top-three finish to earn promotion to the Second Division next season.

The Blaze dispatched of the Wildcats by a 3-1 count on Sunday at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex, then squeaked past Chicas 2-1 with a late goal on Tuesday to claim third place in the standings.

Tuesday's win over Chicas was a big one, as the Blaze sat behind them in the standings heading into the contest.

It was the Blaze, however, who looked like the better team from the get-go.

"We needed to win that one," said head coach Bryan Mintenko. "We had some bad luck around the net, but you could see that it was going to come eventually. We had the majority of the chances and most of the ball possession."


 

BLAZE VS. MAPLES JUVENTUS TITANS

February 23, 2009 – 09:30 PM

 

Blaze see their seven-game win streak ended
By Eric MacKenzie
Daily Graphic

After having their seven-game unbeaten streak snapped last week, the Portage Blaze women’s indoor soccer team are looking to get on another roll to close out the last quarter of the season.

The Blaze fell 3-1 to the Maples Juventus Titans last Friday at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex, their first loss since Dec. 9.

Kathy Stewart had the only Portage goal, as the Blaze missed out on an opportunity to make up some ground on the Titans, who sit just ahead in the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division standings.

“The first half, we had most of the pressure, and it looked like it was going to be our game,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “They came out with a little more pressure in the second half, and controlled the play.

“It was just a couple of key defensive errors that resulted in their goals, it wasn’t anything spectacular on their part. It was kind of a frustrating one, because it looked like we could have taken them.”



BLAZE VS. ICE

February 2, 2009 – 08:30 PM

 

Blaze, Ice battle to 0-0 draw
By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team remained undefeated in their last five games after a tight battle with one of the league's top teams Monday.

The Blaze and second-place Ice played each other to a rare scoreless draw at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex, despite a number of great offensive opportunities at both ends.

Blaze goalkeeper Callie Teetaert made some spectacular saves to keep Ice off the board and earn the clean sheet.

"It's not very often in indoor soccer you have a 0-0 game," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "There were quite a few good chances both ways, so I was surprised we came out with the 0-0 tie. I was pretty happy with our effort against a second-place team."


BLAZE VS. FALCONS UNITED

January 25, 2009 – 09:30 PM

 

Blaze on a roll
Posted By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The shutout streak may be over, but the wins keep coming for the Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team.

Meriel Bond and Tanya Burch scored 30 seconds apart in the first half Sunday to lead the Blaze to a 2-1 win over Falcons United at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex.

Portage goalkeeper Karen Oke was outstanding in the second half to keep a one-goal lead intact and preserve a fourth-straight victory for the Blaze.

"It was a much closer game," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko, whose club had outscored their opposition 13-0 in three straight wins heading in. "(Oke) did quite well. She made a few good stops in the second half and kept us in it."



BLAZE VS. FLYGIRLS

January 16, 2009


Stewart sisters team up to stomp Flygirls
Posted By Eric MacKenzie, The Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic Sports

The Stewart sister act was in full effect Friday as the Portage Blaze women's indoor soccer team rattled off their third straight win.

Twins Kathy and Laura Stewart scored two goals apiece, while Jill Fast added another two in a 6-0 rout of Flygirls at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex.

"The Stewart sisters have a great sibling rivalry on our team. One girl scores and then the other sister has to match her. It works very well," said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. "I intentionally put them on the same line and they feed off one another and compete with one another — It's fun to watch".

Meriel Bond continued to showcase her playmaking abilities in the win, chipping in with three assists.

Meanwhile, Karen Oke and Kristie Cunnington split the goaltending duties en route to the shutout.



BLAZE VS. GATEWAY CELTIC

January 9, 2009 – 09:30 PM

 

Newest Blaze heats it up with three goals

Posted By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

A new face in the lineup helped the Portage Blaze earn their second straight victory Friday in Winnipeg.

Meriel Bond assisted on two of Laura Stewart's three goals in her first game with the Blaze, who rolled to a 4-0 win over the Gateway Celtic at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex.

Kristie Cunnington also found the net in Portage's first game since dumping the Ninja Turtles 3-0 on Dec. 16.

"It was nice to come out with a good offensive effort in the first game back after a long break," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "I was looking for some of the younger players to step it up in the absence of Caitlin Pringle, our captain — Laura Stewart was definitely able to do that."



BLAZE VS. RAVE

December 9, 2008 – 07:15 PM

 

Blaze hoping to spark offence
Posted By Eric MacKenzie
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze womens' indoor soccer team are still looking for a break-out game offensively, as it didn't come for them on Tuesday in Winnipeg.

The Blaze fell 2-1 to Rave at the University of Manitoba Soccer Complex despite some good chances late in the game to pull even.

With the loss, Portage sits with a record of two wins, two draws and three losses on their Winnipeg Womens' Soccer League Third Division campaign, and are lingering among the middle of the pack in the standings.

Rave scored two quick goals in the first half to jump out to a 2-0 lead, and would sit on it the rest of the way.

Tanya Burch scored late in the first half to pull the Blaze within one, but they wouldn't be able to complete the comeback.

"Our team had more pressure from that point on, but we just couldn't find the net," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. " We had a couple of breakaways in the second half, but just couldn't finish on them."


BLAZE VS. RE UNITED

August 24, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Blaze cap successful season with 7-1 win

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

They may not be going to Disney World, but they are headed to First Division. The Portage Blaze capped off their WWSL 2nd Division campaign with a 7-1 win over RE United in their final game of the season on Sunday.

Having finished atop the league with a 14-3-1 record, the Blaze will be promoted to First Division next season. "It's been three years in this division and it's been a lot of hard work" said Mintenko. "It's a great feeling, we've had a great season".

"We just keep getting better and keep moving up" he said. "It's been a lot of fun to be a part of". Sunday nights game was all about fun as the Blaze clinched first place on August 18.

In the spirit of fun, starting goaltender Carrie Blanchard was moved to forward and managed to score the opening goal. Full time defender Ruth Stewart also got a chance to grab some glory as a forward, scoring the team's second goal. Blaze captain Caitlin Pringle put her team ahead 3-0 with a goal just before the half.

In the second half, Rae Stoughton opened the scoring with her first of the season, before Second Division's scoring leader Laura Stewart was unleashed, tallying three goals in the half for a season total of 20 goals.

The club started their climb to the top of the WWSL eight years ago in Division 5. Since then, the team has seen talet come and go including a loss of nine veteran players at the start of this season, leading to early forecasts of a rebuilding phase.

"It was almost a brand new team this year, but they jelled right away. Three games into the season, they already had great team chemistry. That's pretty amazing considering we had so many new faces" said Mintenko.

Among those new to the fold was team scoring leader Laura Stewart. "She led our team, she's very fast and made it very hard for defenders to mark her. She had explosive speed, she gets the ball and she's gone" said Mintenko of Laura Stewart. "She's been inspiring for all of our team. Our veterans especially have picked up their game, inspired by her. She's been an incredible contributor this year".

Other solid rookies this season were Kathy Stewart who tallied five goals, and tenacious rear guard Dany Comeau. As good as the rookies were this season, the veterans were not far behind.

"Our veteran leadership was another strong point this year", said Mintenko. "Pringle was the captain again this year, Kim Cowan on defence, and Tanya Burch as the other assistant captain. Those girls had another great season. The rookies just gave us that added spark that we needed".

So far, Mintenko has received commitments from around 12 players for next season, and while he believes the team has what it takes to compete in the First Division, he also knows it will require a lot of hard work. For now, however, they'll enjoy their accomplishments as they look forward to taking to the pitch again in the spring.


BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

August 20, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Blaze burn bright
Daily Graphic Staff

The Portage Blaze further demonstrated their dominance over WWSL 2nd Division last night with a 3-2 win over the Stonewall Grads.

The Blaze (13-3-1) had already clinched first place in their division with a default win over Rave on Monday, but were out to prove a point against Stonewall (4-7-6).

Ashley Williams opened the scoring for the Blaze at the 44th minute pocketing her second of the season. After the half, Laura Stewart picked up where Williams left off, scoring her 14th of the season at the 47 minute mark, followed by her 15th 85 minutes in. The Blaze season finale is slated for Aug. 24 against RE United (8-3-6) at Republic Park.



BLAZE VS. RAVE

August 18, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Default win clinches WWSL Second Division title for Blaze
Posted By The Daily Graphic Staff

The two sweetest words in the English language according to Portage Blaze Soccer Club coach Bryan Mintenko and Homer Simpson are, "De fault."

The Portage Blaze (12-3-1) clinched first place in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Second Division Monday night with a default win over the Transcona Rave (4-7-4 ).

"We found out last night that they only had eight players available so they decided not to make another trip to Portage," said Mintenko, who used the free time to put the team through its paces in an impromptu practice, Monday at Republic of Manitobah park.

"This win clinches first mathematically, but we still have two games left to make our place at the top official," said Mintenko.

On Wednesday, the Blaze take on Stonewall on their own turf before returning home to close out their division-winning season against RE United on Aug. 24.


BLAZE VS. SOUTHSIDE FC

August 13, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Blaze edge closer to clinching first

Three goal outburst before halftime sinks Southside FC

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

Communication was sorely lacking in the first 30 minutes of the Portage Blaze's home game on Wednesday night. But then the Blaze turned into ventriloquists. When their lips started moving, their feet started doing the loudest talking. Portage (11-3-1) exploded for three goals in just over five minutes leading into halftime to key a 4-1 victory over Southside FC (5-7-3) in WWSL 2nd division action at Republic Park.

Big Words, Bigger Effort

"There was a little discombobulation with the team in the early part of the game" said the Blaze's Danika Baker, who not only contributed a goal and an assist in the contest, but also was the clear winner on the night of the team's ongoing in-house contest for who can use the longest word in a postgame interview. "But we picked it up, especially in the second half".

The victory put the Blaze six points clear of 2nd place Maniko (9-5-1) in the battle for the division title. Maniko was slated to play the SC Hurricanes on the road in Winkler on Wednesday with the score unavailable by press time.

A Maniko loss in that game would virtually lock up top spot for Portage, as Maniko would have to win its last two games and hope the Blaze dropped their final three games to create a tie for first.

Both teams had their chances in the opening half. Southside's Brianna Plett had the first good opportunity in the 20th minute as she raced down the right side and turned the corner on her defender to move in for a shot. But Caitlin Pringle, who split goal-keeping duties with Katrina Nylen in absence of regular keeper Carrie Blanchard, came sliding out to knock the ball away.

Laura Stewart was stoned by Southside keeper Felecia Davies two minutes later on a close-in chance, as was Tanya Burch two minutes after that.

The Portage defence corps took a hit in the 35th minute when impressive rookie Dany Comeau was injured on a sliding tackle by Southside's Stefanie Felix. Comeau stayed down for a couple of minutes and was helped off the field favouring her right shin.

Back to Life

Rallying in the support of their fallen teammate, the Blaze's high powered offence kicked into fourth gear soon after. Jill Fast delivered a through ball to Stewart, who left Plett in her dust as the Blaze scoring ace dashed forward on a breakaway and rocketed a shot to the top left corner of the net past Davies to make it 1-0 in the 40th minute.

Three minutes later, Fast showed her playmaking skills again by sending a cross into the 18 yard box that found the foot of Baker, who smacked it home for her first goal of the year.

"It was a perfect pass from Jill and I just put it in the corner" said Baker. Less than a minute later, Fast went in on a breakaway herself. But, after getting around Davies, the Blaze veteran couldn't get a shot off after being blatently shoved by the goalkeeper at the last second. The push elicited no call from the referee and plenty of anger from a frustrated Fast.

But making Fast mad was hardly a wise strategy. Two minutes later, during the first minute of stoppage time tacked on due to Comeau's injury, Tiffany Holmes sent a pass into the 18 yard box to Baker, who tapped it over to Fast. The Blaze player unloaded a cannonball type shot that possibly could have went through Davies had the goalkeeper tried to block it on it's way into the net for Fast's 10th of the season and a 3-0 lead.

"It took us a little while to get into the game" said Portage coach Bryan Mintenko. "But when we got that first one, the flood gates opened". The second half saw the Blaze carry most of the play while maintaining their big lead. That allowed for such moments of levity such as Fast jokingly giving her Subway sandwich order to the Portage bench for an in game snack and a resting Tanya Burch coming off the sideline to save a salamander from a painful fate of being ground underfoot by somebody's steel cleats.

Southside curtailed the comedy slightly in the 73rd minute. Mel Blanchard curled a lead pass to a streaking Jill Sharpe, who busted in on the left wing and pounded the ball past Nylen to the far side to cut the deficit to 3-1.

But the Portage defence tightened after that and Stewart capped the evening with her second of the night and team high 13th of the season in the 87th minute.

The Blaze next take on the 9th place Rave (3-7-4) in a home game on Aug. 18. "We have to not worry about where the teams we are playing are in the standings", said Mintenko. "Any team can beat anyone else in the division. Just like we're fighting for first, the Rave are fighting to not get relegated to the third division. We have to take care of our own situation".



BLAZE VS. MANIKO

August 11, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Maniko draws closer to Blaze with wet win

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze are still one up on Maniko, but for how long? The first place Blaze (10-3-1) lost for the second time in three games on Monday, falling 1-0 to second place Maniko (9-5-1) in WWSL 2nd division action in Winnipeg.

Maniko is only three points behind Portage in the race for top spot in the division, but is running out of time with only three games left to play, compared to four for the Blaze. "We knew we were going to get a tough game from Maniko", said Portage coach Bryan Mintenko. "We had most of the pressure in the 2nd half, and they had most of it in the first".

Ironically, though, it was the second half that saw Maniko get the games only goal, as a shot from an undefended striker beat Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard from 20 yards away in the 60th minute.

"Carrie didn't have much of a chance on the shot and she made some big saves throughout the rest of the night", said Mintenko. "We just didn't have their girl marked very well".

Janine Massinon came within inches of knotting the game for the Blaze, pounding a shot from 30 yards out that looked like it would find the top part of the net, only to have it connect with the crossbar and bounce away.

The game took place in the middle of a steady rain, which only relented slightly for about 10 minutes in the second half before resuming again. "Weather can be a great equalizer", said Mintenko, whose team has been shut out 1-0 in all three of losses this year, but is still second in the 10 team division with 39 goals for in 14 games. "It made it hard to control the ball and move the ball. Everybody was soaked by the end".

Portgae has a chance to rebound on Wednesday night when it plays at Republic Park against 7th place Southside FC (5-6-2), which happens to boase the highest scoring team in the 2nd division with 41 goals for in 13 games, but has given up 35 compared to only 13 by the Blaze.

"That big field at Republic is an advantage for us" said Mintenko, whose squad will play three of its final four games at home. "We want to use our speed off the wings to create some chances for ourselves".


BLAZE VS. RAVE

August 6, 2008 – 07:00 PM


Rested Blaze rout Rave in WWSL

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

The Human body, given enough recovery time, can do remarkable things. A refreshed Portage Blaze looked every bit the first place team it is on Wednesday, ripping the Rave 6-1 in WWSL 2nd Division action.

The Blaze (10-2-1) had not played since a 1-0 loss to SC Hurricanes in Winkler on July 28, with coach Bryan Mintenko cancelling last weeks scheduled practice to allow his banged up and tired squad to not only get healthy, but get their legs back. Mission accomplished. "We had loads of energy, with lots of speed on the wings and up front" said Mintenko, whose team led the 8th place Rave (3-7-3) by a 3-0 margin at halftime. "We pretty much waltzed around thier defenders all night. They were pretty slow to react and we got a lost of shots."

After plenty of early pressure yeilded no results, Portage broke the ice in the 22nd minute. Caitlin Pringle fired a through ball ahead to send Laura Stewart in on a breakaway, and Stewart finished the play with a bullet to the right side of the net.

That opened the floodgates, as two minutes later, Jill Fast raced around two Rave defenders and walked in alone on the goalkeeper before burying a shot in the right half of the net for a 2-0 edge.

At the 39th minute, Stewart put everything behind a blast from the left wing outside the 18 yard box which found nothing but net to give the Blaze rookie her team leading 11th of the year.

The second half became Tiffany Homles' time to shine. Entering the game with only one goal this season, the Blaze veteran scored twice in six minutes to triple her output.

Blaze tighten up grip on first place

In the 66th minute, Stewart sent a cross into the box which went off the Rave goaltenders hands and landed at the feet of Holmes, who drilled the rebound home. Then in the 72nd minute, the Rave netminder couldn't successfully clear the ball from outside the penalty area, and holmes made her pay by caroming a shot off the goalkeepers head and into the net for Holmes' third of the campaign.

Miscommunication was the only thing that cost Portage a shutout. In the 79th minute, Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard and one of her defensive fullbacks got crossed up as to who was going after a loose ball, with a Rave striker swooping in to capitalize on the gift opportunity as Blanchard was caught out of position.

"Carrie didn't have to face many shots at all last night", said Mintenko in defence of his goalkeeper, "she was starting to lose concentration, because it gets pretty boring back there when that happens. But at that point, the goal didn't matter".

But Fast made sure the night would end on a high note for Portage, as she boomed a shot from outside the 18 yard box that went off the goalkeeper's hands and in for Fast's ninth of the season.

The win moves the Blaze six points ahead of second place Maniko (8-4-1) for top spot in the 2nd division, pending Maniko's result against the Hurricanes on Wednesday, which was not available by press time.

That sets up a crucial game for Portage against Maniko in the Blaze's next outing on August 11 in Winnipeg. Portage's next home game is on August 13 at Republic Park in a clash with Southside FC.


BLAZE VS. HURRICANES

July 28, 2008 – 07:30 PM


Portage Blaze stymied again by Hurricanes

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

The one team to have the Portage Blaze's number this season did another defensive number on the local squad.

The Blaze (9-2-1) had their 8 game unbeaten streak snapped by the SC Hurricanes (6-4-3) in a 1-0 loss in WWSL 2nd Division Action in Winkler on Monday, the same score the Hurricanes beat Portage by on May 30 in the Blaze's only other setback this year.

"The Hurricanes are a very defensive minded team" said Portage coach Bryan Mintenko from a Winkler restaurant where the team was drowning its sorrows in ice cream. "They keep an extra defender back to prevent our attack...they completely shut down our offence.

"We had several shots go wide in the first half, although we had four or five corner kicks. I told them at the half they needed to run up the pressure on the defence. We picked it up in the 2nd half and had four or five good chances. South Central, which moved into a 2nd place tie with Maniko at 22 points, notched the lone goal of the first half. A corner kick found its way to an unmarked Hurricanes midfielder, who pounded it into the net from close range.

The best Blaze opportunity came midway through the half when team goal scoring leader Laura Stewart found herself unmarked in front of the SC goal keeper. But a fatigued Stewart didn't get everything she wanted on the ball and the Hurricanes net guardian dove back in time to stop the shot.

In fact, playing their second game in five days, first place Portage looked to be a tired group to its coach, and for good reason. "We've got a lot of nagging injuries right now", said Mintenko, who was forced to put mid-fielder Jill Fast between the pipes for two reasons.

One was because of the absence of starting goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard, as well as backups Caitlin Pringle and Katrina Nylen, who were all unable to make the game due to personal reasons. The second was because Fast had her wisdom teeth removed late last week and didn't want to chance having the ball connect with her still swollen jaw. "Jill played very well in net for us", said Mintenko, who also had midfielder Tanya Burch back in the line-up after she had to leave the last game after sustaining a broken nose. "She made a diving save with 3 minutes remaining to go which kept us in it".

The Blaze will have more than a week to heal its wounds before getting back into competition against Rave (3-3-5) on August 6th in Winnipeg.

"It's dangerous playing teams that are lower down in the division" added Mintenko about the Rave, which were tied for 7th heading into action on Monday. "They're looking to avoid relegation to a lower division, so they're tough to play against. We want to keep the cushion we have over the teams chasing us for first".

Portage next plays at home on August 13 against Southside FC at Republic Park at 7 p.m.





BLAZE VS. WISEGALS

July 23, 2008 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze pay back Wisegals for Kenora clunker
By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze were still scratching their heads before the game, still wondering what went wrong this past weekend in Kenora. They could pat themselves on the back after the game for getting revenge against one of the teams that caused them grief during their trip east.

Jill Fast scored the lone goal of the game in the 15th minute and the Blaze defence made it stand up the rest of the way as Portage (9-1-1) defeated the Wisegals (4-3-5) by a count of 1-0 in WWSL 2nd division action at Republic Park.

Portage strengthened its hold on first place in the division, opening up an eight point lead on second place co-holders Maniko and RE United.

Picking up the Pace

Having lost 2-1 to the Wisegals just days ago in what was the final game for both teams at a tournament in Kenora, the youthful Blaze looked like the much stronger team throughout the majority of last nights contest. Their older Winnipeg counterparts, which had trouble containing Portage's abundance of speed all night.

"This wasn't as sloppy a game as when we faced them in Kenora" said Fast. "We had both played three games in two days and we were all tired".

Fast showed no fatigue in the 15th minute as she broke in alone on Wisegals keeper Johanna Ratcliffe after the Blaze stole a throw-in in the Wisegals zone, with Laura Stewart eventually controlling the ball and then sending ahead to Fast who deked around defender Suzanne Glavin to put herself in the clear.

Ratcliffe had not chance as Fast blistered a shot from 10 yards out into the top left part of the net for her 7th goal of the season, putting her two behind Stewart for the team lead.

"I usually don't get a clear breakaway like that" said Fast. "I wanted to shoot it hard to the left because that's a right-footed shooters favourite spot".

Portage received a slight scare seven minutes later when Stewart had her fingers bent back on her right hand after colliding with Ratcliffe while chasing after a rebound. Stewart came out of the game and applied an ice pack to her hand, but after stating "just suck it up", she returned to the field 15 minutes later.

Fast almost made it 2-0 when she dashed in on the right wing after taking a feed from Tiffany Homles. But Ratcliffe came out to challenge and get her hands on Fast's shot, which then bounced out of harm's way to the far side of the field.

One Strong Wind

Portage had a number of other opportunities that either went high or wide of the net, as the teams battled a gusting crosswind which made shooting accurately a tricky task, especially in the second half.

Meanwhile, the Wisegals were on their heels most of the way, rarely venturing into the Portage zone and getting practically no quality scoring chances against the fill-in goal-keeping tandem of Caitlin Pringle and Katrina Nylen.

"Caitlin and Katrina did very well in net" said Fast about the duo, which substituted for regular starter Carrie Blanchard. "It was nice to see they were willing to share the job so both could take turns playing out".

"We outplayed them by more than a 1-0 score" added Fast, one of the veteran leaders on the team who stepped up to guide the squad with coach Bryan Mintenko absent due to being at an officiating appointment in Quebec. "It could have been much more of a gap at the end".

The only sore spot for the Blaze came in the 65th minute when assitant captain and midfielder Tanya Burch leapt to get her head on the ball, only to have a Wisegals defender try to thwart the play by leading with her head - which connected with Burch's nose solidly enough an audible cracking sound could be heard. Burch was helped up after a couple of minutes and walked off under her own power. But the resulting broken nose led the MacGregor resident to have to be taken to the hospital by teammate Adele Butcher, a longtime Portage player who has been as school in Nova Scotia all season, but has returned to Manitoba for a short stay and played with the Blaze in Kenora.

"Tanya got the ball and the Wisegals girl caught her with the right side of her forehead" said Fast. "But Tanya's tough, she'll be fine".

Portage's next league game is on July 28 in Winkler against the SC Hurricanes, the first of three in a row on the road for the Blaze, who won't play at home again until August 13 at Republic Park.





KENORA TOURNAMENT WRAP-UP


Blaze offence dries up in Kenora

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

A mission that held so much promise for the Portage Blaze ended in sour fachion, with not much to cheer about.

The Blaze went 0-2-1 this past weekend during their annual excursion to a tournament in Kenora, Ont., scoring only one goal throughout the three games after coming into the event as the most dangerous offensive unit as the top team in the WWSL 2nd Division.

"We didn't play anything like we have during the regular season", said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "I really thought we could make the playoffs. I don't know what happened. It was a lot like the tournament in Portage, we just couldn't score".

The Blaze started their weekend with a 0-0 draw against Haps, a Kenora based team. "Haps is one of the top teams in Kenora, but we had most of the pressure", said Mintenko.

Bringing the Bulk

Portage was then blanked 2-0 by Brandon, which used physicality as an effective weapon to throw the Blaze off their game. "Brandon played an aggressive style and pushed us off the ball a lot and we weren't able to play our style", said Mintenko. "Brandon didn't have many chances, but the ones they got, they capitalized on".

Brandon got on the board midway through the first half when a blast from 30 yards out found its way past Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard, who looked strong for the most part throughout the weekend in giving up only four goals in three games.

Late in the half, a Brandon shot looked like it was going wide, but surprised Blanchard by going off the post and then onto the foot of a waiting Brandon striker who buried it in the back of the net.

Needing a win to stay alive in the tournament, Portage lost 2-1 to Wisegals, a 2nd division rival which the Blaze will play in their next regular season game on Wednesday at Republic Park. "I don't see that type of game happening for us in the regular season", said Mintenko about the elimination loss. "I think we'll get back on track on Wednesday. There's no way we'll play them the same way we did in the tournament".

The Wisegals jumped out in front midway through the first half after a wet ball eluded Blanchard's grasp after a routine corner kick found it's way to a Wisegals forward who tapped in the rebound for a 1-0 edge.

Later in the half, a Wisegals striker beat a Portage defender to the outside and waltzed in on Blanchard before ripping a howitzer off the goalkeeper's leg and in.

Too Little

Laura Stewart finally created some offensive excitement for Portage, drilling a successful penalty kick late in the half after being dragged down in the Wisegal's 18 yard box.

Portage tried valiantly for the equalizer in the second half and thought they had tied the match when Jill Fast corralled a Blaze corner kick in the Wisegal's crease and unleashed a shot which seemed to cross the goal line before being pulled back out of the net by the keeper. But the referee determined the ball had not gone over the goal line, nullifying Portage's last best chance.


BLAZE VS. TOP TOTTIES

July 16, 2008 – 07:30 PM


Quick start holds up for Blaze at home

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic

She can see clearly now, the blur is gone. Sporting new contact lenses for the first time in game action, Tiffany Holmes showed sharp offensive vision by netting her first goal of the season. The tally was part of a superb opening six minutes for the Portage Blaze in a 3-1 WWSL Second Division victory over the Top Totties on Wednesday at Republic Park.

"I'm really shocked", said a humble Holmes about her marker three minutes into the game. "We worked really well together tonight. We were talking well with each other and making smart passes".

Back for More

The early strike was followed three minutes later by Caitlin Pringle's long shot, which got past Totties goalkeeper Jana Taylor for Pringle's fourth of the campaign to stake the home side to a 2-0 lead. "We caught them off-guard. Their defence was a little slow and we were able to take advantage of that", said Mintenko.

The game settled into a back and forth affair after that, as the Totties moved one of their taller players back to the sweeper position to stifle Portage's offensive momentum.

"We still controlled the ball after that, but we just couldn't get any shots" said Mintenko, whose team was cruising towards the finish line when the Totties game then an anxious 5 minutes.

First, Susie Laping broke through the Blaze defence to blast a shot from inside the 18-yard box to the far side of Portage goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard to cut the lead in half. Moments later, Blanchard had the slightest of difficulties corralling a long shot and almost let a rebound slip loose with Laping standing on the doorstep waiting to smack home the equalizer.

Blaze vetern Jill Fast stepped up after that, making a terrific run down the right side and them bulling her way into the goal area and powering past Taylor in the Totties crease. Her original shot was blocked by a sliding Totties defender, but Kathy Stewart was on the scene to pop in the rebound with two minutes remaining for her fifth of the season to provide some insurance for Portage and stretch its unbeaten streak to seven games.

"Jill realized we needed that bit of a spark after they almost tied it" said Mintenko. "She made that great run down the wing and beat two defenders to put it in front for Kathy".

Blanchard was rock solid in between the pipes again for Portage last night, improving her season record to 7-1 and keeping her goals against average for the season at an even 1.00.

The only down note for the Blaze last night came in the second half, when fullback Shelby Thevenot was hit in the face by the ball from close range after it was kicked by a Totties player. Thevenot stayed down for a couple of minutes, but managed to walk off under her own power, although she sat out the rest of the game as a precaution against any possible concussion she may have received.

The Totties (5-3-3) could have pulled within one point of the first place Blaze (8-1-1) with a victory. Instead, the visitors from Winnipeg find themselves in a three way tie for third.

Sharp New Look

The remarkable performance this season of a Portage team which lost 10 players from last year's roster was apparent to the Totties, whose players commented throughout last nights game on the improved play from last season. "It's been pretty nice the way we're having such a good season" said Holmes. "We have been able to keep our consistency. We thought we would be rebuilding coming into this season, but we've done far better than we expected.".

Portage will hit the highway this weekend to take part in the annual tournament hosted in Kenora, Ontario with the field to include several WWSL first division teams.

"I'm really excited about this weekend with our newly revamped offence" said Mintenko. "We've only made the playoffs at the Kenora tournament once before and this team is stronger than the one that made it last time. We'll try and get a couple of wins and see if we can pick up some hardware".

The next league action for the Blaze is on July 23, when Portage hosts 6th place Wisegals (4-4-2) at Republic Park at 7:30 p.m.






BLAZE VS. NORTHSTARS

July 7, 2008 – 07:30 PM

PHOTO: Ashley Williams of the Portage Blaze, second from left, tries to work her way around an unidentified Northstars defender during last night's 5-2 victory by the Blaze in Winnipeg Women's Soccer League Second Division action in Winnipeg.

Blaze blast Northstars in Winnipeg
   
The Portage Blaze outshone the Northstars on Monday night.

The brilliant Blaze defeated the Stars 5-2 in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League, further cementing their control over first place in Second Division.

The Blaze are now 7-1-1, while the Northstars sink deeper into last place at 0-10.

"We were able to find our strikers with through balls and we finished a lot better on our shots today," said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "I'm definitely happy with the five-goal output. This win builds a bit more of a gap between us and the second-place team."

Blaze defender Ashley Williams was first to put one in the onion bag. Four minutes into the first half, after the Northstars failed to clear the ball following a corner kick, Williams blasted one through traffic from 30 yards out for her first goal of the season.

Blaze captain Caitlin Pringle caught enough of the iron with her shot to deflect it into the back of the net, putting the Blaze up 2-0 at the 22-minute mark with her third of the season.

Forward Jill Fast pocketed her sixth of the year 36 minutes into the half to make it 3-0 at the break.

The Northstars responded 14 minutes into the second half on a penalty kick goal by Jade Wiemer, renewing their fading spirit.

"That goal gave them new life," said Mintenko. "They controlled the ball for about 10 minutes after that, but when they couldn't score, they slowed down again."

In the 75th minute, Tanya Burch made it 4-1 with her second goal of the year and second in the last two games.

But the Stars hadn't burnt out yet and returned fire to come within two on a marker by Alyse Reichardt in the 86th minute.

Blaze striker Laura Stewart capped the victory with a last-minute goal scored on a breakaway for her team-leading ninth of the campaign.

"We knew this game was going to be a bit easier for us. Next week is going to be tough," said Mintenko about the Blaze's first-place showdown on July 16 with the second-place Top Totties (5-2-2) at Republic of Manitobah Park at 7:30 p.m.

Since the Blaze held control over first place at the start of July, they have been invited to the Provincial Championship Qualifier.

The event will pit them against the top clubs in the Premier and First Divisions starting July 24, with the tournament draw slated to be announced Thursday.

"It's usually one of the top four Premier Division that represents the league at the National Club Championship," said Mintenko. "But it will be a good challenge for us and we're looking forward to it."


BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

July 2, 2008 – 07:30 PM

 

Portage Blaze win stonewalled
By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze ran into a brick wall on Wednesday night, er... make that Stonewall.

The Blaze, virtually untouchable in their last two games, were manhandled by Stonewall, but still managed to pull off a 2-2 draw in WWSL second division action at Republic Park.

"It was a tough one. For some reason, Stonewall always plays aggressively against us. They fight really hard for every ball and were able to pick up another draw against us, meanwhile we had most of the pressure", said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko.

"The girls are happy with the way they played, and a draw keeps us on top". With the draw, the red and white maintain a three point buffer over second place RE United, and improve to 6-1-1, while Stonewall remains in the middle of the pack in the division at 3-4-2.

Stonewall's players practiced their domineering style of play on Wednesday, employing their bodies as often as their feet to impede Blaze attackers. Nevertheless, Laura Stewart battled through the wall of flesh to record her team leading eighth goal of the season in the first half. Stonewall returned fire with a gritty goal to make things even, until Tanya Burch regained the advantage for the Blaze to end the first half.

In the second half, Stonewall's tenacity paid dividends as it knotted the game 2-2 in a goal mouth scramble, midway through the half. With 15 minutes remaining, the Blaze nearly took the lead as a Jill Fast offering rattled off the crossbar.

"Things were looking pretty good for us at the half", said Mintenko. "We came out strong in the second half, but they shut us down. We had lots of shots from outside, but we just couldn't get much through the middle and couldn't get to the rebounds.

"It was a close scrappy game", said Stonewall coach Shane Pratt. "Both teams had their chances, but all the goals on both sides were just garbage goals".

On Monday, Mintenko added some new kindling to the Blaze in backup goalkeeper, Shannon McQuarrie. "This was her first game, and it was a bit of a tough situation to put her in" said Mintenko. "She hasn't played in a couple of years, so she was feeling a bit nervous and a bit anxious. She didn't come out as much as we need our keepers to come outm and we got burnt on it a couple of goals that way. I think she performed pretty well under the pressure; it will just take some adjustment".

The Blaze visit the Northstars on July 7 in Winnipeg.





BLAZE MID-SEASON REVIEW

 

Winning Blaze host home game tonight
By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

Portage La Prairie's soccer clubs are finding success on the pitch and they want to keep rolling. This season's biggest surprise has been the Portage Blaze. While fielding a young and relatively inexperienced roster, the Blaze have managed to silence their critics and climb to the top of the WWSL Second Division, where they sit comfortably with a 6-1 record. They host the Stonewall Grads (3-4-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Republic Park.

"We're not used to being in first place. The last couple of years we've been going through a bit of a transition", said Blaze bench boss Bryan Mintenko. "The girls are having a lot of fun with it; now we just have to watch for teams gunning for us".

Lately, however, the Blaze have been the ones firing heavy artillery. The red and white are riding a four-game win streak, highlighted by a 7-1 shelling of RE United on June 25 to take over first place.

"The young players that we've added have brought a lot of energy to the team, and that energy has helped pick up the play of the veterans. The youthful exuberance that we have has been spreading throughout the team", said Mintenko.

The Stewart sisters, Laura and Kathy, are leading the Blaze in scoring with seven and four goals respectively in their rookie season. "The rookies are really making an impact", said Mintenko.

The Blaze have also been supplied with a stellar defence corps, of which goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard is the centre-piece. The Blaze have the best goals for and against average in the league, with a meager five goals allowed through seven games to 22 goals scored.

"Blanchard is very solid; she's been playing with us for four years now", said Mintenko. "She knows the game very well and has very good positioning. All we have to do is put some offence on the board and we're OK. We usually keep the other team to one goal or less".

That's a trend the Blaze will hope dosen't fizzle out as the season rolls on.


BLAZE VS. RE UNITED

June 25, 2008 – 07:30 PM

PHOTO: Dany Comeau of the Portage Blaze, middle, splits the seam between two RE United defenders during Wednesday's 7-1 win by Portage Blaze in WWSL Division 2 action in Winnipeg.

Blaze turn showdown into complete laugher
By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic 
 
The Portage Blaze are playing as though they belong in a different league, and if they keep it up, they will be - or at lease a higher division.

On Wednesday night, the Blaze (6-1) ran roughshod over RE United (5-2-1) with reckless disregard in a dominating 7-1 victory in a battle for first place in the WWSL's Second Division in the provincial capital.

"That's a pretty big score for soccer", said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "I was really surprised. I expected a lot better from a team that was in first place. Maybe they didn't have their best roster out tonight, because they seemed very slow and not very aggressive at all".

The Blaze now hold sole possession of first by two points. Should Portage maintain possession of one of the top two rungs on the division ladder, they will be promoted to the WWSL's First Division for the first time in the eight year history of the club.

Scoring Spread

Rookie forwards and sisters Kathy and Laura Stewart and co-captain Caitlin Pringle led Portage last night with two goals each, while Jill Fast was the odd one out of the multiple marker club with a single tally for the Blaze.

Laura Stewart notched two on the night to lead the team with 7 on the season, while Fast's contribution puts the veteran in second on the Blaze with 5 goals. Kathy Stewart now has four on the season, while the usually dangerous Pringle shook off an early season scoring slump with her first and second of the season.

The Blaze finished the first half up 3-0 and came on like gangbusters in the second, scoring two more unanswered goals, before United finally managed one that was soon followed by two unanswered markers by Portage to close out the scoring.

"RE United just didn't seem to have any gas left in the second half. They were pretty much deflated", said Mintenko, whose team has won four in a row and also ended RE United's four game unbeaten streak. "In the first 10 minutes, they came out pressuring, trying to get a goal, and we shut them down. They went quiet after that".

Revamped offence helping Blaze

The current Blaze roster is rife with rookies and seemed like a longshot to crack the top five of the division at the start of the season. But they just won't seem to go away, thanks to an offence that has scored 16 times in the past three games and had 22 in seven games - the same total they finished with after last year's 18 game schedule.

The defence and goalkeeping has also been stellar, surrendering a division low five goals so far. The Blaze hope to hold onto top spot in their next game on July 2, as they host Stonewall (3-4-1) at Republic Park at 7:30 p.m.


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

June 18, 2008 – 07:30 PM


Blaze put boots to Maniko

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

It may sound cheesy, but the Portage Blaze are unquestionably on fire. On Monday night the Blaze (5-1) ignited for a 5-1 win over Maniko in WWSL Second Division action, making it three wins in a row for the Portage side.

The Blaze took the soggy field at Republic Park with fire in their bellies, as they recorded their highest goal output of the season in a game that seemed unlikely to even get underway before game time because of last night's severe thunderstorm that swept through the area.

Stewart, Fast strike twice for Portage in victory

"Once again, the offence came through", said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "We had the pressure all night long. I am pretty happy with what I saw".

Laura Stewart started the inferno for the Blaze with the opening goal in the first half. She was quickly followed by Tiffany Holmes, who rocketed home her first of the season to put Portage up 2-0 at halftime.

Maniko midfielder Kristine Greybowski responded 20 minutes into the second half to bring her side within one goal. But Blaze veteran forward Jill Fast sniped a breakaway goal, set up by Holmes, to dash Maniko's hopes of a comeback. "We worked so hard to come within one and then they scored again", said Maniko coach Ken Chekosky.

The visitors rapidly became demoralized after Fast's marker, and their lackadaisical play allowed Stewart to score her second goal of the night and team leading fifth of the season.

Fast, not wanting to be outdone by the high scoring rookie, redirected a pass from Caitlin Pringle into the right hand corner of Maniko's net in the late stages for her second of the match and fourth of the campaign. "The Blaze are a very good team, with lots of flow to their game, and they appear to be in tremendous condition", said Chekosky. "They just kept the ball moving all game".

Portage continues to impress despite being in what many would consider, a rebuilding phase after nine of their veterans left the team in the off-season. "They're having fun", said Mintenko of his fresh-faced crew. "They're really clicking with one another on and off the pitch and it shows".

The Blaze will seek to add fuel to their fire as they host the Rave on June 23 at Republic Park at 7:30 p.m.


BLAZE VS. SOUTHSIDE FC

June 11, 2008 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze put on their scoring shoes:
Find net four times against Southside FC

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

The Portage Blaze women's soccer club has broken out of it's offensive slump. The Blaze shelled Southside FC 4-1 in WWSL Second Division action Wednesday night.

Portage entered the game still sore over a 0-2-1 performance in the Central Plains Challenge Cup on June 7 & 8 in Portage, in which they scored just one goal. "I think we recovered quite well from the weekend" said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "Even over the weekend, we were getting the chances; we just had no luck around the net. It was only a matter of time before we started finishing those opportunties".

In Wednesday night's match, held in Winnipeg, it looked as though the Blaze still hadn't shaken their bad luck. After a scoreless first half, which saw the Blaze maintain steady pressure, but fail to hit the mesh, Laura Stewart broke open the flood gates with a goal in the first five minutes of the second stanza. Just five minutes later, Jill Fast hammered home the Blaze's second goal. "It was pretty nice to see our luck change", said Mintenko. "To go so long without much offence and then to get two goals in 10 minutes was good to see".

Stewart kept the Blaze rally going with her third goal of the season, before Southside got one back, to make the score 3-1. But Kathy Stewart put the finishing touch on Southside FC with the final marker of the match, 75 minutes in.

The Blaze will bring their scoring success home as they host Maniko on June 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Republic Park.




CENTRAL PLAINS CUP


Blaze winless at home tournament

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

It was baffling this weekend for the Portage Blaze women's soccer club. The Blaze's Central Plains Challenge Cup bid was cut short in the preliminary round on Sunday at Republic Park as Portage lost 2-0 to Minnedosa to miss the playoffs with a dismal 0-2-1 record, scoring only one goal in three games.

"This was a tough tournament for us", said Blaze bench boss Bryan Mintenko. "We only scored one goal. That's not exactly what we had in mind. It's a little disappointing to see it end with a tie and two losses".

Penalty Problem

On Sunday, the Blaze met Minnedosa with the opportunity to sneak through the back door and into the playoffs, but had their chances deflated with the shutout setback. "We match up really well against Minnedosa" said Mintenko. "We had a bit of bad luck and gave them a penalty kick, which put us behind 1-0 in the first half. We just weren't able to bounce back from that. We had a few really nice chances that we weren't able to finish. Again, a lack of finish was the problem this weekend".

Minnedosa added one more in the second half by slipping a cross behind Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard. The offensive problems that plagued the Blaze throughout the tournament were present from the get-go on Saturday, as Portage kicked off the weekend with a frustrating 0-0 draw against Stonewall.

The Blaze maintained ball possession for the majority of the match, but could not put the pieces together to score. "Our forwards are working hard. We're just unlucky around the net" said Mintenko.

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole

In their second game on Saturday, the Blaze lost a 4-1 decision to Brazil FC, an undefeated first division club in the WWSL that is likely to be promoted to Premier division next season.

"It was a tough one. They're a very skilled team with quick and speedy forwards, so we had some trouble" said Mintenko. In the first fifteen minutes, they scored two goals right off the hop". By the end of the first half, the Blaze trailed 3-0 until luck finally landed on Portage's side as captain Caitlin Pringle laced a wet ball through the legs of Brazil FC's goalkeeper to cut the deficit to two.

The momentum wouldn't last, though, as Brazil FC scored a goal soon after to round out the scoring. "The main goal of the tournament was team bonding and building team chemistry. That goal was accomplished, but as far as getting our offence going, we didn't accomplish that" said Mintenko. "It's disappointing, but I think we'll bounce back in regular season play".

On Wednesday, the Blaze will hope for a return to form as they take their 3-1 record in the WWSL 2nd division on the road for a game against Southside FC in Winnipeg. Portage's next home tilt is slated for June 18 against Maniko.


BLAZE VS. WISEGALS

June 3, 2008 – 07:30 PM


Blaze host tourney after WWSL win


By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

The ball is rolling and the Blaze hope to keep it that way. The Blaze enter this weekend's Central Plains Challenge Cup win over the Wisegals on Wednesday night in Second Division action in the WWSL.

The newly renovated Blaze has started to build upon its foundation with a 3-1 record. That bodes well for the Portage club, considering nine veterans left the team this year, putting them into what was expected to be a rebuilding phase.

"We're definitely getting there. The tournament this weekend will definitely help with that" said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. Eight teams will take part in the tournament hosted this weekend at Republic Park. "We have a tough pool this year, but hopefully we can make the playoffs and take a good run at it" he added.

The Blaze will open the tournament on Saturday at 1pm with a match against Stonewall before following that with a 3pm match-up with Brazil FC. On Sunday, Portage takes on Minnedosa with the semi-finals slated for 2pm and the final at 4pm.

In Wednesday nights game, the Blaze executed their game plan to crack the Wisegals armor. "We could have had more goals. We had quite a few shots and quite a few nice crosses. We've been working on our rebounds in practice quite a bit and that has paid off" said Mintenko. Jill Fast scored the Blaze's opening goal on a rebound at the 14th minute for her first of the season.

In the second half, Kathy Stewart pounced on a rebound to put the Blaze up 2-0 for her first of the campaign. The Wisegals regained some ground by scoring on a breakaway late in the game to come within one, but the game ended with the Blaze on top.



BLAZE VS. SOUTH CENTRAL HURRICANES

May 30, 2008 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze blanked by Hurricanes in WWSL

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic

A Winkler based team brought ill winds to the Portage Blaze.

The Blaze (1-1) dropped a frustrating 1-0 decision to the SC Hurricanes in WWSL action on May 30 at Republic Park. The Blaze kept the contest scoreless into the second half, but could not defend against a perfect head level Hurricanes cross midway through the final stanza.

"After that, we had pretty much all the pressure. There were a couple of goalmouth scrambles that were cleared away, we just couldn't put the ball in the net", said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. "It was pretty frustrating. We had good pressure all night. We just couldn't get the one goal we needed. I felt by the way we played that we deserved a victory or at least a tie".

Playing with barely any substitutes available, the Blaze preserved through excruciatingly long shifts in a fast paced game to limit the damage to just one goal. "I think it was a bit of a testament to their fitness", said Mintenko. "They've been training hard, and it's nice to see their conditioning come into play".

Rookie Danika Baker was the Blaze player of the game, firing a number of good shots at the Hurricanes goal. The Blaze will be in action tomorrow night in Winnipeg against the Wisegals, then will host the ninth annual Central Plains Challenge Cup tournament in Portage on June 7-8.



BLAZE VS. TOP TOTTIES

May 21, 2008 – 07:30 PM


BLAZE BEST TOTTIES


BY JOEY PAYEUR
THE DAILY GRAPHIC

Low scoring games may just be the ticket for the Portage Blaze this year.

Laura Stewart's goal with four minutes remaining in regulation time complemented Carrie Blanchard's shutout work in goal perfectly as the Blaze (1-0) started the season off right in the Provincial capital with a 1-0 victory over Top Totties (0-1) in Division 2 action in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League.

In her rookie season with the Blaze after leading the Portage Collegiate Institute Saints high school girls team in goals last year, Stewart flashed her offensive skills in the 86th minute.

The striker finished off a pinpoint through ball from midfielder Tanya Burch with a bulls-eye blast to the upper right corner past Top Totties goalkeeper Jana Taylor.

"All the Blaze rookies played well tonight", said Portage coach Bryan Mintenko. "I hope this is an indication of the season to come with strong veterans setting up plays and feisty rookies finishing things off".

The marker completed a busy and blissful day for Stewart, who headed to Winnipeg for the game fresh off winning two medals at the Zone 4 track and field championships in Winkler yesterday afternoon.

The Blaze make their 2008 home debut on Sunday at Republic of Manitobah Park when they face SC Hurricanes at 7pm.


BLAZE 2008 SEASON PREVIEW


Blaze boss not daunted by veteran departures

By Evan Clark
The Daily Graphic
Monday May 12, 2008

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Bryan Mintenko had to blaze new trails to build his team this season.
As the Portage Blaze prepare to embark on another Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 2 campaign, the Blaze coach has been scouting for talent to fill out the lineup for a team which is missing a large number of contributors from the 2007 outdoor campaign.
Nine players from last year’s squad, which finished fifth in the WWSL’s Second Division with a 7-7-4 record for 25 points, will not be donning the Blaze colours this summer, as they have embarked on new journeys of their own.

LOAD THE AMMUNITION

“I do not consider this a rebuilding year, but rather reloading,” said Mintenko in a recent e-mail. “There will be eight new faces on the team, so it will take some time to gel, but the veteran players will help us develop the chemistry that is needed.”
Mintenko’s main goal in the pre-season was figuring out how to replace his entire defence corps.
Defender Jolene Dayholos, the team’s most valuable player and co-leader in goals last year with four, is taking a year off due to family obligations.


BLAZE 2007-08 INDOOR SEASON WRAP UP


Blaze falter down home stretch of indoor season


By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic
Thursday March 27, 2008

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — A promising season fizzled into a puddle of disappointment for the Portage Blaze women’s indoor soccer team.
The Blaze looked solid throughout the first half of the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division indoor campaign, posting a 5-3-1 record in their first nine games to sit among the division leaders.
But the bottom fell out in the second half of the year, as Portage slumped to 1-6-2 through the final nine games, with the only win coming via a forfeit victory against the SC Hurricanes on March 2.
That left the Blaze with a final mark of 6-9-3 for 21 points and in sixth place in the 10-team division, although possibly not by themselves, pending the outcome of the final game of the year for the Canadian Mennonite University Blazers (5-9-3), who could tie Portage with a win.

Tryst (16-1) ran away with the Second Division title, finishing ahead of second-place Rave (13-2-2) and third-place Ninja Turtles (10-4-3).


BLAZE VS. TRYST

February 2, 2008


Tryst top Blaze


By Daily Graphic Staff
Tuesday February 05, 2008

In the second half, Tryst caught its second wind and the Portage Blaze were left to feel like second best.
Tryst (10-1) scored three times in the second half to grab a 4-1 win over the Blaze (5-4-1) in Division Three action in the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League indoor soccer circuit on Saturday in Winnipeg.
Sitting in first place coming into the game, Tryst opened the scoring in the first half, but Portage’s Caitlin Pringle tied it with her 12th goal of the season when she received a pass in the middle of the floor, turned and rocketed the ball past the Tryst goalkeeper midway through the session. Pringle remains second in league scoring behind Larissa Przybyskli of Tryst, who has 21 goals.

In the second half, though, Tryst caught a break on a lucky bounce during a goalmouth scramble to go in front 2-1 before taking a two-goal lead when the Blaze allowed an undefended Tryst player to bury a rebound behind Portage goalkeeper Callie Teetaert.
The Blaze had renewed hope late in the game when Deven Esqueda’s soft shot bounced off the Tryst goalkeeper, over her head and into the net to cut the lead to 3-2. But the league leaders added an insurance goal in the final minute to nail down the victory.
The Blaze return to action on Feb. 13 in Winnipeg against sixth-place Stonewall (3-6-1).


BLAZE VS. RAVE

December 8, 2007 – 01:00 PM

 

Blaze roast Rave

by Daily Graphic Staff
Monday December 10, 2007

Winnipeg -- The Portage Blaze earned rave reviews after a big victory on Saturday.
Caitlin Pringle notched her division-leading ninth goal of the year to help the Blaze (4-1) take sole possession of second place in Division 3 with a 4-1 victory over the third-place Rave in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League action in Winnipeg.

Tanya Burch headed home her second of the season for the eventual game winner, while Roxanna Smith (second) and Andrea Addison (first) had the other goals for Portage, while Katrina Nylen was strong in net to pick up the win.

The Blaze will battle the South Central Hurricanes on Dec. 15 in Winnipeg in Portage’s last game before the holiday break.


BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

November 24, 2007 – 04:00 PM


Blaze victorious



By Daily Graphic Staff
Thursday November 29, 2007

WINNIPEG - The Portage Blaze have stoked that winning fire inside them once again.

Caitlin Pringle scored twice and also shared goalkeeping duties with Kristie Cunnington to lead the Blaze (2-1) to a 4-3 victory over Stone-wall in Winnipeg Wom-en’s Soccer League Divi-sion Three action in Winnipeg on November 24.

Pringle raised her team-leading total for the year to three goals, while Tanya Burch and rookie Devon Aracely each tallied their first markers of the season.

Portage returns to competition on December 3rd in Winnipeg with a game against the Terrors.


BLAZE VS. TRYST

November 18, 2007 – 10:00 PM


Blaze split to kick off indoor soccer campaign

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday November 20, 2007

WINNIPEG - Faced with a depleted lineup of just six players, the Portage Blaze’s offence barely had an opportunity to heat up as the team suffered its first loss of the season.
Tryst (2-0) took advantage of the small lineup for Portage (1-1) to score a pair of second-half goals in a 4-1 victory in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 3 indoor soccer league action on Sunday at the Canadian Forces Base in Winnipeg.

“We had six player and no (substitutes), but we stayed pretty close,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko.
“Some girls had exams. Some others have left the team for work commitments, so we only have 15 on the roster. I think we could beat them. We let them boot the ball around, but all around, it’s still early in the season.”

CLEAN CONVERSION

Caitlyn Pringle scored Portage’s lone goal, converting a header off a nice pass from Tanya Burch. Callie Teetaeart was in goal for the Blaze and suffered her first loss of the season.
The Blaze opened the season with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Tri-S United (0-1) on Nov. 11.

Both teams had several good scoring chances, but it was a penalty kick which decided the outcome as a Tri-S defender was called for a hand ball in the penalty area.
Krystal Vielfaure was chosen to take the kick for the Blaze and promptly delivered with a low, hard shot to the left side of the net for the game-winning goal. Wendy Brock was flawless in earning the shutout in goal for the Blaze.

Despite scoring just two goals in the first two regular-season games, Mintenko feels the strength of this year’s Portage roster is at the centre-forward position, equivalent to the midfield position in outdoor soccer, with Pringle, Burch and Terri Mauws.
“We have yet to score more than one goal in a game, but the offence will come around,” said Mintenko confidently.

Portage finished the pre-season with a 1-1 record after losing 3-1 to the Rave and then edging Tri-S 4-3. The Blaze made the transition from Division 4 to Division 3 this campaign by virtue of the club’s second-place finish last season.

Next action for the Blaze is on Nov. 24 against Stonewall (1-0) at 4 p.m. at CFB Winnipeg.


BLAZE VS. RED RIVER ACTION

September 9, 2007 – 01:00 PM

 

Blaze finish fifth in Second Division
Portage offence comes around in second half of year

 By Brian Bowman
 The Daily Graphic
 Monday September 10, 2007

 WINNIPEG -- Portage Blaze finished its season on a hot streak.
 The Blaze tied Red River Action 0-0 yesterday afternoon, a day after shutting out Top Totties 3-0, to close its regular season in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division play.
 The win and tie enabled Portage (7-7-4) to finish in fifth place with 25 points and vault two points ahead of Top Totties (6-7-5) in the 10-team league.

 The Blaze played extremely well in its final four games, finishing 3-0-1, and was 5-2-2 in the second half of the campaign.
“We had a really great finish to the season,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “We’re always a good finishing team to end the season once we play each team. We’re pretty good after we have a picture of the standings. “I’m happy with our play this summer. We’re in fifth place and we set a goal of being in the top five, although I thought we were capable of being in the top three,” he continued.

 The strong play of the Blaze in the second half of the season could largely be attributed to the team’s staunch defensive play.
 Portage did not allow a goal in its final two regular-season games this past weekend and allowed just 22 goals all season, third lowest in the league.

 They were also able to shut down a potent offensive attack by second-place Red River (12-3-3), second in the league in goals scored with 45.
 The Blaze limited the Action to few offensive chances as goalkeeper Callie Teetaert earned her second shutout of the weekend
“It was a close game, back and forth, a defensive struggle,” said Mintenko of the tie with Red River. “Defence wins games and we were solid throughout the year. We were in every game with the exception of the 6-1 loss to Brazil (FC).”

Take away those six goals against Brazil FC (16-0-2), the league’s only undefeated team and a club which easily led the circuit with 84 goals, and Portage’s defensive effort is even more impressive, with only 16 goals allowed in 17 games. Still, as good as the Blaze were defensively, every team needs to score goals to earn victories and their 22 goals was only tied for sixth in the league with Stonewall.

 Portage struggled early in the campaign to find the back of the net, but improved dramatically in that department as the season progressed, directly resulting in more victories. That improved offensive play was clearly on display in Saturday’s pivotal win over Top Totties.
 Portage scored three times in the first half despite starting the game with just nine players and playing shorthanded for approximately the first 10 minutes of the contest. Top Totties controlled the play, but failed to create a quality scoring opportunity.

 After the Blaze weathered the pressure in its defensive end, Andrea Addison put the Blaze up 1-0 with her second of the year when she headed the ball past Top Totties goalkeeper Jana Taylor after a cross from Randi Cuthbert. Addison then played a key role in the Blaze’s second goal. Her first shot nailed the crossbar, with the rebound coming straight back to her and she drilled a second attempt that was stopped by Taylor.
 But Tanya Burch was in perfect position to convert the rebound and score her first goal of the campaign. “She worked hard all summer and finally got a goal,” said Mintenko of Burch.

 Jill Fast then took advantage of a poor clearing attempt by Taylor and nailed a shot from 30 yards out to give Portage a 3-0 advantage before halftime. The goal meant Fast ended the year in a tie with Caitlin Pringle for the team’s goal-scoring title with four.
 Mintenko admitted that type of offensive output is just what the club is looking for next season. “That’s definitely one of the things we’ll focus on next year,” he said. “We’ll look to bump our offence up a bit.”


 

BLAZE VS. SAINT JAMES STORM

August 26, 2007 – 07:00 PM

Blaze win cements divisional spot
Nicoll kicks the clincher for Portage

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday August 27, 2007

Portage Blaze did more than just weather the storm last night. They also earned a second straight victory. The Blaze used a strong defensive effort to defeat St. James Storm 1-0 in their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division regular season home finale last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.

The win was a huge one for the Blaze (6-7-3), as Portage now has 21 points on the season and has clinched at least sixth place in the league standings, guaranteeing they will remain in Second Division next year.
They trail Top Totties (6-5-5) by just two points and both teams will face each other in a pivotal matchup on Sept. 8 at Red River East in Winnipeg.
The Blaze will then wrap up the season on Sept. 9 against Red River Action in Winnipeg.

“We now have a chance for fourth (place) and no one can catch us for sixth,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. Mintenko admitted the Blaze’s latest victory wasn’t very entertaining, but still counts in the standings. “It was a classic defensive game in soccer. It was not pretty for the fans, but (it was) a grind-it-out win,” he said. A penalty kick was how the Blaze grabbed the lead in the game’s 13th minute. After Kim Cowan was taken down inside the 18-yard box, Pam Nicoll made no mistake in converting the penalty kick for her second goal of the campaign.
“I shot it at the bottom left of the net,” said Nicoll of her game winner. “I always know what I want to do (on a penalty kick).”
It was the lone offensive bright spot for the Blaze in the first half as the strong wind played havoc with the team’s passing.

“It’s strange the same thing happened (the previous Blaze game),” said Mintenko. “We controlled the ball better into the wind because we like to use short, controlled passes.” The Blaze defence gave up very few scoring chances throughout the contest, including the second half when Portage faced an extremely strong headwind. The home side held the majority of the play in the second half and almost went up by two goals a couple of times, but Tanya Burch laced a shot just wide of the goal and Rae Stoughton sailed her shot over the net.

St. James did create a glorious scoring opportunity, however, in the game’s 78th minute when Anna-Maria Conigho was taken down in the box and a penalty kick was awarded to the Storm. St. James selected Ivonne Delorme to take the shot, but she was robbed by a beautiful save by Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard, who reached up to knock down the shot that was headed for the top portion of the goal. “That was a huge save,” said Mintenko. “Carrie told me before that she guessed right and that’s what a keeper has to do.”


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

August 22, 2007 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze muffle Maniko for win

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Thursday August 23, 2007

Good teams are often measured by how they bounce back from lopsided losses.
Portage Blaze was able to put away a nightmarish 6-1 defeat to Brazil FC on Monday to pick up a well-earned 1-0 road victory over Maniko in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division play last night at John Blumberg Complex in Winnipeg.
The win was a crucial one for Portage (5-7-3) as it vaulted the Blaze into sole possession of sixth place with 18 points, three ahead of Northstars (4-8-3).

“This win brings us a bit closer to the bubble,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “Teams in third to sixth place are jockeying for spots, and with a couple of wins, we could be third or fourth, but more likely fourth.” Maniko (8-4-4) is currently in third place in the 10-team league, but the Blaze showed they are more than capable of beating the league’s upper-echelon clubs.

“We knocked off a pretty good team. I guess we wanted a bit of revenge from our 6-1 drubbing,” said Mintenko.
The Blaze have three games remaining on the schedule and will play their final home game on Sunday at 7 p.m. against St. James Storm at Republic of Manitobah Park. Portage will conclude the season with a pair of road games at Red River East soccer pitch in Winnipeg, facing Top Totties on Sept. 8 and Red River Action on Sept. 9. The bottom two and possibly three teams in the division will be relegated to Third Division for next season, while the top two or three will earn a promotion to First Division.
The Blaze looked like a team which wanted no part of being dropped to a lower division as they played an outstanding road game last night, outhustling the Maniko players to the ball on a regular basis and using a strong first-half wind heading toward the Maniko net to their advantage.
“We seemed to be always beating them to the ball and we controlled the ball,” said Mintenko. “The players were playing at a high level.”

Portage was finally rewarded for its efforts at the 20-minute mark when Jill Fast received a through ball from Caitlin Pringle and moved in on a breakaway before making a nice move past the Maniko goalkeeper to score her third goal of the year. That lead held the rest of the way as the Blaze defence, particularly Terri Mauws, Jolene Dayholos and Fast, shut down Maniko’s attack and allowed very few scoring opportunities directed toward goalkeeper Carrier Blanchard.

“I thought they would bring more pressure in the second half,” admitted Mintenko. “They didn’t generate much. Most of the balls came from a far distance out.”


BLAZE VS. BRAZIL FC

August 20, 2007 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze blasted by Brazil FC

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday August 21, 2007

There is a good reason why Brazil FC sits atop of Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division standings. Make that plenty of reasons.
Many of those qualities were put on display last night, especially in the second half, as Brazil cruised to a 6-1 drubbing of Portage Blaze in WWSL regular season action at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
With the victory, Brazil FC (14-0-2) remains in first place with 44 points, while Portage (4-7-3) continues to be tied for sixth spot with Northstars (4-7-3), both with 15 points. FC now has outscored its opposition by a whopping 73-9 margin on the season. “They are a very skilled team and obviously they are in first place,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko, whose club lost 2-0 to Brazil earlier in the regular season. “But I’m proud of the way our players played. They fought hard and we only had two (substitutes) on the bench for the game, so in the second half, we ran out of steam.”

With the limited substitutions, Blaze defenders Kim Cowan and Terri Mauws were forced to play the entire game without taking a break, an obvious advantage for Brazil’s extensive array of talented forwards.
But it was Portage which opened the game’s scoring as it quickly put a scare into the league’s top club on Randi Cuthbert’s first goal of the season just four minutes into last night’s game. Brazil committed one of its few defensive mistakes in the contest as it left Cuthbert wide open from six yards out and she made no mistake in converting a beautiful cross from Gabrielle Ogilvie. It was all Brazil after that, starting with Lisa Haynes, who banged a shot from in close over the top of Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard in the 20th minute to tie the game.

FC took the lead for good as Jodi Shachtay converted on a free kick just outside the 18-yard box, cleanly beating a diving Blanchard to the lower left corner in the 40th minute. The goal was a huge momentum booster for Brazil and FC carried that energy into the second half, as they completely dominated the play with precision passing and fantastic ball movement.
The visitors’ most lethal weapon was Maureen Falloon, who had a natural hat trick with goals in the 55th, 63rd and 88th minutes to give her club a 5-1 lead. Brazil’s Candace Burke then closed the game’s scoring in the 90th minute of play. “She is definitely tough to defend,” said Mintenko of Falloon. “She is speedy and very skilled.”

Portage has two games remaining on its schedule and will be back in action tomorrow when it faces Maniko (7-3-4) at John Blumberg Complex in Winnipeg.
The Blaze end the regular season on Aug. 26 at home against St. James Storm, with game time at Republic Park set for 7 p.m.


BLAZE VS. NORTHSTARS

August 13, 2007 – 07:00 PM

Blaze blitz Northstars

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday August 14, 2007

Carrie Blanchard had no idea she would be taking a day off from her normal duties as Portage Blaze goalkeeper. Blanchard played in last night’s Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division contest between the Blaze and Northstars last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie, but she found herself with not much to do.
Blanchard was by far the most bored player on the pitch as the Portage goalkeeper handled the ball only a couple of times early in the game and not at all after that as the Blaze romped to a convincing 3-0 shutout over Northstars.

“It was the most boring game of my life,” said an honest Blanchard after the game. “I tried to help the girls out because I have the play in front of me and I went out far for a few balls (to keep busy).”
The win was an important one for Portage (4-6-3) as the Blaze are now in sixth place and have 16 points on the season, one ahead of Northstars (4-7-3), with a game in hand.

Portage took advantage of a depleted Northstars lineup, which was down as many as three players at one point in the game. But Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko was offering no apologies for the win afterwards as Portage was forced to play without one of its top players, Jill Fast, who was serving a one-game suspension for receiving a red card in the club’s 1-1 tie on Aug. 8 against Stonewall. “We’re in sixth place now and we’re moving up in the standings,” said an elated Mintenko. “It was a key win for us and the girls were still upset from the last game and wanted to play aggressively.”

That aggressive play resulted in a nice goal by Pam Nicoll to give the Blaze an early 1-0 lead just 10 minutes into the game. Nicoll converted a beautiful cross from Tanya Burch and drifted a shot from 30 yards out into a fairly stiff wind for her first goal of the season. Caitlin Pringle then tallied her team-leading fourth goal of the campaign in the 25th minute, slicing through a pair of Northstars defenders in the middle of the field and then cracking a low shot to the far corner.

Portage completely dominated the first half and took advantage of the Northstars’ lack of players. But the Winnipeg based team gets full credit for its effort in the second half, holding the Blaze to just a single goal in the game’s final minute, despite the Northstars playing into a strong wind in the final 45 minutes. Haley Butcher, playing in just her second game with the Blaze, netted her first goal of the season after converting a nifty three-way passing play involving herself, Pringle and Gloria Harnett.

Mintenko admitted his club took its foot off the gas pedal in the second half. “It was tough for (the Northstars),” said Mintenko. “They are a good passing team, but we played a conservative 4-4-2 in the second half, which made for a slow game, but it’s a solid defensive system.”
The Blaze’s next action is on Aug. 20 when they host first place Brazil FC (12-0-2) at Republic Park at 7 p.m., Portage’s third last game of the season.


BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

August 8, 2007 – 07:00 PM


Mintenko seeing red after card


By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic
Thursday August 09, 2007

A season of frustration can make emotions bubble to the surface among even the most calm of coaches. Bryan Mintenko, the normally easygoing head coach for Portage Blaze, was the picture of bitterness in his postgame analysis following the Blaze’s 1-1 tie with last-place Stonewall Grads in Stonewall last night in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division action.

The focus of his anger centred on the red card ejection of Blaze veteran Jill Fast by the referee for an alleged use of foul language in another example of the crackdown on offensive words initiated by Manitoba Soccer Associa-tion in a directive handed down a week ago.
The punishment marked the first such ejection for a Blaze player in the team’s seven-year history.

“Fast looked completely baffled by the call, and after the game strongly denied using any foul language,” said Mintenko in an e-mail statement.
“The referee, unfortunately, heard differently and chose to make an example of Fast by dismissing her. Jill said she didn’t swear, and I believe her, as her body language suggested to me that she was innocent.”

Mintenko, who ironically is in charge of MSA’s referee development and special events, noted MSA referees were reminded at a meeting on Tuesday night to use common sense with the recent abusive language directive sent out by MSA. “In this case, even if Jill did swear under her breath, she was standing by the corner flag, away from the fans and it was not directed at another player or the referee,” said Mintenko. “A more experienced referee would have used common sense and issued a verbal warning. “I don’t care how many hats I wear in the soccer community. I will be making a stink about this.”

Before being sent off, Fast contributed offensively in the first half with a cross into the 18-yard box of Stonewall that was chipped in over the Grads goalkeeper by Caitlin Pringle to tie Jolene Dayholos for the team lead in goal scoring this season with three. The Grads earned the equalizer before halftime, but according to Mintenko, were back on their heels for most of the second half even though Portage was one player short.
“The loss of Fast to the offence meant that everyone else had to pick up the slack in the second half and they did just that with a number of quality chances down the stretch,” said Mintenko. “The best chance came with less than one minute remaining, when Pringle hammered a shot that deflected wide off the left post.”

The Blaze (3-6-3) are tied for sixth place in Second Division with 12 points with Northstars (3-5-3), which will provide the opposition in Portage’s next game on Aug. 13 at Republic of Manitobah Park at 7 p.m.
With only four games left on the schedule, every point is crucial to the Blaze as they try and avoid relegation by staying out of the final two positions in the standings, currently held by Stonewall (eight points) and Tri-S United (1-7-3, six points).

“We have worked hard this season. We deserve a damn break,” said Mintenko. “Our focus for the rest of the season will be to get the soccer gods back on our side with hard-fought games and aggressive play.”


BLAZE VS. HURRICANES

July 30, 2007 – 07:30 PM


Blaze nipped by Hurricanes at home


By Daily Graphic Staff
Tuesday July 31, 2007

Just when Bryan Mintenko thought his team had found its offensive groove, it became stuck in another doughnut-shaped rut.
The head coach of Portage Blaze (3-6-2) had hoped his squad had turned the corner in its last contest when it came to filling the net, after Portage scored three goals in a game for the first time in more than six weeks in a 3-0 win over Tri-S United.

But old woes based in the other team’s end came to the forefront again last night at Republic Park of Manitobah in Portage la Prairie in a 1-0 loss to S.C. Hurricanes (6-4-2) from Winkler in Winnipeg Wom-en’s Soccer League Second Division action. The goal scorer for the Hurricanes was not available by press time. The opposition net has seemingly had a force field around it in the eyes of the Blaze this season.

Portage has only 12 goals in 11 regular-season games, which is a negative counterbalance to its fine defensive and goalkeeping work that has seen the team only surrender 15 goals during the season. The local crew has also been shut out three of its last five games and need to find an offensive thrust quickly with only seven games left in the campaign.

It was a much better effort by the Blaze last night than the last time out against the Hurri-canes, when they lost by a convincing 3-0 margin in Winkler. But improvement did not translate into some much-needed points for Portage, which is battling to avoid relegation to Third Division for the 2008 campaign. While Portage was seventh entering play last night with 11 points, that total put it only one ahead of eight-place St. James Storm (3-7-1) and not out of range of the division’s cellar dwellers, ninth-place Tri-S United (1-7-3) and last-place Stonewall (1-6-2).
Portage hopes Stone-wall provides the Blaze the opportunity to rediscover its offensive form when the two teams meet in Stonewall in Portage’s next game on Aug. 8.

In their last encounter, the Blaze scored a season-high four times in a 4-0 whitewash of lowly Stonewall.
Portage’s next home game is on Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m. against Northstars (3-4-3).


BLAZE VS. TRI-S UNITED

July 18, 2007 – 07:30 PM


Blaze stifle Tri-S United
Kenora tournament to once again provide Blaze with stiff challenge

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic
Thursday July 19, 2007

Break up the Blaze.
Portage Blaze (3-5-2) put together its first winning streak of the season by picking up its second consecutive shutout win last night in a 3-0 whitewash of Tri-S United (1-7-3) in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division action at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
Andrea Addison, Jolene Dayholos and Adele Butcher connected for the Blaze in a 10-minute span of the second half, a veritable offensive explosion for a Portage team which had only scored three goals or more in a game once this season before breaking out against Tri-S last night.
“I was surprised to get that kind of an offensive outburst from the team,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko. The Blaze moved into seventh place with the win with 12 points, one more than St. James Storm (3-6-1).
Meanwhile, Tri-S remained in ninth place, two points up on cellar-dwelling Stonewall Grads (1-6-1).

BRING THE POWER
A scoreless first half saw Portage own the first 25 minutes before Tri-S Uni-ted launched a consistent attack in the last part of the frame, getting a couple of good scoring opportunities against Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard. Portage took control in the second half, not letting Tri-S get anywhere within the vicinity of Blanchard while pouring on the pressure itself. The relentless approach finally paid off in the 70th minute when Addison capitalized on a breakaway for her first of the season to make it 1-0. “Andrea got a nice through ball from Pam Nicoll and went in one-on-one on the goalkeeper,” said Mintenko. “She faked her first shot, took it wide and put it in the empty net.
“It’s nice for her to finally get one. She’s worked hard and she deserves it.”

Dayholos, moved up from her usual defender position to forward for the contest, made it 2-0 five minutes later on a play which characterized the Blaze’s hustle during the game. After intercepting a weak goal kick by the Tri-S goalkeeper, Dayholos hammered a shot on net which the keeper had ricochet off her hands and right back to Dayholos, who deposited the rebound into the net. Dayholos was originally credited with her second of the game in the 80th minute as it appeared she put in a loose ball originally shot by Adele Butcher, who was also pushed up to forward from her usual defence spot last night. Butcher’s blast deflected off the United goalkeeper’s hands and rolled towards the net, with Dayholos appearing to help it along the last few yards. How-ever, Mintenko said he received an e-mail from Dayholos this morning indicating the ball was already over the line by the time she touched it, giving Butcher her first goal of the campaign. The Portage coach plans to contact league officials about the scoring change today so it can be updated on the WWSL website.
The Blaze had three players leave the game with injuries, but Mintenko said none of them were injured seriously enough to warrant them missing any action.

Randi Cuthbert was hit below the knee by a Tri-S tackle which forced her out of the contest, while Jill Fast had the same thing happen which led to her inuring her ankle. Tanya Burch also received a charleyhorse which sidelined her for the duration of the game late in the second half.

CRANKING IT UP IN KENORA
Portage will be part of the 16-team Kenora Women’s Invitational Tour-nament beginning tomorrow and running through Sunday in Kenora, Ont. The Blaze will have a full 20-player roster at their disposal when they take part in Pool D competition with Kenora Plaza, Brandon Cyclones and Brazil FC.

The Kenora tourney has not been kind to Portage over the years, though, as the Blaze have qualified only once in their six appearances at the event, when they were the C Side finalists in 2004.
“I think we can make it out of our pool,” said Mintenko, whose team needs to finish in the top two in the pool to do so. “It’s tough to make it into the playoffs. We’ll probably need two wins.”

Pool A includes WWSL First Division teams SSC United and Wisegals, along with Kenora Wom-en’s League entries MC United and Standard. Pool B will have three WWSL First Division teams in Southside FC, Black Magic and APM Selects, along with Taggs from Kenora Women’s League.
In Pool C, Stonewall will be part of a group which includes Snipers FC from WWSL First Division, Minnedosa from Westman Women’s League and Hap’s from Kenora Women’s League.

The Blaze get back to league play on July 25 when they travel to Winnipeg to face Top Totties (4-3-4) before suiting up again at home on July 30 against S.C. Hurricanes.


BLAZE vs.STORM

July 9, 2007 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze Whitewash Storm with Backup

By Daily Graphic Staff
Tuesday July 10, 2007

The first choice as to the best cure for a three-game losing streak and a five-game winless streak would not normally be a backup goalkeeper.
Terri Mauws and Portage Blaze defied convention last night, breaking out of their slump in the process.
With starter Carrie Blanchard out of the lineup, the small-statured Mauws played like she was 10 feet tall and bulletproof in backstopping the Blaze (2-5-2) to a 1-0 shutout of Saint James Storm in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division action in Winnipeg last night.
With only eight goals scored as a team this season, and coming off back-to-back shutout losses, the Blaze knew goals would most likely be at a premium again last night against the Storm.

That meant extra pressure on Mauws, normally a defender for the Blaze along with her twin sister, Tanis. But Portage coach Bryan Mintenko watch Mauws come up time and again with big saves and smart plays while protecting the Blaze’s cage.
That helped Gloria Harnett’s second goal of the season stand up after the Blaze took the lead in the first half.
With a light rain falling and a bushel of mosquitoes making life miserable for those on and off the field, Harnett buzzed past a Saint James defender and rocketed a shot into the left side of the net for the only offence Portage needed on the night.

In the second half, the Storm picked up in ferocity as they attempted to bag the equalizer. But Mauws held her ground, making eight saves in total, including one off a solid free kick, for which she soared skyward to get her hands on before it found the back of the net.
The Blaze moved into seventh place in Second Division with eight points. Portage is back on the pitch on July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie with a home game against Tri-S United, which played the Blaze to a 1-1 tie in Winnipeg on May 28.


BLAZE VS. BRAZIL FC

June 27, 2007 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze Blanked by Brazil FC in Winnipeg

By Joey Payeur
The Daily Graphic
Thursday June 28, 2007

With FIFA U-20 World Cup beginning on Saturday at sites throughout Canada, Portage Blaze decided to get a jump on the weekend with a little international-flavoured clash of its own last night against Brazil FC.
Perhaps Canada’s national U-20 side will have better luck against its opponents.

The Blaze (1-4-2) hung tough with the top team in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League’s Second Division, but still came out on the short end of a 2-0 decision in Winnipeg against Brazil FC (6-0-1).
“The Blaze were in tough against first-place Brazil, but held their own against the top-ranked club,” said Portage head coach Bryan Mintenko in an e-mailed statement.
Mintenko didn’t have much applause for Brazil FC’s two goals in the contest.

“The opponents did not actually earn a goal on this night as the first goal slipped off keeper Carrie Blanchard’s gloves and over the lines on a corner kick,” said Mintenko about Brazil’s first-half marker which opened the scoring.
“The pitch was very wet, making it difficult to control the ball and Blanchard simply lost the handle for Brazil FC’s first goal.”
Brazil FC then capitalized on a break later in the half after Portage defender Terri Mauws tried to clear a loose ball out of danger near the Blaze net.
“Unfortunately, the ball caught a bad patch on the field and changed direction as it ... rolled into the net,” said Mintenko.
Portage shut down the Brazil FC attack in the second half, but had a difficult time mounting much of an offensive threat against the leaders in Second Division.

“The Blaze pushed hard to the finish and kept Brazil off the board in the second half for a moral victory,” said Mintenko.
Portage will try to break its two-game losing streak at home on July 4 when it faces Red River Action at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.


BLAZE VS. MANIKO

June 24, 2007 – 07:30 PM

 

Blaze bounced by Maniko crew

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday June 25, 2007

One of these days, Portage Blaze will catch a break in the offensive end.
Trailing by one goal late in the second half of their game against Maniko, the Blaze finally started to create some quality scoring chances. But they failed to get the equalizer in a disappointing 3-1 loss in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 2 play last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
Portage (1-3-2) nearly tied the score with approximately 15 minutes remaining in regulation time during a wild scramble in front that resulted with a shot off the goalpost before Jill Fast nailed a shot off the top half of the crossbar from close range five minutes later.

THE SOUND OF IRON
“We had a tough time getting through their defence,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “We couldn’t get past their defence and we hit two crossbars and a post.
“In the first half, we had a pretty organized attack and were able to get some through balls,” he added.

Portage started the game on a high as Fast scored her second of the season at the 15-minute mark after nailing a perfect low shot that bounced off the far post and into the empty goal for an early 1-0 lead.
But Maniko (3-2-1) responded with some fine play of its own, and controlled the majority of the play for approximately the next 15 minutes.
Christine Touchette tied the score at 1-1 after she streaked past the Blaze defence and sailed a great shot past Portage goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard.
Maniko then took the lead for good in the 36th minute on a goal by Kristene Grzybowski to go up 2-1 and almost made it a two-goal advantage when the visitors hit the crossbar late in the half.

CLOSE TO THE VEST
The second half saw both teams play conservative, with very few quality scoring chances, until Portage elected to move a defender up for added pressure in the offensive end.
“We shut them down in the second half,” said Mintenko. “We have four strong fullbacks and we asked the midfielders to help out more and we played more aggressive.”
But as Portage pressed feverishly for the game-tying goal, Maniko took advantage with an odd-man rush which resulted with Serena Wilson sealing Portage’s fate with a late goal for a 3-1 lead.
Despite the loss, Mintenko was pleased with his club’s effort.
“We fought right to the end and that’s been the character of the team,” said the head coach. “We always fight to the finish.”
Things don’t get much easier for Portage, as the Blaze will be right back on the pitch on Wednesday as they travel to Winnipeg to face high-scoring Brazil FC (5-0-1).


CENTRAL PLAINS CUP WRAP UP

June 11, 2007

 

Blaze fourth at Challenge Cup
Portage holds First Division squad to draw at tourney

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday June 11, 2007

Portage Blaze had its share of scoring chances, but failed to deliver a goal when they needed it the most.
The Blaze were dumped 3-0 by SC Hurri-canes in the third-place game of the eight-team Central Plains Challenge Cup women’s soccer tournament yesterday at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
“The Hurricanes had a great tournament and they deserved third place,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “They are a good team to play against, but we still had a lot of pressure after their first goal.”
Dayna Phillips opened the scoring for the Hurricanes when she nailed a shot past Por-tage goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard from just outside the 18-yard box.

Rosalynn Neufeld then made it 2-0 for the visitors midway in the second half and Phillips rounded out the scoring with approximately 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
SC head coach Celso Arevalo was pleased with his team’s effort.
“Considering it was a full day, we continued to play with energy,” said the coach after the game. “It was very important for us to score that second goal.”

Still, despite the two-goal deficit, the Blaze were very much still in this game right to the very end, but found themselves stymied by the strong goalkeeping of Stacy Warkentin by the Hurricanes.
Warkentin was aggressive in the net during the game and made several nice saves, especially on stops against Gabrielle Ogilvie and Jill Fast.
Portage, who plays in Second Division of Win-nipeg Women’s Soccer League, was relegated to the third-place game after being shut out earlier yesterday in its semifinal 4-0 by South Side FC of Winnipeg, a WWSL First Division team.

“In the semifinal, we just ran out of gas,” said Mintenko of the blowout loss. “Our (scoring) chances were there, but we gave up too many through balls.”
Portage opened round-robin action in Pool A on Saturday by playing to a 0-0 draw with Minne-dosa Lakers, despite dominating the game and having the majority of chances.
Randi Cuthbert of the Blaze missed on a glorious scoring opportunity via a penalty kick with just a minute remaining in the first half.
Portage then played arguably its best game of the tournament later on Saturday in an impressive 2-2 tie with SSC United, another First Division club.

Tied at 0-0 after the first half, Pam Nicoll scored a beautiful goal off a corner kick which curved perfectly into the back of the net untouched for a 1-0 Portage lead. SSC tied the game at 1-1 midway in the second half, but Caitlin Pringle restored the Blaze lead just a few minutes later on a nice individual effort. United then earned the tie with a late goal which eluded Blanchard. Portage qualified for the playoffs with a convincing 4-0 win over Prairie Mountain Fire from Dauphin yesterday to conclude pool play with a 1-0-2 record.

Jill Fast scored the Blaze’s first two goals of the game and Cuthbert and Kim Cowan tallied singles in the victory.
The next WWSL action for Portage (1-1-1) is on Wednes-day when it travels to Winkler for a rematch with the Hurricanes (2-1).


CENTRAL PLAINS CUP REVIEW

June 8, 2007

 

Blaze hosting Challenge Cup

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Friday June 08, 2007

In the middle of a nearly two-week break in its regular-season schedule, Portage Blaze will see plenty of action on the pitch this weekend.
The Blaze will host the sixth-annual Central Plains Challenge Cup women’s soccer tournament at Republic of Mani-tobah Park in Portage la Prairie. Southside FC and SSC United, both First Division teams, will be making the trip to Portage from Winnipeg.

They will be joining six rural clubs -- MacGregor United, Minnedosa Lak-ers, Stonewall Grads, South Central Hurricanes from Winkler, Dauphin Prairie Mountain Fire and the host Blaze -- in the eight-team tournament.
“The tournament is growing in popularity and this is the most rural teams we’ve had,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “We hope to get more (Winnipeg)-based teams for next year.”

Portage will compete in Pool A along with Minne-dosa, Dauphin and SSC United. The Blaze will face the Lakers tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. contest against SSC United.
Portage wraps up its portion of the round robin on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. against Dauphin.

The top two teams in each pool will advance to the semifinals on Sunday at 2 p.m. The championship game is slated for 4 p.m.
Mintenko hopes the Blaze can earn a spot into the playoffs and improve on last year’s third-place finish after winning the tournament in 2005.
“We have a pretty good chance to finish in the top two,” said Mintenko.
“I’m hoping for a draw or a win against SSC. We match up pretty well with Minnedosa, so I’m hoping for a strong finish.”


BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

June 5, 2007


Blaze shut out Grads for first win of WWSL season


By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday June 05, 2007

Portage Blaze taught Stonewall Grads a lesson in playing soccer.
The Blaze earned its first win of the young Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division season with a dominating 4-0 shutout victory on June 1 at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.

With the win, Portage (1-1-1) now has four points in the standings and pulls into a tie for fourth place in the 10-team Second Division along with Tri-S United. Stonewall (0-2) occupies last place after suffering a pair of 4-0 losses to begin the season.

The Blaze elected to play a more aggressive style on its home pitch against the Grads and immediately saw results. Kim Cowan scored just six minutes into the game, converting a nice setup from Caitlin Pringle by banging a well-placed shot past the Stonewall goalkeeper for Cowan’s first of the season and the eventual game winner.

The contest saw both teams with their share of pressure in the other club’s end, but the Grads couldn’t crack the Blaze defence nor Portage goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard, who earned the shutout.
“It looked like it would be a close game after the first goal,” said Portage head coach Bryan Mintenko. “Stonewall fought hard for the equalizer, but we have a pretty strong defence.”
The Blaze then grabbed a two-goal lead in the 43rd minute when Jill Fast followed up on a rebound and outraced a Stonewall defender to score her first goal of the season.

“(Jill’s) a workhorse who always fights for the ball,” praised Mintenko.
Portage went up 3-0 just two minutes into the second half as Gloria Harnett tallied her first goal of the season. Andrea Addison snuck past the Stonewall defence and found herself all alone on a breakaway. Her shot was stopped by the Grads’ keeper, but the ball trickled in the direction of Harnett, who converted the rebound.
The Blaze made it 4-0 on Jolene Dayholos’ first goal of the campaign. Normally a defender, Dayholos was moved to the midfield position against Stonewall and the change paid dividends as she knocked in a rebound off a Pringle shot.

Mintenko said Portage’s change in offensive philosophy produced several quality chances throughout the contest and the score could have been even more lopsided. Addison was awarded a glorious opportunity when she was granted a penalty kick after she was hauled down inside the Grads’ 18-yard box. She failed to convert, however, as her initial shot nailed the crossbar and the rebound came straight back to Addison, only to see her second attempt sail just wide of the goal.

Portage also had two more shots careen off the goalpost, but Mintenko was pleased the team was generating good scoring opportunities.
“I wanted the players to play more aggressively because I thought we were playing back too much,” said Mintenko. “We had the capabilities to win both games (to start the season). “(Against Stonewall), we played with three forwards and were aggressive and went after the ball. We moved it around well with our passing.”
Mintenko said the Blaze was focused on winning its first game of the season and climbing into the top half of the division.

“I could tell before the game that they really wanted to win this one and use this game to build momentum,” said the head coach.
Portage will have to wait a while for its next regular-season game on June 13 when it travels to Winkler to face second place S.C. Hurricanes (2-1). Between now and then, the Blaze will fill their time with an exhibition rematch against MacGregor United tomorrow night in MacGregor at 7:30 p.m. and Central Plains Challenge Cup at Republic Park this Saturday and Sunday.


BLAZE VS. TRI-S UNITED

May 29, 2007

 

Pringle comes through in crunch to help Blaze earn first point

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday May 29, 2007

Just two games into the regular season, Caitlin Pringle is already in mid-season scoring form. Pringle nailed a perfect shot on a free kick at the 20-minute mark of the second half for her second goal of the season to salvage a 1-1 tie for Portage Blaze (0-1-1) against Tri-S United in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division action last night in Selkirk. “It was a beautiful shot that sailed over the keeper,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “(Pringle) can find the net and she has good accuracy,” he added.

Pringle was awarded the free kick after being fouled just outside the United box and made no mistake with the excellent opportunity. She also scored Portage’s lone goal in its season-opening 2-1 loss to Top Totties at home on May 25. In desperate need of some offensive punch, the Blaze adjusted their game plan in the second half and it appeared to result in more scoring chances against United.
Mintenko admitted Portage had trouble generating offence, especially in the first half.

“(Tri-S United) were pretty aggressive to the ball and they were good defensively,” said the head coach.
“We tried to get our wingers to open up the middle of the field to utilize our speedy forwards.”

Tri-S United (2-1) opened the game’s scoring 30 minutes into the first half, taking advantage of a third-chance opportunity.
After Blaze goalkeeper Gabrielle Ogilvie stopped an initial United shot, deflecting the ball away with her hands, Tri-S had two more cracks at the ball from in close before netting the game’s opening goal for a 1-0 lead.
United was in trouble late in the first half when a United defender knocked down a ball with her hand that appeared to be going into the goal.
The official awarded the Blaze a penalty kick, but Portage’s Andrea Addison was stymied by the Tri-S goalkeeper.

“The play ended up being a momentum booster for them,” admitted Mintenko. “It was a good game, but I think we deserved a better fate.”
The next action for the Blaze is on Friday when they host Stonewall for a 7:30 p.m. contest at Repub-lic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
Portage then has a 12-day break from league play until it travels to Winkler to face S.C. Hurricane on June 13.
Between the two games, though, the Blaze will visit MacGregor for an exhibition game on June 6. The two teams played to a scoreless draw in their first exhibition game on May 6 at Republic Park.


BLAZE VS. TOP TOTTIES

May 28, 2007


Blaze lose opener against Totties

Physical play calling card for Totties

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday May 28, 2007

The difference in this game was scoring chances.
It wasn’t the amount that was significant, but rather what Portage Blaze and Top Totties did with those chances.

In this case, it was the team with the fewer offensive opportunities which came away as the winner as Portage was edged 2-1 by Top Totties on Friday in the Blaze’s Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division regular-season opener at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
The Blaze were playing well while deadlocked in a scoreless draw, but the game suddenly took a different turn on one play midway in the second half.
Tied at 0-0, Portage was pressing in the offensive zone and narrowly missed grabbing the lead when a Jill Fast cross to teammate Katrina Nylen almost found the back of the Totties’ net. The Totties (1-0-1) then took advantage of Portage’s missed opportunity and used an odd-man rush the other way to beat Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard for a pivotal 1-0 lead at the 25th minute of the second half.

“We pretty much controlled the play and had quite a few (offensive) chances, but we got caught up too deep with our forwards and midfielders,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “It was a chilly night and that goal really deflated us and we lost the momentum.”
The Totties carried forward the momentum from that first goal and beat Blanchard again with a great shot that sailed to the top corner of the net just seven minutes later to go up 2-0. “She roofed it. It was a great shot,” said Mintenko of the Totties’ goal which was eventually the game winner. Portage (0-1) cut into that lead with approximately six minutes left in the game when Caitlin Pringle blasted a shot from 25 yards out for her first of the season.

The goal was the result of some hard work by Portage as the Blaze controlled the play in the Totties’ end as the visitors had trouble clearing the ball from their half of the field. The Blaze continued to apply intense pressure in the game’s final minutes, playing with just two defenders back, but failed to score the equalizer.
The lack of scoring touch hurt Portage especially in the first half of the loss, as the Blaze controlled the territorial play and held the majority of scoring chances.

The Totties played an effective physical style, which helped slow Portage’s speed on the wings, which was further enhanced by the larger playing surface at Republic Park.
“They did whatever they had to do to slow us down. Our players were beat up on the pitch,” said Mintenko of the Totties’ aggression. “But we’re used to the wide field. We always tell the wings to take (the ball) wide.”
Portage will be looking for its first win of the season today when it travels to Selkirk to play Tri-S United (1-1) at 7:30 p.m. Tri-S United dropped down a division this season after going winless in Division 1 a year ago. “They never won a game last year, but I don’t know what to expect,” Mintenko said.


BLAZE VS. RED RIVER ACTION

May 15, 2007

 

WWSL opener put on hold
Unmarked fields upset Blaze, Action

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday May 15, 2007

WINNIPEG -- Por-tage Blaze and Red River Action arrived on scene last night preparing to play their season-opening match of the new Winnipeg Women’s Soc-cer League’s Second Divi-sion outdoor campaign.
But they encountered a bit of a problem -- make that a big problem.
The soccer pitches at John Blumberg Soccer Complex in Winnipeg did not have any visible lines to indicate the boundaries of the fields, forcing officials to postpone four WWSL games and leaving players and coaches from the Blaze and Action visibly upset.

“Four games and eight teams are affected and the games have to be rescheduled,” said frustrated WWSL convenor and Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “As a referee, in my mind, when I saw the field I knew the game should not go ahead. But as a coach, I wanted to play ....
“Soccer is the biggest sport in the city and we can’t get quality fields,” he continued. “In May and June, we have to use a lot of parks because youth soccer gets the fields first and we have to scramble.”
Mintenko suggested the rainy conditions throughout the past two days most likely caused the water-based lines to disappear.
“They have to be out at least once a week because the lines get washed away,” said Mintenko about City of Winnipeg’s parks and recreation department maintenance staff.

WWSL plays games on various pitches in Win-nipeg on a nightly basis and has four games slated at John Blumberg over the next three days. Mintenko admitted it is anyone’s guess as to whether those games will actually be played. “I’ll call the City of Winnipeg tomorrow, but whether or not they come to line the field is hard to say, but I doubt it,” said a pessimistic Mintenko.

Red River coach Warren Kahn agreed city officials dropped the ball regarding having the fields prepared. “I’m definitely disappointed that the city didn’t go out and paint the lines,” said Kahn. “I understand why they cancelled the game, but I feel bad for Portage because they came out here.” The Blaze lineup consists of a majority of players from Portage, while others live as far as Mac-Gregor, Car-man, Nee-pawa and Minnedosa. That made it a sizable road trip to play what turned out to be an exhibition match between the two squads.

Blaze midfielder Tanis Mauws was not impressed the game was cancelled due to the simplest of reasons.
“It is hard to swallow because we’ve played in worse conditions,” said Mauws. “It’s definitely the city’s fault and it’s easy to blame the ref. It’s disappointing because we really wanted to play.”
The exhibition game between the Blaze and Action last night con-sisted of two 30-minute halves. The teams played without an official in the first half and then Mintenko refereed after the halftime break, with the second half seeing very few stoppages of play.

Neither team mustered much of an offensive attack in the first half and the game remained a scoreless draw until Red River’s Kaleigh Gregorash scored at the 20-minute mark of the second half to make it 1-0.
The Action widened its lead to 2-0 on a own goal by Portage in the waning minutes of the game, which was awarded to Red River’s Ang Kroeker.
Portage snapped Red River’s shutout bid as the Action also surrendered an own goal in the final minute of the game, with Blaze veteran Jill Fast getting credit for the tally. The next outing for Portage is on May 25 when it hosts Top Totties at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie at 7:30 p.m. in what will now be its home and season opener.


BLAZE VS. CROSSFIRE

April 30, 2007

 

Blaze, Crossfire hook up for scrimmage in Wpg.

By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday April 30, 2007

WINNIPEG -- Portage Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko is looking to add more roster flexibility to his program this season via a Crossfire, and he hopes it results in more victories.

The Second Division Blaze will take advantage of a Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League rule which states a team can draw players from up to three teams from lower divisions. Teams can make a maximum of 18 callups per season and three per game.

Besides being the head coach of the Blaze, Mintenko is also the sideline boss of the Winnipeg-based Crossfire team, which competes in Fifth Division of WWSL, so it makes sense the Crossfire will act as the main feeder club for Portage. Mintenko said the Blaze will have an opportunity to call-up players from the Crossfire during the course of the season to replace players lost either due to injury or to other commitments.
“It’s a pretty good system,” said Mintenko after yesterday’s scrimmage between the Blaze and Crossfire in Winnipeg. “It does help when you are short numbers.”

Mintenko will know exactly what his team is getting when a player is summoned by Portage. He said the Blaze also has the option of drawing from an under-18 team based in Portage la Prairie and coached by Portage Colle-giate Institute Trojans boys co-coach Dylan Wiebe.
The Blaze and Crossfire had an opportunity to get a firsthand look at each other as they participated in yesterday’s scrimmage.
“It was nice to get into more of a game situation. We were moving the ball around (well), and the Blaze players were communicating well,” said Mintenko. “We had some nice crosses and through balls.”
He hopes the partnership between the two clubs will help the Blaze in the win column as they enter their second campaign competing in Second Divi-sion.

Last season, Portage struggled to a 5-9-4 record and an eighth-place finish in the 10-team league in its first year after winning WWSL’s Third Division in 2005. The local side had difficulty scoring goals, netting just 23 tallies in 18 games.

Mintenko has yet to decide on his final roster and will wait after at
least two more practices before making any official cuts.
But he has been impressed with Tanya Burch, formerly of Mac-Gregor and now living in Winnipeg, and goalkeeper Jenna Henuset, who will compete with veteran Carrie Blanchard for playing time between the pipes.
“We have 15 returning people and I like to keep a core group. All the players get along, but it’s also nice to add a few new people each year,” said Mintenko.

The Blaze will play its lone exhibition game on May 6 at 4:30 p.m. when it hosts MacGregor at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage before beginning the regular season on May 14 in a road game against Red River Action.


BLAZE 2007 SEASON REVIEW

April 23, 2007


Blaze ready to make mark in Second Division


By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Monday April 23, 2007

With several new players added to a talented veteran lineup, Portage Blaze expects better results in its second season as part of Second Division in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League. The Blaze hit the pitch at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie for the first time yesterday in preparation for its first pre-season game of the outdoor season on April 29 in Winnipeg against Crossfire from WWSL’s Fifth Division.
Portage will also face Mac-Gregor at home in another exhibition matchup on May 6 before it begins the regular season on the road on May 14 against Red River Action.

PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE
Returning Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko, in his seventh season with the club, kept a watchful eye yesterday as he put the team through a variety of drills during its initial practice of the season as the squad aims to improve on last year’s 5-9-4 record, which left the Blaze eighth in the 10-team Second Division after winning Third Division in 2005.

“Most of the girls are returning players and we have about (six) new players and I am still evaluating,” said Mintenko. “We have 14 returning players and I’m pretty happy with that. It’s a good core group of players with good chemistry and they are friends off the pitch.
“We struggled a bit last year early and then picked up points towards the end. It was a tough adjustment to Division 2. Psychologically, sometimes I think we beat ourselves,” he added.

Blaze newcomers include goalkeeper Jenna Henuset and forward Rae Stoughton, former players with Portage Hurricanes under-18 team, as well as forward Tanya Birch from MacGregor. Returning to the fold after a season away are twin sisters and former co-captains Tanis and Terri Mauws, who missed the 2006 outdoor campaign while teaching English overseas.
Henuset will challenge third-year veteran Carrie Blanchard for the starting job between the pipes and Mintenko likes having competition in goal. “You can never have enough keepers,” he remarked. “It’s nice to have another keeper come try out.”

CAPTAIN OF OPTIMISM
Both keepers will have the luxury of the team’s top defender in captain Adele Butcher returning for yet another season. Butcher is convinced the team will turn things around after an up-and-down campaign last year.
“I think we’ll have a better season. Some key players are back and we have tons of players (on the roster),” said Butcher confidently. “We’re well-balanced and we have some really fast, younger forwards.”
Speaking of talent up front, the Blaze boast returning striker Jill Fast, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago with eight goals, who brings an array of speed to the striker position and should have another solid season statistically.

Other top offensive threats include midfielders Kim Cowan and Caitlin Pringle, who led the Blaze with 20 goals in 18 games during the recently-concluded WWSL indoor soccer season.
Mintenko said the Blaze will employ the same 4-4-2 system from a year ago, but admitted his team may open up the game slightly and take a few more chances on the offensive end, as Portage had only 23 goals in 18 games last season.


BLAZE INDOOR SEASON WRAP-UP

March 26, 2007


Blaze in line for promotion


By Brian Bowman
The Daily Graphic
Tuesday March 27, 2007

Portage Blaze finished their indoor soccer season on fire.
The Blaze shut out Supercats 4-0 on March 23 in their season finale in Winnipeg to claim second place in Fourth Division of Winnipeg Women Soccer League indoor season.

Portage tied Rave (9-2-7) in points with 34, but received the second-place nod based on having more wins and gained one of the coveted top two spots in Fourth Division to earn promotion to Third Divi-sion for the next indoor season.

Portage (10-4-4) was led offensively in its final game by Krystal Vielfaure’s two goals, while Caitlin Pringle and Katrina Nylen (third of the season) added singles. Pringle ended the campaign with 20 goals to become Golden Boot Champion as the top goal scorer in Fourth Division, while Vielfaure was second with 15. Youth player Dominique Colatruglio from first-place APM Load Runners led all scorers with 22 goals, but as a youth player, did not qualify for the Golden Boot Champion award.
“(Pringle) was definitely someone we could count on from game to game,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “In a close game, she would also set up goals and was a good two-way player. She is a perfect indoor (player).”
Callie Teetaert earned the shutout in goal for the Blaze, her third of the indoor season.

Mintenko was pleased with the club’s performance during the indoor season, noting the Blaze finished just six points back of first-place APM Load Runners, who often used callups to bolster their lineup.
“It was a pretty good year. We had six new players and it took us a few games to get the chemistry together,” said Mintenko. “We’re proud of getting second place.” Mintenko said the key to the successful season was the club’s stout defence led by the team’s best defender, Adele Butcher, as well as Margaret Stanger. “Our strength was defence,” said the head coach. “We had some of the top defenders in our division and Callie was a pretty good keeper for us.” Portage will take a much-needed break in the next few weeks during the spring thaw before preparing for the outdoor season, which begins with the first regular-season game on May 14.
Open tryouts for the Blaze will begin on April 20 as the team hopes to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish in Second Division, where it went 5-9-4.

The division will have a new look this season as teams make the transition up from Third Division. Selkirk and Winkler have been added to the 10-team group and will join Stonewall and the Blaze as the four rural teams, meaning travel obligations throughout the league will increase.
Despite the longer road trips, Mintenko admitted as WWSL convenor and the Blaze’s coach, he is excited about the prospects for the new season.
“I’m looking forward to the outdoor season. We have some very strong teams moving up from Division 3, so we should have about four or five new teams,” he enthused.


BLAZE VS. TOP TOTTIES

August 27, 2006 – 07:00 PM

 

Draw keeps Blaze in Second Division

By Brian Bowman

Portage Daily Graphic

Monday August 28, 2006
 
Portage la Prairie — Despite outplaying the Top Totties for most of the game, Portage Blaze settled for a 1-1 tie in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division action last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.
But while the home side dominated the play, it was inches away from getting a loss.

Forward Renee Routledge of Top Totties (7-7-4) sliced her way through the defence of the Blaze (5-9-4) late in the game, but her shot ricocheted off the left goalpost.
It would have been a bitter loss to end the season, which saw the Blaze finish with a healthy 4-1-1 record in their final six games.
More importantly, the tie gave Portage 19 points on the season, which clinches a berth to remain in Second Division next year.
The Blaze are currently tied with Stonewall Grads (5-7-4) and Red River Action (6-10-1) for sixth place, with the Grads having two games remaining and the Action with one more to play.
St. James Storm (3-10-3), who have only two games left, now cannot catch the Blaze. The Storm and Aftica (2-13-3) will be relegated to Third Division in 2007.

Routledge, a talented 17 year old who was called up from Kirkfield-Westwood of Third Division for last night’s game, tied the score approximately seven minutes into the second half when she pounced on a loose ball that was mishandled by Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard.
“I thought we played real well,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko. “We were aggressive and I thought we were dominating out on the pitch.”

The Blaze were superior at times, but just couldn’t seem to finish on a night they had a bevy of quality scoring chances, in particular by Jill Fast, who had another strong game for Portage.
Fast had a glorious chance to score in the second half, only to be stymied by diving Top Totties keeper Jana Taylor, who smothered the ball before Fast could get a shot off from in close.
The only Blaze player to find the back of the net was Adele Butcher, who capped off a strong game by drilling a free kick from 30 yards out which sailed into the top of the net past Taylor.
“I thought it might go over, but I was happy to see it go in,” said Butcher, who also played outstanding defence during the evening.
“We beat them to the ball 80 per cent of the time. I thought we played really well, but we just couldn’t finish.”

 


BLAZE VS. NORTHSTARS

August 16, 2006 – 07:00 PM

 

Blaze continue hot streak with home victory

By Brian Bowman

Portage Daily Graphic

Thursday August 17, 2006

Portage la Prairie — Sometimes that first goal is always the toughest to get. But once Portage Blaze got the first one, the floodgates opened in a 3-0 shutout against Northstars in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division action last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie.

Despite completely dominating the first half against the Northstars (8-7), the Blaze (5-8-3) had nothing to show for their effort. A couple of crossbars, combined with a solid performance by Northstars keeper Tobi Straker, kept both sides tied 0-0 at the half.
“We had loads of shots,” said Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko, whose club is now enjoying a four-game winning streak, after last night.
“We had lots of pressure and we controlled the ball for the most part.”

Still, with all that offensive pressure, the Blaze had nothing to show for its efforts. But Portage’s Jill Fast changed all that with a breakaway that started from around midfield.
Fast, with a pair of Northstar defenders chasing her, deked Straker to the left and then calmly put the ball into the empty cage for her team-leading ninth of the season. It would be a lead Portage would never relinquish.

“Michelle Bernard gave me a nice through ball and then I snuck around the defence,” explained Fast of her game-winning goal. “Their (defence) was tired.”
The visitors had every reason to be tired as they made the trip here with a very limited bench. Northstars even had to play shorthanded for a stretch of time when one of their players succumbed to injury.
“We just slowed down in the second half,” said Northstars head coach Bob Wolfe, whose club is now on a four-game losing skid.
Meanwhile, Portage’s full lineup of 18 players were well rested in the second half and the results showed.

“We were loaded with players,” said Mintenko, adding two players even had to volunteer not to dress due to roster limitations. “We wanted to make (Northstars) work hard and run to the ball.”
That philosophy eventually paid off for Portage when Gabrielle Ogilvie converted a nice pass from Katrina Nylen to put the home side up 2-0. Pam Nicoll then made it 3-0 with a bullet of a shot that sailed over Straker’s head.
“We weren’t as desperate after that first goal,” said Fast, adding the club played with plenty of “positive energy.”

The win virtually sealed Portage’s return to Second Division next season after it looked less than three weeks ago like it was on a path back to Third Division by finishing in one of the last two spots in the standings.

With 18 points, the Blaze lead St. James Storm and Aftica by nine points each (pending results from other games last night).
That means the Storm and Aftica would have to win all three of their remaining games, have Portage lose its last two and then hope to come out ahead via the league’s tiebreaking formula.

Mintenko said he couldn’t be happier with how the team has progressed this season and is proud of its winning streak down the stretch.
“We’re getting a little closer to .500, which is really big,” he enthused, adding the team started to gel after competing at a tournament in Kenora in mid-July. “The team chemistry is really good. They are really working well together.” The Blaze are on the road this Monday against Strikers before ending the season at home on Aug. 27 against Top Totties.

 


BLAZE VS. RED RIVER ACTION

July 31, 2006 – 07:30 PM

 

BLAZE WIN AND LOSE LAST NIGHT

Team wins by default, but loses scrimmage to Red River Action
By Paul Grigaitis

Portage Daily Graphic

Tuesday August 1, 2006

Portage la Prairie — In a game that never happened, Red River Action defeated Portage Blaze 2-0 in a Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League matchup last night.
However, the Blaze will get credit for their second victory of the season with a score of 3-0. That is the score awarded to teams that win by default, which is how the Blaze won last night’s game at Republic of Manitobah Park.

“It’s not how we wanted to win, but we’ll take it,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko, immediately after hearing of the default ruling.
Nine players must be available at the start of games played in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League. The Action had only eight players at game time. The Action’s home is in Winnipeg.
“They just had prior commitments, I guess,” said Action captain Carla Denbrok of her missing teammates.
“Commitments are an issue,” she said.

“We usually get one of these a year because a team from Winnipeg doesn’t make the trip with their full roster or just doesn’t bother coming out at all,” said Mintenko of defaults.
He would have rather his team played, but is glad to take the three points if it affects the Blaze’s position in the standings.
“You never know, this might mean something at the end of the year. It might mean us staying in the division. It might end up being in our favour,” the coach said.

Mintenko believes the Blaze would have won had the game been official. “We had a full roster here. I think they were fired up and ready to go tonight. We were looking for a win, but we got it the easy way,” he said with a chuckle.
Denbrok thought differently. “We beat ’em last time,” she said. “We didn’t have subs last time.”

The last time the Blaze met Red River Action was in June. The Blaze gave up two goals in the first quarter and lost the game 2 -0.
After last night’s default, the Action borrowed a few players, and defeated the Blaze 2-0 in a scrimmage that lasted roughly an hour.
After watching his offence in action during the scrimmage, Mintenko, who refereed, liked what he saw in the second half.

“The Portage team had quite a bit of pressure in the second half. I really like the amount of shots that they had. We’re generating some good offence there, so maybe I might mix some things up next game.”
Mintenko specifically talked of switching defensive players Adele Butcher and Pam Nicoll to offence.
“Pam’s getting a lot of nice shots on the net, so I might put her up front.”

Mintenko is hoping the changes can put the Blaze “back in the winning column ... legitimately.”
The next Blaze action is set for Aug. 9 against Titans at Republic Park. Game time is 7 p.m.


 

BLAZE VS. STONEWALL

July 26, 2006 – 07:30 PM

 

MISSED CHANCES PLAGUE BLAZE AGAIN
By Joey Payeur

Portage Daily Graphic

Thursday July 27, 2006


Portage la Prairie — The season for Portage Blaze could be summed up with not a thousand words, but two penalty kicks, both of which happened within a minute of each other last night.
The opposition made good on its freebie. The Blaze did not, and by the match’s end, a nine-game winless streak had become 10 for a team which has gone from champion a year ago to almost certain relegation for next season.
Sarah Morgan scored twice and Crystal Rayner converted a penalty kick for the game winner, as Stonewall Grads (4-6-2) downed Portage (1-8-3) by a 3-1 count last night at Republic of Manitobah Park in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division play.
Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko was a frustrated soul after the contest, which he chalked up to missed opportunities, something he said has been plaguing Portage all season.
“We had lots of good chances, but we couldn’t finish, and a couple of their speedy forwards took advantage of us,” said Mintenko, whose team captured the Third Division title in 2005, but has been unable to continue its success after being promoted to Second Division.

PROMISING START
The game began with everything going Portage’s way, from the fact Stonewall only had nine players at kickoff to the Blaze getting the first goal.
Jill Fast ripped a shot off the goal post, and Randi Cuthbert hotfooted it after the rebound to slam the ball past Stonewall goalkeeper Tasha Szczerba in the fifth minute for her second goal of the season and a 1-0 advantage.
But the Blaze, who had rookie striker Stephanie Arnott back in the lineup after she missed the past six weeks with a high ankle sprain, appeared to take their foot off the gas pedal after the marker. With Stonewall eventually having enough players show up to field a full side, the visitors proceeded to grab control of the game.
Morgan, who was called offside two minutes earlier on a disputed play which had her all alone in front of the Portage net, gained her retribution by knocking in a perfect cross from Lauren Anderson just inside the 18-yard box to tie the game mere moments before half-time.
“That was huge,” said Morgan. “It was all Lauren’s cross. All I had to do was not miss.”

PENALTY EXCHANGE
The second half saw Stonewall on the attack early, with Anderson getting a step to the outside of Portage captain and defender Adele Butcher, who pushed Anderson down inside the 18-yard box, causing the referee to signal immediately for a penalty kick.
Rayner stepped up and made no mistake, drilling the ball into the heart of the net past a diving Blanchard for the 2-1 lead.
One minute later, it was Portage’s turn to make penalty kick magic, as Caitlin Pringle was hit with a cross-body block by a Grads defender inside the Stonewall box. The normally surefooted Pringle aimed for her usual target, the lower left corner, but hammered it wide of the left post.
“I was going to the left, same place I always do, but I just miss-hit it,” said Pringle, whose team has only 13 goals in 12 games this year. “I don’t think it really affected us mentally, though.
“We played a really strong game,” continued the Blaze veteran, who recovered from a bleeding nose received in the 20th minute when she was struck in the face with the ball kicked at close quarters by a Grads opponent.
“We controlled the ball. Our problem was hitting the net and getting it in the net. We had a few fumbles and gave them two goals that shouldn’t have happened.”

TRANSITION GAME
Morgan applied the backbreaker in the 74th minute after sneaking behind the Portage defence after the Blaze had mounted some prolonged pressure in the Stonewall zone.
An attempted shot by the Blaze was booted out of the Grads zone, and the line drive found Morgan on the dead run down the right wing as she left her pursuers behind her. The long-legged redhead, a natural left-footed kicker, used that same foot to rocket a shot to the far side of the net past a helpless Blanchard for a two-goal lead.
Portage created some fine chances of their own, but Pam Nicoll was stymied twice from 25 yards out. The first shot rang squarely off the crossbar and bounced out of harm’s way, while the second in the form of a free kick after a Stonewall foul sailed high over the Grads’ net.
Mintenko and his troops have six games remaining in the season, beginning with a tilt against Red River Action (5-5-1) at Republic Park at 7:30 p.m. on July 31. The team is in second last in the 10-team Second Division, three points behind St. James Storm (2-6-3) for eighth and seven behind seventh-place Top Totties (4-6-1). The bottom two and possibly three teams at the end of the season face relegation to Third Division for 2007.
“It looks like unless we pull off six awesome games in a row and six wins in a row, we’re going down a division, barring a miracle,” admitted Mintenko.
“Sometimes enough teams fold in your division or the one below that you might not have to move down. But we have to take care of our own fate.”
Pringle was less anxious about the Blaze’s future, no matter what in which division they end up.
“Staying in Second Division is not our No. 1 priority,” she stated. “Our No. 1 priority has always been to have fun. If we win like that, great. But we lost quite a few key players from last year’s team, including our two captains (Tanis and Terri Mauws) as well as another person who helped start this team.
“Everyone on this team is an excellent player. We just have to try to click together. If we move down a division, it’s not a slap in the face. We’re still playing soccer in the end.”

 


BLAZE VS. MAPLES JUVENTUS STARS

July 5, 2006 – 07:30 PM

 

BLAZE BATTLE BACK AGAINST STARS
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 6, 2006

 

PORTAGE - Michelle Bernard is lucky her promise paid off. The Portage Blaze forward forcefully instructed coach Bryan Mintenko not to take her off the field last night until she scored against Maples Juventus Stars at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage. Mintenko temporarily disobeyed Bernard’s orders, but put her back into the contest just in time for the youngster to even the score with just more than five minutes remaining to salvage a 1-1 tie.

“She had a few really good shots early on and she just wanted it,” Mintenko said of Bernard, whose tying goal was her first tally of this Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League season. “She really deserved one.”
Though Bernard deserved the goal and her squad in the end deserved the one point it took out of the night, the Blaze (1-6-3) did not play the entire game in a manner deserving of a win. The tie was fitting, then, since Maples (5-1-4) -- for the most part -- did not play a game deserving of much more than a few strategically-placed, accidental elbows.

Portage pounced with a pile of early pressure, as Blaze veteran Jill Fast hit a crossbar by the time 10 minutes were gone in the first half. The squad mustered a few scattered shots on goal throughout the half, but Maples displayed a combination of better speed, overwhelming intensity -- and much more aggression. The chippy style the third-place Stars showcased wore on the Blaze’s composure and the home side backed off in its defensive coverage.Mintenko addressed the lack of intensity and pep in the Portage game at halftime and -- though the Blaze returned with a slightly renewed focus -- it did not make a huge difference.

“I asked them to pump up their aggression and they did that for the most part,” Mintenko said. “They eased off a little bit though, because Maples is a little bit pushy and that pushes us off our game. We like to play games that are more fair and less chippy.”
Portage was just settling into a groove when a misstep by Portage defender Adele Butcher allowed Korin Gibbings to rocket a kick off the post and past Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard.
The 1-0 deficit prompted another bout of energy from the home team and a rush of pressure -- albeit slightly disorganized -- eventually sent Bernard in alone, which led to her launching a beautiful kick into the back of the Maples net.

The two teams both revved their engines one last time in an attempt to break the tie in the last five minutes. The late-game desperation also saw a game-long feud between Fast and Brittany Odgen peak when a yellow card was handed to Fast, who was not the instigator for the majority of the spats. Fast took the card in stride, however, and attempted a few more frantic shots before the time ran out, with the result moving Portage one step further away from the basement in WWSL’s Second Division. The Blaze are tied for eighth with St. James Storm (1-5-3), with the Storm holding a game in hand.

“We had more pressure and more shots, but Maples had a speedy forward who got one on us and that was the majority of the offensive difference,” said Mintenko, whose squad next faces last-place Aftica (0-7-2) -- Portage’s only victim this season -- on July 12 at John Blumberg Park in Winnipeg. “I told my girls to fight to the bitter end and that’s what they did.”


BLAZE VS. TOP TOTTIES

June 28, 2006 – 07:30 PM

 

PORTAGE BLAZE WELCOME HOLIDAY BREAK
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 29, 2006

 

WINNIPEG - Portage Blaze are looking forward to a long weekend away from soccer. The Blaze (1-6-2) dropped a 3-1 decision to Top Totties last night at Winnipeg’s Lipset Hall and continued a now-seven game winless streak that has covered the better part of the last month in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division. “I think we could all use a bit of a break just to relax away from the game, clear our heads and refocus a bit without thinking about soccer,” said Portage coach Bryan Mintenko following the loss, which he characterized as “closer than it looked.”

Neither team could crack the scoreboard through the entire first half, but Portage took control early in the second to go ahead.
Midfielder Julie McNabb took a corner kick just six minutes in and sent the ball sailing to Caitlin Pringle, who was in her first game back after having heart surgery in the winter. Pringle took a solid shot which was deflected by the Totties keeper, but the rebound went right to Jill Fast and in for the forward’s sixth tally of the campaign and a 1-0 jump.

Mintenko admitted the Blaze looked solid through the majority of the half, but with 25 minutes left there was a major momentum shift.
Top Totties got a free kick from just outside the box and blew the ball just past the Portage wall and beyond the reach of Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard. The visitors managed to come back hard for the next little while, but with six minutes left in the contest, a Totties’ corner kick worked to the home team’s advantage. The kick went off a Portage defender, but not far off enough, and the Totties buried it for the 2-1 lead. They got their third goal with 30 seconds left on the clock, but it was the second goal Mintenko referred to as the back-breaker.

“That second goal hurt, because until then we were looking like we could come back. We nearly tied it up, but it was a small field, we were bunched up and the players were just bumping into each other,” Mintenko said, noting the Blaze energy decreased with the size of yesterday’s playing surface. “For a good part of the game we didn’t play with enough aggression,” he said. “When we got up 1-0, we didn’t have the killer instinct we’ve had in other years. Last year, we would have taken that goal and gone up three or four goals. We just didn’t push hard enough for that second goal that would have given us the momentum.”

After this weekend’s extended break, Portage faces off at home against Maples Juventus Stars to open the second half -- a half which Mintenko is counting on to rally the troops and save the Blaze from demotion to third division. “We’re looking ahead to the second half and thinking we can pick up enough games to stay in the division,” Mintenko said. “We’ve got six more home games and I’m thinking we can use them to pick up a bunch of wins. “We’re starting to develop some really good chemistry. We just need to get that one win in to get our confidence up.”


BLAZE VS. STRIKERS

June 25, 2006 – 07:00 PM

 

BLAZE MORALE BOOSTED DESPITE LOSS
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MONDAY JUNE 26, 2006

 

PORTAGE - Even though they could not pick up the win, Portage Blaze at least picked up their game against league-leading Strikers S.C. The Blaze dropped a 3-1 decision to Strikers (7-0-1) last night at Portage la Prairie’s Republic of Manitobah Park, but the game -- which broke the home side (1-5-2) out of a three-week uninspired funk -- was closer than close through its majority.
And that fact is ironic, considering the lesser-calibre teams against which Portage put out a lesser performance over the past few weeks.

“I think because we knew (Strikers) were a better team, we knew we had to play better,” said Blaze forward Jill Fast, who netted Portage’s lone goal, her fifth of the season. “We knew we should step it up.” Fast’s goal was an equalizer, as Strikers went up 1-0 on a penalty kick with 10 minutes left in the half. The kick was a result of a great play by Blaze defender Adele Butcher, who dove beneath the feet of Strikers forward Heather Jaques to prevent a potential goal. Jaques was granted a penalty shot and just beat Portage keeper Katrina Nylen. Fast took the goal back with five minutes gone in the second half on a beautiful drive towards the Strikers net.
Fast beat two defenders, pulled Strikers keeper Colleen Clarke out of the net, missed one shot and then buried a second from the opposite end of the net to even the game 1-1.

Portage used the momentum of Fast’s marker to control much of the second half, but got worn down and eventually let two more slip past Nylen in the last 10 minutes of the contest, one off a header by Brianna Melia and the other via a goal mouth scramble.
According to Blaze bench boss Bryan Mintenko, the fact his squad could have pulled out the win against a top-notch club was enough of a victory after the month it has been having.

“We could have gotten a tie or even a win and we just about stole it from them,” Mintenko said. “I think our midfielders were tired towards the end and we weren’t marking very well towards the end. That gave them a couple breaks, but it was a very positive game.”
Strikers were not always amicable opponents. Forward Kristen Roccola was given a yellow card near the end of the game. In Mintenko’s opinion, Strikers’ scrappy style brought out the best in Portage.
“We always step it up against this club, because for some reason we’re motivated to play this team,” Mintenko said. “They’re not really a pleasure to play against. Their club is kind of negative. They’re always bickering with each other, the officials and the coaches. And I’m glad we don’t have that problem. We’re a very positive team and there were definitely positives we could take out of this one.”

Portage next meets Top Totties (2-6) on Wednesday at Winnipeg’s Lipset Hall and the players agree with Mintenko’s plan to take many positives into the match-up.
“We had lots of subs and a really good warm-up (yesterday), which I think made a difference,” said Fast, a veteran who leads the team in scoring.
“Playing that close game will definitely help our strategies.”


BLAZE VS. TITANS

June 14, 2006 – 07:30 PM

 

BLAZE SUFFER FOURTH SHUTOUT IN FIVE GAMES
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - THURSDAY JUNE 15, 2006

 

WINNIPEG - Frustrated is the one word to describe Portage Blaze. The Blaze (1-3-1) have failed find the net in four of their five Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division contests so far this season, with the most recent goose egg coming last night with a 1-0 loss to Titans at Winnipeg’s Lipset Hall.
Portage coach Bryan Mintenko thought the game should have at least resulted in a tie, but said his squad was relegated to the losing side by an embarrassing goal.

“It really was the cheesiest goal they won it with,” Mintenko said of the Titans’ lone marker. “It was fluky to say the least.”
The shot came in the second half, when a Titan shot rumbled past two Blaze defenders, then rolled past goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard.
“I guess (Blanchard) was distracted. She just couldn’t get to it on time,” said Mintenko. “It was just so slow that it was frustrating to watch.”

Other than that mishap, Portage did not give up a bundle of shots -- though the squad did not take any, either.
Mintenko said the Blaze outplayed the Titans. But not even the second-half wind advantage could help Portage hit the net.
“We were definitely moving it to the forwards, but once it got there, the midfielders weren’t giving them any options,” Mintenko said. “We were calling for Hail Mary passes like you would in football. And that’s not a good thing in soccer.”

Jackie Gordon and Julie McNabb each had solid scoring opportunities in the second half and Mintenko cited McNabb’s as likely the best chance Portage had to put anything on the board.
The forward got a free kick from midfield out and her contact got past the Titans’ keeper, however not by much and the goalie picked it up prior to it crossing the line.

The goalless result on the Blaze’s part was more than a little disappointing, as Mintenko said the squad played perhaps its best soccer of the year over the weekend at their annual home tournament, Central Plains Challenge Cup. Portage went 2-2-1 in the event, which was good enough for a bronze medal. Though the squad didn’t score in two of the six games, it had a total of six in the tournament -- three more than Portage has in its five WWSL games this season.
“It’s getting pretty frustrating, especially for our defence,” said Mintenko, who admitted one of his veteran defenders offered to switch to forward for the next game to see if some new blood can get something going up front for the Blaze.

While Mintenko will not be making such drastic moves prior to tomorrow’s 7:30 p.m. home game at Portage la Prairie’s Republic of Manitobah Park against St. James Storm (1-2-1), the coach will be stirring things up a bit.
“I’m going to shake things and move a few of the forwards around just to see if we can get that spark going,” said Mintenko, who coached the Blaze -- who now sit in eighth place out of 10 teams -- to WWSL’s Third Division championship last season.
“If we don’t get things going on Friday, we will be pushing the panic button.”


BLAZE VS. RED RIVER ACTION

June 5, 2006 – 07:30 PM


BLAZE BLANKED AGAIN IN WWSL ACTION
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - TUESDAY JUNE 6, 2006
 

WINNIPEG - Portage Blaze has all the tools needed to win a Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division Two game.
The squad just can’t seem to get all the parts working at the same time.

The Blaze (1-2-1) dropped a 2-0 decision to Red River Action last night at John Blumberg Field in Winnipeg amid intermittent showers, which saw even more intermittent play around the opposition net lead to rain on the Portage parade.

“(We) could not hit the net as shot after shot went wide or over,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko in a post-game e-mail. “This mounting ineptness up front ... (weakened) the overall Blaze team confidence and slowly the Red River Action took control of the game.”
The visitors controlled the play through the majority of the first half, but Portage’s resolve dissipated following a handful of missed shots, while Red River gained four corner kicks within eight minutes.
The Action followed through on two of the shots and went into the second half with a 2-0 lead.

The Blaze regrouped at halftime and was able to control Red River in the second, but the offence again lagged and could not capitalize on the chances they received. Despite having more second-half opportunities than the Action, Portage only sent seven shots at Red River’s keeper during the game and was shut out for the third time this soccer season. Portage’s lone win and only goals of the season came two weeks ago in a 3-1 decision over Aftica.

According to Mintenko, Portage must develop some team chemistry pronto and the coach hopes it will happen at this weekend’s Central Plains Challenge Cup invitational tournament. The Blaze hosts the event this weekend at Republic of Manitobah Park in Portage la Prairie, opening the tournament on Saturday at 10 a.m. against Stonewall, before facing T-Devils at 1 p.m. that afternoon and then meeting Brandon on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Portage won the event last year, its first tournament title in the team’s five-year existence.


BLAZE VS. MAPLES JUVENTUS STARS

May 17, 2006 – 07:30 PM


BLAZE SUFFER SHUTOUT IN DIVISION 2 DEBUT
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - THURSDAY MAY 18, 2006

 
WINNIPEG - The Portage Blaze are hoping the sizzle they showed Maples Juventus Stars will grow to a full-blown fire sooner rather than later. Maples handed Portage a 3-0 loss yesterday in the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 2 season opener in Winnipeg and continued the three-game Blaze goal-less streak, which includes two pre-season outings.

Portage coach Bryan Mintenko was uninspired by his team’s play in the contest, which was the first the Blaze played in Division 2 after being promoted upon conquering Division 3 last season.
“(Maples) is about the average-calibre team we will be facing this year and I was hoping we would come out with a better performance to start things out,” admitted Mintenko, who did take some positives out of the shutout loss. “We weren’t quite as organized as them, but we did have good control for about 25 minutes.” Forwards Jill Fast and Julie McNabb each had multiple good scoring chances during that time, which had Portage going against the wind while putting forward its best effort of the night.

Maples’ first goal came when a speedy Star was one-on-one with Portage defender Adele Butcher until Butcher slipped and allowed the forward full access to goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard.
According to Mintenko, Portage shook off the opener and looked good heading into the second half, but just could not crack the net.
“We had the wind and we had some chances,” said the coach. “We just could not get it in and that is something we will continue to work on.”

The Stars got their second marker early in the second half off an indirect free kick, which was awarded after Portage defender Jolene Dayholos made an illegal kick back to Blanchard.
“We just did not get our wall up in time and there was nothing we could do to stop the ball from going in,” said Mintenko. “Carrie was very upset after that and wasn’t really focused.”
Blanchard allowed Maples its third goal with two minutes left in the contest, when Blaze defenders left a Stars forward unmarked and free to confront the keeper.

Mintenko plans to work the team hard at tomorrow’s practice and hopes a major regrouping will occur prior to their home opener against Aftica on May 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Republic of Manitoba Park in Portage la Prairie. “Aftica moved up (from Division 3) with us and we are confident in our abilities against them,” said Mintenko. “We beat them 9-0 in last season’s opener, so I am pretty confident in our ability to rebound against them. There are some things to work out, but we will get them worked out, I hope.”


BLAZE VS. MINNEDOSA

May 13, 2006 – 03:00 PM


BLAZE OFFENCE COLD IN PRE-SEASON
By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MONDAY MAY 15, 2006

MINNEDOSA - Portage Blaze has one goal for their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League season opener on Wednesday; score.
After their second exhibition game of the 2006 outdoor campaign on Saturday, the Blaze who dominated Division 3 last year to earn promotion to Division 2 this season, have yet to score a goal.
Portage dropped a tough 2-0 decision on the road to Minnedosa, just four days after playing to a scoreless draw against MacGregor.
Just like in the MacGregor game, Saturday saw no shortage of scoring chances for the Blaze. The team could not pot any of them to save its life, though.

“We just failed to score, plain and simple,” said Mintenko. “There weren’t as many chances (like against MacGregor), but we had some glorious opportunities we just did not capitalize on. I think something is going on psychologically with our shooters.”
The majority of Saturday’s offence was carried by veteran forward Jill Fast, who led Portage in scoring last season, and rookie Stephanie Arnott, whose determination and speed were showcased mightily in both exhibition outings.

FRUSTRATION MOUNTING
According to Mintenko, the tandem each came close to scoring on Saturday -- Fast on a partial breakaway which hit the post and Arnott on a kick just over the net. The fact the Portage girls know almost doesn’t cut it is only making matters worse.
“They seem to be thinking too much. They’re going for the beautiful goal instead of just trying to get any goal. It doesn’t have to be pretty,” said Mintenko, who is putting the pressure on to score, only to break the frustration and get the Blaze back to their traditional way of play.

“Once we get that first goal, we’ll get our confidence back up. But it’s a batter of getting that first goal. It’s been a long time since we’ve been behind in a game, or even lost a game.”
Portage has usually had at least one player who can score on a regular basis, with a good chunk of the team pulling through in the clutch last season. Mintenko hopes it is only a matter of time before the entire offence can crack the defences of opposing goalkeepers routinely -- although there may be one glitch. The coach tested high-scoring forward Gabrielle Ogilvie in net on Saturday, as last year’s starting netminder, Carrie Blanchard, will be kept from her position between the posts because of work commitments on a semi-regular basis. Though Ogilvie allowed the two Minnedosa tallies, Mintenko was impressed with her defensive tactics and those of the defence in front of her.

There were only approximately 15 minutes in the 90-minute game when Portage allowed Minnedosa access to the 18-foot goal area and that was when the two goals were scored. Because of that press, Mintenko was satisfied with the majority of the team’s game -- but was firm in his resolve to run scoring and shooting drills if there are no goals credited to the Blaze name after Wednesday. “The lack of scoring is a little worrying, but they are just exhibition games,” Mintenko admitted. “I’m hoping we’ll turn things around for the regular season. I know the girls will psyche themselves up and become a little more intense and the goals will eventually come .... I really like that we’re producing the chances we are. The girls just need to finish them.”


BLAZE VS. MACGREGOR

May 9, 2006 – 07:45 PM


BLAZE TIE EXHIBITION OPENER

By Julie Horbal

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MAY 10, 2006
 

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE - Coach Bryan Mintenko is the first to admit the Portage Blaze squad which was on the field yesterday is not the Portage Blaze which will open its regular season next week.

Portage played to an uninspiring 0-0 draw with MacGregor in last night’s exhibition game at Portage la Prairie’s Republic of Manitobah Park. But the outing was only the first game situation of the outdoor season and Mintenko is confident the lack of offensive production was due to a little rust on the gears.
“It was just about people getting familiar with one another and getting used to playing 45-minute halves,” said Mintenko, whose 2005 Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 3 champion Blaze were promoted to Division 2 for this campaign.
MacGregor does not play in WWSL, but its proximity to Portage sparked Mintenko to book the exhibition game in an attempt to condition the Blaze for what looks a challenging season to come.
“We have a very tough division this year with the promotion to Division 2, so every game is going to be a challenge,” said Mintenko, who watched his veteran goalkeeper, Carrie Blanchard, pick up the shutout last night.
“We’re up against some really skilled teams, but I saw some good things (yesterday). We had quite a few good shots here, so we should be able to do all right.”

Rookie forward Stephanie Arnott played last night’s game as if she had something to prove and was arguably the most dominant offensive force on the field. Arnott had a number of chances that just missed, but -- along with returning forwards Jill Fast and Gabrielle Ogilvie -- left Mintenko fairly comfortable with where his front-line attack stands.
“We’ll have a lot of speed up front and we should be able to generate more offence than last year,” said the coach, who did lose a few players in the off-season, but added Arnott, Roxanna Smith of Birtle, Janine Massinon of St. Claude and Minnedosa’s Katrina Nylen and Julie McNabb to fill some holes.

Among those not returning are Shea Fust, who is still rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee suffered while playing with Division II University of Minnesota-Crookston Eagles in October of 2004, one year after tearing the ACL in her right knee. Fust had planned on returning to the pitch this season, but Mintenko said she tweaked the knee earlier this spring and didn’t want to chance having another major injury before getting completely healthy, and he expects the talented striker to return to action in 2007. Also missing are former co-captains and team leaders Terri and Tanis Mauws, who are overseas in South Korea teaching English. The Mauws twins leave the captaincy in the hands of defender Adele Butcher and mid-fielder Kim Cowan, who were vocal yesterday in instructing the sometimes scrambling masses towards a more Blaze-like way of play.

“Today was a little bit disorganized, but that’s to be expected,” said Mintenko, who is aiming for a top-5 finish for this year’s Blaze in Division 2.
“Some of the veteran players are stepping up with the leadership and some of the second-year players are getting each other going, which will really help things come along as we go on.”
Portage kicks off its regular season on May 17 with a match against Maples Juventus Stars in Winnipeg, but not before another preseason matchup on Saturday in Minnedosa.


BLAZE VS. POLAR BEARS

March 16, 2006 – 11:00 PM


BLAZE END INDOOR SEASON IN FIFTH SPOT
By Julie Horbal
PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MARCH 21, 2006

 

WINNIPEG - Portage Blaze did nothing less than end its season with a bang and a promise of future toughness.
The Blaze destroyed Polar Bears 10-0 in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 4 indoor season finale on March 16, taking sweet revenge for the ugly 1-1 game they played against the Bears in their last meeting. And while the Portage squad did not attain the divisional promotion its coach set as the main goal of the season, Bryan Mintenko now believes the lack of promotion is best for the team.
“It’s probably a good thing we’re staying put,” said Mintenko, who also coaches the Blaze outdoor squad, which captured the WWSL Division 3 title last summer. “We’re now a favourite for Division 4 and we’ll be right up in the top .... We finished this year with the message that we’ll be back and we’ll be tough to beat.”
Caitlin Pringle finished off her campaign with four goals to finish with a team-leading 17 for the season in the pounding of the Polar Bears, which saw Portage bank seven tallies before the first half was up.

Carmen McNabb posted a hat trick to bring her total to 11, while Brenda Ricard, Katrina Nylen and Wendy Brock each delivered their first of the year. Brock also got a chance to play between the pipes, as starting goalkeeper Andrea Addison wanted a chance to play in front of the net instead of inside of it in the second half.
Mintenko attributed the hearty win to Portage’s opportunity to constantly switch players up, as the Bears only had two substitutes on their bench.
“They came out really strong against us and we were sort of taken by surprise,” Mintenko said.
“But by about the 10- or 15-minute mark, they were completely winded and really couldn’t keep up with the fresh legs we were able to keep sending out.”

The win was enough to put the Blaze (10-7-1, 31 points) in fifth place out of 10 teams, but only the top three move up to the next division.
“I expected us to finish in the top three, but a couple of bad games meant we had to work harder,” said Mintenko, referring to three tough games against Lightning, Polar Bears and Rave. “Two or three poor efforts took us out, but it was a good season even though we didn’t achieve promotion.”
St. James Legends, Rave, Maniko and Ninja Turtles are all likely candidates for advancement, as they are the four who finished above Portage.

Mintenko is particularly happy with the indoor season, because if nothing else, it has helped prepare the Blaze for the tough outdoor season which lies ahead in the not-so-distant future.
Portage will enter its first year in WWSL Second Division without last year’s co-captains, twin sisters Tanis and Terri Mauws, who are both teaching English in South Korea, and also without offensive leader Pringle, who is having major surgery and will be out for at least the summer.

Nylen, McNabb and Brock will likely join the outdoor team to fill the holes. Mintenko speculates former Blaze player Shea Fust, who blew out a knee for the second time in two years while playing for Division II University of Minnesota-Crookston Eagles squad in October of 2004, could also return after a lengthy rehabilitation, pending medical clearance. Ultimately, Mintenko figured Portage learned much from its tougher opponents, which will help it for the upcoming outdoor season and help it conquer next year’s Division Four indoor season.
“It will be a lot tougher summer than we had last year,” he said. “So it is good to get into the habit of facing tougher teams now.”


PORTAGE ON-LINE SPORTS STAR OF THE WEEK

January 18, 2006 – 06:00 PM



CAITLIN PRINGLE

This weeks Sports Traders Star of the week is Caitlin Pringle. Caitlin has been with the Portage Blaze of the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League since 2003 and is currently the leading Blaze scorer this indoor soccer season. The 22 year old Blaze forward has racked up 8 goals and 3 assists so far this year. She says her competitive nature gives her an appetite for finding the net.

This year is a first for the Blaze as they're usually an outdoor soccer team. Right now they sit in 4th place in the Winnipeg Women's Soccer League's 4th division at 4-4-1.Pringle is hoping to continue doing well and help her team advance in the standings.

As for her soccer career the university student has no plans of slowing down and hopes to continue on with the Blaze as long as she can.

For her hard work and dedication to the Portage Blaze, Caitlin Pringle is this weeks Sports Traders Star of the Week.


BLAZE VS. BALL BUSTERS

December 18, 2005 – 02:00 PM

 

PRINGLE, BLAZE OVERWHELM BALL BUSTERS
By Julie Horbal
PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - DECEMBER 20, 2005

 

WINNIPEG - It was go big or go home for Portage Blaze on Sunday. The Blaze (4-2) defeated Ball Busters by a season-high four-goal margin, but their dominant 6-2 victory was all but predictable during the first few moments of their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League indoor game.

The Division 4 cellar-dwelling Busters went up 1-0 very early in the game and the initial surge served as a wake-up call for the Divi-sion 3 outdoor league champion Portage players, who now sit in a tie for third spot in their indoor group.
“It was a lesser-skilled team again, so we didn’t come out too fired up,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko, whose squad lucked out with its last two opponents.
“They scored first, but that kind of woke us up a bit.”
Tiffany Holmes evened things out just before half-time on a pass by Caitlin Pringle to send home her first of the year.
The Blaze’s aggression wore the shorthanded Ball Busters down quickly, allowing Caitlin Pringle to hammer home a prompt 2-1 shot.
The Portage sniper caught a lucky bounce when the Ball Buster keeper’s clearing attempt failed, and drilled the loose ball behind her.

Ball Busters tied it up within minutes, but the burst of offence ran them completely out of steam and the game was all Portage’s from there.
“We played more aggressively and fought harder for the ball,” Mintenko said.
“We just outran them, outworked them. They pretty much ran out of gas about five minutes in.”
Pringle posted another a few moments later to make it 3-2, then Blaze captain Tanis Mauws slipped past a Ball Busters defender to send a solid shot into the top left corner to put the Blaze up by two.
Mauws managed another when a shot was deflected off the keeper and a defender to hit the back of the net for her second of the game and the season.
Pringle, Portage’s most valuable player when the team captured the outdoor league division title this past summer, netted her hat trick goal and team-leading eighth of the season toward the end of the game with a close shot to the left side of the net.
“She can really excel at the indoor game,” said Mintenko. “She has quick speed, quick bursts of speed that she can use to get around the defenders. She also has a good, hard shot, so I think she’ll get a lot of goals this year.”

Ball Busters put one in the net just before the game wrapped up, but the Blaze were comfortable with their lead and the game overall.
“We scored our highest amount of goals, and I think we could have had more,” said Mauws, who was named player of the game in the victory.
“Their goalie got lucky a fair amount of times -- we were shooting really well. I think we’re finally passing to each other. There’s some new girls and we’re really just starting to click. We’re really cohesive.”
The Blaze can move into sole possession of third place with a win tonight in Winnipeg against the team they are currently tied with, Rave. The contest will feature a yawn-inducing start time of 11 p.m.


BLAZE VS. STORM

August 28, 2005 – 07:00 PM


BLAZE CAPTURE THIRD DIVISION!

BY JOEY PAYEUR
PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - AUGUST 30, 2005

 

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Terri Mauws and Kim Cowan were out of position, but certainly did not look out of place. And now Portage Blaze have a place in Second Division of Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League after completing most likely the best season in local women’s soccer history with a victory to remember. Cowan jumped on the juicy rebound of Mauws’ shot and tapped in the winning goal with less than a minute to play to give Portage Blaze a 2-1 decision over St. James Storm on Sunday at Republic of Manitobah Park to clinch WWSL Third Division. It is the first title in the Blaze’s five-year existence and, to anyone’s knowledge, in the history of women’s soccer in Portage la Prairie. The Blaze veteran combination of Mauws and Cowan were moved upfield from their normal defender positions by coach Bryan Mintenko in the final minutes of the game to try to provide a spark to a Portage offence missing one of its key cogs. Sniper Jill Fast had to attend an out-of-town weekend wedding.
It was a coaching move he will never regret.

“Kim’s been working really hard, and we usually have her at the midfield position because she can win challenges and distributes the ball well to the wingers,” said Mintenko. “In the late stages, I pushed her up because she’s pretty speedy. It turned out she was able to outrun the defender and get the rebound and score.”
For Cowan, it was a matter of right place, right time.
“Terri’s shot went off the goalie’s hands, and I just happened to be right there to put it in,” said Cowan about her division-winning tally, her sixth goal of the season. “Terri’s got a pretty hard shot. I’m just glad I was there for the rebound.”
Mauws, who has been with the Blaze since Day 1, went from dejection to elation in a heartbeat.

“Someone’s shot deflected to me, I passed my defender and shot, but I knew I didn’t score so I was upset at first,” recounted Mauws, who flies to Korea this morning for a year-long stint teaching English which will prevent her from playing with the Blaze both in the upcoming indoor soccer season and next year’s outdoor season.
“I really wanted to help out and get a goal. I have the passion, if not so much the forward skills. But I’m happy with the assist.”
The Blaze (15-1-2), who trailed 1-0 at halftime, only needed a tie against the second-place Storm (10-3-2) in their regular season finale to secure top spot and earn promotion to Second Division -- something they missed out on by a single point last season.
But St. James wasn’t backing down from the challenge, knowing with a win and three games in hand on Portage, first place was not out of the question. The Storm made waves early, scoring the lone goal of the first half to take a 1-0 lead into the break, but the Blaze turned up the temperature in the second half.

Midfielder Caitlin Pringle unloaded a cannonball of a shot that ripped off the right goalpost and in to tie the game during a half which Portage dominated play from beginning to end. When Cowan made good at clutch time, it was the culmination of a year which saw the Blaze roar to a 10-0 record while thriving because of a rock solid foundation of team chemistry. “It’s not just a soccer team. We’re friends and we hang out,” said Mauws, who got to share in the victory with older twin sister and Blaze defender Tanis Mauws. “Because of that, there’s not so much pressure to win. We just go out and have fun, which helps a lot.”

“Lots of us have played together for a real long time, and the rookies this year got along well with us,” added Cowan, who is pumped up about facing the tougher test of Division 2 in 2006.
“It will be a bit of a challenge, but when we play tougher teams, we step it up,” she said. “Terri’s definitely one of our leaders and we’ll definitely miss her next year. With her energy, she’s a huge presence on and off the field. But I think we’ll stay pretty strong.”
For Mintenko, Sunday’s sweet final chapter completed a story five years in the making.

“This team started with a group of girls who were in a (recreation) league at the time and were looking to play competitively,” he said. “So I took that group and put them in WWSL. We’ve got about 10 girls who started with the club in its beginnings that are still here today.
“We missed second place and a chance at promotion by a point, and we felt we deserved promotion. This year, we felt we were the best team coming in. We came out of the gate with a great start, stumbled a bit along the way. But Sunday, we wanted to go for the win. We didn’t want to have to watch the standings and scores come in. We wanted to do it ourselves.”


BLAZE VS. CANADIANS

August 15, 2005 – 07:00 PM

 

BLAZE OFFENCE ROLLS AGAINST CANADIANS

BY RYAN DIXON
PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - AUGUST 17, 2005

 

WINNIPEG — Kim Cowan should be selfish more often.
The Portage Blaze midfielder’s brilliant tally was the decisive goal as Portage (12-2-1) doused the Canadians by a 4-1 count during Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division action on Monday in Winnipeg. Jill Fast’s 10th goal of the year put the Blaze up 1-0, before Cowan displayed some fancy footwork to net her fifth marker of the campaign.
“She took the ball just inside half, deked three players and kept going straight to the net,” explained Portage coach Bryan Mintenko. “Once she beat the final defender, she just had to beat the keeper and she put a low shot to the right corner.
“It was pretty impressive. We were yelling from the bench for her to pass it, cross it out to the wings, but I guess she saw something, noticed the defenders weren’t moving too quickly toward her.”

The Canadians (3-7-1) answered back with a goal of their own before the first half expired, but the Blaze went back to work in the second frame, with a little assistance from Mother Nature. The Blaze had elected to play with the wind at their backs in the initial half, but ended up benefiting from a tail wind in both frames after the breeze pulled a 180-degree turn.
“(The Canadians) didn’t get any chances in the second half because of that, and our defence tightened up,” Mintenko said.
Portage, which has had some hard luck around the net in recent weeks, caught a bit of a break on its third goal, as Jackie Gordon crossed over midfield and launched a shot which somehow slipped through the Canadians’ keeper for her second of the season.

The Blaze did not need any help on their final tally, as Fast burned up the field before feeding a pass to rookie Gabrielle Ogilvie, who one-timed it perfectly into the back of the net for her team-leading 13th goal of the summer. Mintenko said his club looked much more comfortable on the pitch than it has in recent outings, including a 3-2 loss to St. James Stor on Aug. 11.
“We just wanted to go out and have fun with this one,” he noted.
“They were playing more aggressive, which is their style. They were passing the ball well.”

With three games remaining this season, the Blaze now control their own destiny in terms of winning their division and gaining promotion to Second Division. If Portage wins all three of its contests, promotion is assured, but any loss could leave the door open for St. James or third-place Aftica to strike. Currently, the Blaze lead Third Division with 37 points, nine more than the 28 points held by the second-place Storm, which still has six games remaining.
Third-place Aftica is also in the mix because the club has 25 points, but still has seven games to go. Portage travels to Winnipeg to battle the Rave on Thursday, before returning home to take on Gateway Celtic on Aug. 22 at Republic of Manitobah Park, beginning at 7 p.m.


BLAZE VS. CANADIANS

August 4, 2005 – 07:00 PM

 

BLAZE BATTLE INJURIES TO GET WIN OVER CANADIANS
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - AUGUST 4, 2005

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Portage Blaze had an abundance of chances and a shortage of players, but in the end emerged with a sweat-soaked win.

A trio of injuries forced the Blaze to play the dying minutes of their game versus Canadians with only 10 players on the field, but the squad managed to hang on for a 2-1 win in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division action last night at Republic of Manitobah Park.
“We’ll take it,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko, who looked as exhausted as many of his players after the match. Maybe that’s because he had to help two players, Jolene Dayholos and Randi Cuthbert, limp off the field with ankle injuries just minutes apart in the match’s dwindling moments.

The injuries left league-leading Portage (11-1, 33 points) with only 10 players on the field because co-captain Terri Mauws was also forced to leave the game in the first half with an ankle injury.
While Mintenko expects both Mauws and Cuthbert will be ready for Portage’s next game tomorrow at Republic Park against CCC United, the coach thought Dayholos may have to miss at least two games after aggravating an existing injury,
“We had to finish the game with 10 players and it was really tough on a day like this when it’s so hot and humid. Nobody wanted to run hard,” said Mintenko.
“The Canadians played really well. They definitely stretched us to the limit.”
The win was just the remedy the Blaze needed after losing their first league game since Aug. 22, 2004 in a 2-1 defeat last Thursday to Aftica. The most notable Canadians performance came from goalkeeper Jen Poynting, whose spectacular saves prevented Portage from obliterating its opponent.

Despite controlling all facets of the game, the Blaze were not able to break through until late in the first half, when Cuthbert notched her first of two goals on the night by drilling a shot over Poynting and into the top of the net. Cuthbert, whose nine goals this season ties her for the team lead with Jill Fast and Gabrielle Ogilvie, definitely earned her next tally, which came just after the second half began. Portage’s Caitlin Pringle drove a beautiful free kick off the crossbar from 25 yards out, and the ensuring carom came right to Cuthbert, who used a combination of throat and chin to direct the ball past Poynting. Pringle, who played a dominant game at centre midfield, explained her approach to the free kick.
“I always just look for the goal and try to get it as close as I can,” the assistant captain said.
“If Randi wasn’t there, I don’t know what we would have done because it was a (clean) goal post.”
It would have been easy for the Canadians (3-6) to pack it in at that point, but they fought back hard and were rewarded when Jaime Schmidt fired a ball past Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard with about 10 minutes remaining in the match.
“I thought they were going to pull it out,” said Canadians coach Karen Macdonald, whose club fought tooth and nail for the equalizer.
“We played them well. They’re a good team, but our girls gave them a good challenge.”


BLAZE VS. CHICAS

July 25, 2005 – 07:30 PM



FAST THINKING KEEPS BLAZE STREAK ALIVE
BY JOEY PAYEUR

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 26, 2005

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — All that stood between Portage Blaze and the end of their perfect season was less than 60 seconds, a goalkeeper seemingly with wings and three segments of iron which kept the home side stymied. Jill Fast beat all of them with a quick first step and an emphatic final boot.

The Blaze striker blasted home a rebound in the dying moments of the second half to give Portage (10-0) a 2-1 victory over Chicas (1-6-1) in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division action last night at Republic of Manitobah Park.
“It took long enough,” said Fast, whose eighth of the season preserved the Blaze’s run at a possible unbeaten and untied regular season.
“We were dominating them in the second half with lots of shots. We wanted to stay on top of their goalie because she had had trouble controlling the ball all night. It was a lucky bounce.”
The win put Portage 11 points ahead of second-place St. James Storm, which was 6-1-1 before its game against CCC United last night in Winnipeg, with the score unavailable at press time.
After easing past Chicas 4-1 on July 14 in Winnipeg, another three points appeared Portage’s for the taking as it jumped to a 1-0 lead at the 20-minute mark.

The Blaze’s Gabrielle Ogilvie sent a cross across the 18-yard box, which Chicas goalkeeper Helen Down watched slip through her hands and land right at the feet of Portage’s Brenda Ricard, who tapped the ball in for her first of the season.
“Brenda has been away working in Montreal doing her practicum for physiotherapy training,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko.
“She’s missed the last three weeks. For her to get one is a nice surprise, because she doesn’t usually score too many during the season.”

The airtight Portage defence was impenetrable throughout most of the first half, save for one miscue which led to Chicas’ only shot and only goal of the night in the 30th minute. A through pass from midfield sent Chicas striker Genevieve Holmberg away on a partial breakaway, with three Blaze defenders in hot pursuit
Portage keeper Carrie Blanchard started to come out to play the ball, then retreated too late and was caught in no man’s land as Holmberg launched a low shot to the far corner which barely eluded a diving Blanchard.

Being tied at halftime or even having the game close at halftime is a rare occurrence for a Blaze team which has outscored its opposition 49-8 this year. With the stiff prairie wind now at its back, Portage owned the ball in the second half, with Blanchard never even remotely threatened in the Blaze net the entire 45 minutes. Meanwhile, chances were plentiful for Portage, but they were continually denied by either Down or the crossbar.

In the 51st minute, Ashley Williams sent a shot which was bobbled by Down, but Ogilvie sent the rebound over the net.
Barely more than 10 minutes later, Ogilvie made a move to the inside on a Chicas defender and lofted a well-place shot which Down somehow reached with a mighty leap to deflect off the crossbar, with a subsequent rebound put barely over the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Fast found herself free inside the 18-yard box for a clean shot at the net, but also put it too high.
Redemption would be hers, though, in the late stages. Ogilvie’s original shot gave Down difficulty and Fast raced in to convert the much-awaited chance to the delight of her teammates, joined by former Blaze player Shea Fust who made a guest appearance on the sidelines.
“We had quite a few of those close ones last year,” said Mintenko, who did an enthusiastic victory jog down the sideline after Fast bulged the twine.
“We wanted to put it away early, but their defence and keeper played unbelievable. You could hear a bit of panic in the girls’ voices because they weren’t used to being in this situation. But to score a goal that late in a game boosts everyone’s spirits.
“I feel bad for Chicas. They deserved a tie. But in a season where you have a winning streak, you usually have one bad game thrown in somewhere during the streak. Hopefully, this was it.”
The Blaze will aim for 11 in a row in Winnipeg on Thursday against Aftica (4-1-1), which has not lost since getting crushed by Portage 9-0 in the season opener for both teams on May 15 at Republic Park.

EMPTY CUP
The news was less pleasant for the Blaze on Sunday, as they lost in the first round of Manitoba Soccer Association (MSA) Cup playdowns by a 2-1 score to Second Division Strikers F.C. in Winnipeg.
Pam Nicoll put Portage on the board with a 38-yard direct free kick midway through the first half.
The illegal tackle which led to the awarding of the kick was costly for the Blaze, as forward Andrea Addison went down with suspected torn cartilage in her left knee, left the game and did not return. But Mintenko said Addison could be ready to go against Aftica on Thursday. Strikers tied the game just before the half, and then carried the action before connecting again midway through the second half for the game winner against Blanchard.


BLAZE KENORA TOURNAMENT WRAP UP

July 19, 2005

 
BLAZE COOL IN KENORA
BY JOEY PAYEUR

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 19, 2005
 

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — When Portage Blaze finally found the net, they couldn’t fill it fast enough.
Kenora (Ont.,) Women’s Invitational soccer tournament this past weekend saw the high-scoring Blaze run into the toughest competition they have faced this season, which in turn led to a 1-2 record and the local squad missing the playoffs.
After losing its first two games of the year, suffering 1-0 shutouts in its first two games by Kenora-based teams Haps and Kenora Standard, Portage rediscovered its offensive touch with a 3-0 shutout against another Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League team in Supercats from Fourth Division, one lower than the Blaze.
The breakout seemed reason to celebrate -- until Portage checked the round robin standings.
“We found out later we needed to win 5-0 to make the playoffs out of our pool,” said Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko about missing being in the top two of their four-team group. “We could have been a lot more (aggressive) against the Super-cats. But it was our third game of the day, the girls were tired and probably upset about the two earlier losses.
“A lot of our shots just went wide, and the Supercats’ defence was lucky on a lot of plays.”

Having outscored its WWSL Third Division opponents 43-5 in eight games, a lack of finish around the net seemed the least of the Blaze’s worries entering the 16-team tournament.
But Haps, the tournament favourite heading in, controlled the play most of the way in the opener and scored the decisive goal late in the first half on a defensive breakdown.
“Haps crossed the ball in, and one of our defenders tried to clear it and didn’t send it far enough,” said Mintenko. “One of their other forwards came in and roofed the shot from about six yards out.”
Portage had its chances in the second half, but Jill Fast put her breakaway opportunity about a half a foot wide with a defender right on her heels, while Pam Nicoll cracked one just over the crossbar.
“I knew we’d come back strong the next game,” said Mintenko. “The first two or three seasons with this team, we were either .500 or below .500, so we’ve been there before.”

It was a much more inspired Blaze squad which came out against Kenora Standard, and this time it was Portage which produced most of the offensive chances. But midway through the second half, a Standard forward crossed the ball in to a charging teammate, who only got a piece of the ball on her header opportunity, which fooled Blaze goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard who was expecting a more crisp delivery of the ball.

With a shot at the playoffs still a possibility, Portage dialed up the pressure against the overwhelmed Supercats. Kim Cowan notched the opening goal for the Blaze with a rocket from approximately 30 yards out. Randi Cuthbert made it 2-0 with a rebound tap-in off a hard shot from Caitlin Pringle. Fast secured the win by blowing past a Supercats defender for a breakaway which, this time, she converted from just inside the penalty area.

Blanchard garnered the shutout, providing the stabilizing force between the pipes Mintenko has been able to count on all season.
“Carrie didn’t face as much pressure as in the first two games, but she made a couple of saves on some hard shots and made a couple of dives to deflect the ball wide,” said Mintenko.

LEAGUE LEADERS
Before heading to Kenora, the Blaze took care of some regular season obligations, running their record to 8-0 with a 4-1 win over Chicas in WWSL Third Division action in Winnipeg last Thursday.
Gabrielle Ogilvie (ninth of the year), Fast (seventh), Cuthbert (eighth) and Cowan (sixth) accounted for the Blaze scoring, as they moved five points clear of second place St. James Storm (6-1-1, 19 points).
“It was nice to space out the scoring a bit,” said Mintenko. “After Chicas scored on what should have been an offside, it really upset our defence and they weren’t going to let anybody else get through.
“We were a little bit unfocused as it was the last game before heading to Kenora, and a little bit sloppy at times. But that’s understandable.”
The Blaze battle lowly Orange Krush (1-6-1) in their next regular season game on Thursday in Winnipeg. Portage’s next home game is on July 25 against Chicas at Repub-lic of Manitobah Park.

CUP QUEST
Before Thursday’s outing, though, the Blaze will try to take their first step towards Manitoba Soccer Association (MSA) Cup with a first-round matchup against Strikers SC from WWSL’s Second Division.
The contest is a rematch of what was a physical battle between the two teams during the Blaze’s home tournament last month which ended in a 1-1 draw.
“There were some good chances both ways, and a lot of hard challenges,” recalled Mintenko. “The girls were fired up when we heard we were going to face Strikers in the first game. I think we can take them.”
MSA Cup pits teams from all divisions against each other in a series of single elimination qualifiers.
The semifinals and finals are slated for next month.


BLAZE VS. WILDCATS

June 11, 2005 – 07:30 PM
 

BLAZE SECURE SOGGY VICTORY
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 12, 2005

“On a day like this when the conditions aren’t the greatest, it does equal things out for both teams.” — Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Gabrielle Ogilvie made the biggest splash in a wet win for Portage Blaze. The rookie striker scored her seventh and eighth goals of the season to take the team lead in that category, as the Blaze (7-0) kept their perfect record in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division intact by downing the Wildcats (4-4) by a 4-2 margin last night at Republic of Manitobah Park.

Both teams were forced to deal with the drenched conditions at Republic, and Portage coach Bryan Mintenko was quick to point out a drenched soccer pitch can level the playing field in a hurry.
“On a day like this when the conditions aren’t the greatest, it does equal things out for both teams,” said Mintenko, whose team raised its points total to 21 for the season and reclaimed top spot in Third Division from St. James Storm (6-1-1, 19 points) with the win, while the Wildcats stayed in a third-place tie with CCC United (4-3) at 12 points.
“Coming in on a day like this, it can be anybody’s game. It doesn’t matter what place the other team is in. It equals everything up.”
Evidence of that came on the Wildcats’ first goal, which occurred mere minutes after the Blaze’s Kim Cowan (fourth of the year) had opened the scoring with a nice boot to the left corner of the goal from outside the 18-yard box.

The Wildcats’ Melanie Noel was the beneficiary of a botched clearing attempt by Portage, as the ball hit and stuck in a puddle of water, rather than taking a normal bounce. With everybody running up field in anticipation of the pass, Noel scooped up the loose ball, headed back toward the Portage goal and slipped the ball past Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard. However, Ogilvie was quick to respond, netting two quick goals on consecutive attacks. The first featured some fancy footwork, as Ogilvie eluded a few defenders before hammering the ball home. Ogilvie thought the key to her club’s success was its ability to move the ball around despite the swamp-like atmosphere.
“Everybody is passing the ball well,” she said. “Our passes are good, crisp, nice.”

Pam Nicoll (fifth) provided Portage’s final tally in the second half, as she struck a beautiful free kick over the Wildcats’ human wall and into the back of the net. The Wildcats’ Brenda Hoehn rounded out the scoring in the game’s dying minutes, as her long kick squeezed through Blanchard, who just couldn’t get a firm grasp on the slippery ball. The goal marked only the second time this season Blanchard and the Blaze had allowed two goals during a game, as the keeper has chalked up four shutouts in seven games, plus a fifth one which was a shared effort between herself and Tanis Mauws, normally a defender who played the last 10 minutes between the pipes in the Blaze’s 11-0 romp over Gateway Celtic on June 27. Hoehn, who said the Wildcats were happy to play their second close contest with Portage this year after a 1-0 on May 19 in Winnipeg, thought the Blaze excelled at hitting open targets.
“They’re a great passing team,” she said.
According to Mintenko, that was not the case early on, though the coach noted his team suffered from a bit of rust having not seen any game action for two weeks.
“Over time in the first half, we were able to get organized and get a couple of goals in.”

The Blaze play a make-up game with eighth-place Chicas (1-3-1, four points) on Thursday in Winnipeg and do not host again until Chicas visits Republic on July 25.


BLAZE VS. GATEWAY CELTIC

June 27, 2005 – 07:30 PM



BLAZE SHREDS CELTIC TO GO 6-0: Keeper scores first goal after leaving net
BY JOEY PAYEUR

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 28, 2005
 

WINNIPEG — Carrie Blanchard showed last night she’s not only well-schooled in how to stop goals -- she knows how to score them, too. The Portage Blaze goalkeeper took advantage of her late-game position switch to forward by scoring her first goal as a member of the Blaze to cap an 11-0 rout of Gateway Celtic last night in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division play in Winnipeg.
With 10 minutes left and the outcome unquestionable, Blanchard gave way to defender Tanis Mauws, who wanted to take a shot at life between the pipes.

“(Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko) asked me whether I wanted to play defence or forward, and I said forward, because I didn’t want to screw things up on defence and end up having us give up a goal,” chuckled Blanchard, who shared the whitewash job with Mauws after posting four solo shutouts before last night.
With under a minute remaining, Blanchard said she simply found herself in the right place at the right time.

“It wasn’t the greatest goal in the world,” she laughed. “Janine (Guinn) and Kim (Cowan) set me up and I just had to tap it in. I was just trying to make sure I wasn’t offside.”
The marker was icing on the cake for the Blaze (6-0), who achieved their highest goal output of the season against the last-place Celtic (0-6-1) despite being without offensive weapons Gabrielle Ogilvie and Randi Cuthbert (six goals each this season) along with fellow high school senior Ashley Williams, who were all preparing for their graduation banquet at Portage Collegiate Institute today.
Portage was led offensively with two goals apiece from Cowan (first and second of the season), Jill Fast (now with a team-high seven) and Caitlin Pringle (third and fourth), while Mauws (first), Adele Butcher (first), Pam Nicoll (third) and Jackie Gordon (first) joined Blanchard in the single-goal club.

“Kim played great and Jill, she’s always scoring for us,” said Blanchard. “And it’s nice to see we’ve got that kind of scoring depth.
“We’re playing really good defence, and the younger players are doing really good,” she added in explaining the team’s red-hot start, the best in club history.
“Now that we’ve been playing together so long over the last couple of years, without many changes to the team, we’re used to each other more.”

With the Blaze looking like the class of Third Division, outscoring its opponents 35-2 so far, Blanchard understands the importance of the team not losing its focus.
“It’s kind of harder to keep motivated, because we’ve been beating teams by a little bit lately,” she said.
“We started to goof off a little bit late in the game yesterday. But we know when we go to Kenora (for the 16-team Kenora Women’s Invita-tional tournament from July 15 to 17), there’s going to be some tough teams we’ll have to face.”
Next up for the Blaze is a rematch next Monday at Republic of Manitobah Park on the south end of the city against CCC United (4-3), who lost a first-place showdown with Portage 6-0 last Friday in Win-nipeg.

Blanchard said United’s top goalkeeper, already nursing an injured toe before Friday’s contest, had to leave the game with a suspected broken toe after a collision with Blaze forward Andrea Addison.
As for the substitute ...
“(United) was playing beside us last night, and their back-up was giving up a lot of goals by the looks of it,” observed Blanchard.
“I’m not sure if their top keeper will be back for Monday or not.”


BLAZE VS. RAVE

June 17, 2005 – 07:30 PM



CUTHBERT, OGILVIE KEEP BLAZE UNBEATEN
BY RYAN DIXON
 

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 20, 2005

Portage la Prairie — Portage Blaze were led by their young legs. Rookie Gabrielle Ogilvie scored a pair, while fellow freshman Randi Cuthbert popped the winner, as the Blaze turned out the lights on the Rave, earning a 3-2 Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Second Division victory on Friday night at Republic of Manitobah Park.
Ogilvie (third and fourth goals of the season) provided Portage (5-0) with a 2-0 halftime lead, but the Rave stormed back to knot the game in the second frame.

“We kind of fell asleep and allowed them to come back,” Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko said. The Rave (2-3) squared the game on a sizzling direct kick from just outside the 18-yard box which squeezed through Portage keeper Carrie Blanchard’s hands and over the line.
But Cuthbert ended any Rave thoughts of a potential draw by taking a pass from Janine Guinn, blowing by two defenders and depositing the ball into the back of the net for her fourth of the season.
Mintenko thought the Rave’s equalizing goal was a bit of a wake-up call for Portage.
“We came on pretty strong (after that),” he said.
“We had a lot of chances that went just wide …. We felt we deserved to win that game.” Whether they endured some lulls en route to the victory is now irrelevant for a team of players whose supreme priority was keeping their undefeated mark intact.
“The main thing is we got the win and every win is important when you’re trying to capture the division title,” Mintenko assessed.
“We got another three points and it’s good to have a team push us like that, as well.”

As for his rookie duo up front, Mintenko is very pleased with the production he is getting from Ogilvie and Cuthbert, two Portage Collegiate Institute seniors.
“We’re pretty happy with the way they’ve been playing,” he said.
“They’ve been a huge asset to our offence. They’ve scored a bunch of goals for us and they kept us in this game, for sure.”
The Blaze battles CCC United in Winnipeg on Friday.
The squad will not play at Republic again until it hosts United in a rematch on July 4 at 7:30 p.m.


BLAZE WIN CENTRAL PLAINS CUP!

June 12, 2005 – 03:00 PM



BLAZE CAPTURE FIRST TOURNEY
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 13, 2005

Portage la Prairie — Pam Nicoll didn’t want any trouble. She just wanted to take care of business. With her team’s fate hinging on her boot, Nicoll made no mistake in driving the ball into the lower left corner of the net past South Side F.C. keeper Katherine Ward to deliver Portage Blaze its first tournament championship with a 3-2 win in a penalty kick shootout yesterday in the final of Central Plains Challenge Cup at Republic of Manitobah Park. Nicoll, whose team was tied 1-1 with South Side at the end of regulation, described her thoughts prior to firing the decisive blow.
“I better get it in, or else there’s going to be trouble,” said Nicoll, who was Portage’s fifth and final shooter.
The shootout began with both teams failing to cash in on their first two kicks, before Jacquie Sharpe beat Blaze keeper Carrie Blanchard
on her team’s third attempt.

Randi Cuthbert, who scored Portage’s regulation goal in the game’s first half, promptly answered back by blasting a ball past Ward.
After South Side missed its fourth opportunity, Caitlin Pringle made good on her kick, putting Portage ahead 2-1.
Victoria Sobie kept her team alive, beating Blanchard on South Side’s fifth kick, before Nicoll stepped up to deliver Portage the tournament championship.
“It was very intense,” Blaze coach Bryan Mintenko stated.
“A lot of the girls were just very nervous, anxious and excited about it. But it’s good to win.
“We definitely wanted to win in penalty kicks, because we felt we deserved that game the way we played.”
Blanchard, who stretched skyward to deflect South Side’s second penalty kick over the crossbar, said keepers are generally pretty short on options when it comes to making saves in a shootout.
“Hope. Pray,” she laughed.
“A goalie really doesn’t have much of a chance a lot of times in a shootout.”

Portage, which plays in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League’s Third Division, certainly had its chances to put away Winnipeg-based South Side, a WWSL First Division club, in regulation time. South Side knotted the score 1-1 early in the second frame, but with a strong wind at their backs, the Blaze was able to generate some quality scoring chances on Ward, who was solid in the South Side net.
“The wind was a big, big help in the second half because all our long balls just went right through, they didn’t get stopped by the wind,” Nicoll said. South Side coach Nat Okwumambua thought his team, which went 3-0 prior to losing in the final, had nothing to hang its head about at tournament’s end.
“It’s nice to win, but my ladies gave it their best shot,” he remarked.
“To lose this way, in a penalty shootout by one (goal), we’ll take it.”

The Blaze opened the event with a strong 4-0 win over WWSL Second Division Winkler S.C. Hurricanes on Saturday, as Ashley Williams and Gabrielle Ogilvie both scored a pair.
Portage followed with a 1-1 draw with Fourth Division Strikers F.C., a club from Winnipeg. That tie set up a bizarre scenario for Portage’s final round-robin game yesterday afternoon with Acores, a severely overmatched Fifth Division squad. The Blaze knew it was were in line for a win prior to facing Acores. But in order to bump Strikers for top spot in Pool B and earn a berth in the finals, Portage had to beat Acores by no less than 17 goals. As it turns out, the Blaze had one goal to spare, topping Acores 18-0 to give the locals a plus-22 goal differential, two better than the plus-20 mark posted by Strikers, who shared Portage’s 2-0-1 round-robin record.
Ogilvie scored six times against Acores, which lost its three games by a combined total of 48-0, while Nicholl popped a hat trick.
Jill Fast, Kim Cowan and Andrea Addison each contributed two for the victors, while Cuthbert, Pringle and Cleo Butcher added singles.

The Blaze host the Rave in WWSL action on Friday at Republic of Manitobah Park beginning at 7:30 p.m. The local squad is 3-0 and in first place in WWSL Third Division, but have not played a regular season game since May 27 due to poor field conditions caused by rain.


BLAZE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

June 10, 2005



BLAZE TO HOST TOUGH FIELD IN CHALLENGE CUP TOURNAMENT
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 10, 2005

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Bryan Mintenko is not kidding himself. Portage Blaze might be 3-0 so far in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division action, but the Portage coach is expecting some tough sledding as the host team at Central Plains Challenge Cup, being held this weekend at Portage la Prairie’s Republic of Manitobah Park.

The tournament features eight teams, representing all five WWSL divisions split into two pools of four, with the top clubs in each pool after three round-robin games squaring off for the Challenge Cup. The second-place squads in each division duke it out for third spot at the event. Each game, including the two playoff games slated to take place simultaneously at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, will be 60-minute affairs rather than the usual 90 minutes. The Blaze will face Pool B rivals Winkler S.C. Hurricanes, a Division Two club, at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, before dueling Fourth Division’s Strikers F.C. from Winnipeg at 3 p.m. Mintenko anticipates Portage should be able to pull out a win in its final round-robin game against Winnipeg-based Acores, a Fifth Division squad, at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday.
That makes tomorrow’s matches all the more important if the Blaze have any intention of nabbing one of the two playoff spots available in their pool.

“A win against the Hurricanes or the Strikers should get us into the playoffs,” Mintenko said.
“But it will be really tough to get that first-place spot.”
Portage has had its last two league matches, including last night’s tilt with the Canadians slated to take place in Winnipeg, postponed due to soggy weather.

Mintenko said his crew plans to be down at Republic a little early tomorrow to shake off some of the rust which has accumulated after two weeks without any game action.
“They’re itching to get back into it,” he stated.
Cash prizes will be awarded to the tournament’s top four finishers, which will not include the two-time defending champion Titans, who are not participating in this year’s Challenge Cup.


BLAZE VS. AFTICA

May 15, 2005 – 07:30 PM



PORTAGE OFF TO BLAZING START
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MAY 16, 2005

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Portage Blaze netted a month’s worth of goals in their season debut. In a scorching offensive outburst, the Blaze (1-0) walloped Winnipeg-based Aftica 9-0 in their first game of Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Third Division regular season last night at Republic of Manitobah Park.
“I had a pretty good idea that we’d have some fast front runners, but they really pounded the ball hard and (accurately) tonight,” said co-coach Bryan Mintenko, adding the fact Aftica did not have its usual starting goalkeeper aided his club’s cause.
“For the first game, I was really impressed.”
Pam Nicoll, Jill Fast, Randi Cuthbert and Cleo Butcher all bagged a pair of goals for the Blaze, while Gabrielle Ogilvie rounded out the Portage scoring, as Carrie Blanchard had a relatively easy go of it in the Blaze nets.

Nicoll, who scored on a penalty shot and on a direct kick from just outside the 18-yard box, believed Portage’s ability to move the ball effectively contributed to the lopsided score.
“We were passing really well and everyone was talking good, pretty good for the first game,” she stated.
“Usually, it takes a few games to get warmed up.”
Mintenko agreed Por-tage’s command of the ball was top-notch, and as a result, Aftica (0-1) was able to generate precious few scoring chances.
“I really thought our control was great,” the coach noted.
“Our midfield players controlled the ball perfectly.”
A pair of Blaze scorers, Cuthbert and Ogilvie, are Portage Collegiate Insti-tute students who were making their debut with the club after spending last fall on the pitch with PCI Pats.
The exuberance of youth definitely served Portage well, as the Blaze players appeared to be an average of about 15 years younger than their Aftica rivals.
“They can run all game and they don’t get tired and they’re fast,” Mintenko stated.
“A lot of our goals were set up because of long runs. Their defence just couldn’t keep up.”

Aftica coach Brendan Clarke was hoping for a more aggressive showing from his troops in their first game, but despite the beating, Clarke sees some potential on his squad.
“The tools are there. We’ve just got to practice.”
The Blaze are back in action on Thursday, when the take on the Wildcats at John Blumberg Park in Winnipeg.


BLAZE SEASON PREVIEW



BLAZE OLD AND NEW READY TO SIZZLE
BY RYAN DIXON

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - MAY 16, 2005

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — An injection of youth coupled with a stable of steady veterans should keep Third Division Portage Blaze’s fire stoked this soccer season. No less than 14 returnees are back from last year’s Blaze squad, which narrowly missed being promoted to Second Division in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League.
The backbone of the team remains its twin co-captains, Tanis and Terri Mauws, who hold the fort on the back end.
“They’re the spirit of the team. They keep everyone positive and they’re leaders on and off the field,” said co-coach Bryan Mintenko, who -- like the Mauws sisters -- has been with the Blaze since the team’s inception five years ago.

A smothering defence is something Portage prides itself on, as the club posted 15 shutout wins last season, including exhibition and tournament matches. Goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard is back between the pipes for the Blaze, who take a very proactive approach to protecting their territory.
“We like to try and do a high-pressure defence,” Mintenko noted.
“So any time the opposition has the ball, we’ve got two players marking that player.”
Offensively, Mintenko and co-coach Steve Assenmacher are once again counting on striker Jill Fast to fill the net.
“It’s just like her name says. She’s the fastest girl on the team,” Mintenko said.
“A lot of times, we’ll try a through ball to her. We’ll pass it behind the defensive line and Jill will run to it. We can really utilize her speed, send long balls into their zone and she just runs onto them.”

Randi Cuthbert and Gabrielle Ogilvie also provide some young, feisty legs up front which pack some scoring punch. The Portage Collegiate Institute students will be joined by fellow Pats Tiffany Holmes and Ashley Williams. “We’re going to be quick now with all our new players,” stated Pam Nicoll, a third-year member of the Blaze.
The former Neepawa Collegiate competitor believes the rookie players will have no trouble meshing with the club’s familiar faces.
“I think it will happen quickly, in the next couple of games.”
The Blaze play an 18-game regular season schedule, lasting until Aug. 28, with all home games played at Republic of Manitobah Park.

Portage will also participate in three major tournaments during the course of the year. The Central Plains Challenge Cup, an eight-team invitational, will take place on June 11 and 12 at Republic of Manitobah Park. There will also be the 16-team Kenora Women’s Invitational in Kenora, Ont., and the 26-team Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup Tournament from Aug. 5 to 7 at Red River Community College in Winnipeg.


BLAZE PLAYERS CAPTURE RINGETTE CHAMPIONSHIP

 

WINNIPEG RINGETTE LEAGUE
U OF M - DEB B PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONS - MARCH 30, 2005
Congratulations to Tanis Mauws and Adele Butcher!



BLAZE VS. ST.JAMES STORM

August 9, 2004 – 07:00 PM



PORTAGE BLAZE WEATHER STORM
BY KEITH BORKOWSKY

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - AUGUST 10, 2004

PORTAGE — Portage Blaze must have thought Winnipeg Storm had mother nature on its side yesterday. Wet and windy weather prevented Portage from moving the ball with ease, but the Blaze prevailed 2-1 on a late second-half goal from Andrea Addison.
That go-ahead goal was more important than originally thought, as Portage gave the Storm five corner kicks in the game’s dying minutes, but withstood the pressure.

“We held our own, but it was really tough to play out there,” Blaze coach Brian Mintenko said.
Winnipeg’s wind advantage did not help Portage get much of an attack going in the opening frame, but it did assist the Storm leading up to its only goal of the game during the first-half.
Kim Cowan gave Portage its first goal of the game with 17 minutes left in the final half, tying the game at one.
“Kim went on a long run with the ball before putting it in the net,” Mintenko said. Cowan said her teammates had to use short passes in the first half, in order to combat the elements.
“(The wind) took away our ability to use long passes,” Cowan said. “I think we did extraordinarily well on offence in this game.”
The flip side to that, was using the wind in the second half.
“It made it easier for us to move the ball around when the wind was on our backs,” Cowan said. It was easier to keep the ball in (Winnipeg’s) end.”
Cowan said yesterday’s game was a challenge, but the extra efforts allowed the team’s character to shine.
“We all played tough,” Cowan said. “Even without the wind advantage , we pushed hard whenever we had to. This win does a lot for the team’s confidence.”

With Portage in a battle for a promotion spot in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League, every win they post improves its chances.
Its 10 win, one draw, three loss record puts it in second place overall on the second-division table, with four league games remaining. Only one of those games comes against teams above them, that being an Aug. 23 contest against Nova. In the last meeting between these two clubs, Nova flooded the Blaze goal for nine markers, and resulted in a 9-2 victory. Mintenko said he feels the Blaze have learned a great deal since that loss on June 21.
“Three of the next four games are ones we can win handily,” Mintenko said. “The Nova game will be the true test of our team. We have been playing with a lot of confidence since we returned from the Kenora tournament. We may have lost 9-2 to Nova earlier this year, but that was playing on a small pitch. I think it could be a different story when we play them on a large pitch. I think we can outrun them and out work them in the next game.”
Only two points separate the top three teams in the standings, making every win crucial.

“I think we can finish in the top two of the division,” Mintenko said. “We have a good chance for promotion. I’d like to see us make a big push in the next four games.” Before meeting Nova at Republic of Manitobah Park, Portage must travel to Winnipeg to face Transcona Rave at Red River College. The Aug. 19 match starts at 7PM.


BLAZE VS. CCC UNITED

August 5, 2004 – 07:00 PM



BLAZE SHUT DOWN CCC UNITED ATTACK
BY KEITH BORKOWSKY

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - AUGUST 6, 2004

PORTAGE — Outscoring an opponent can be the best revenge. Portage Blaze took advantage of this strategy in a 3-0 win over CCC United yesterday at Republic of Manitobah Park.
While outscoring their Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League opponents, the Blaze were on the receiving end of what some may consider unnecessarily rough play.
“Some of the things the other team did could be considered by some as dirty,” assistant coach Steve Assenmacher said. “But we played through it.”

Other advantages tilted the game in Portage’s favour early on. By playing on Republic of Manitoba Park Field 14, a much larger field than some Winnipeg-based teams are used to, the Blaze were able to stretch the game out to the sidelines. CCC United, not accustomed to the excess real estate, opted to bunch up its players in the middle of the field.
“We overheard (CCC United) players saying they were having trouble adjusting to the size of our field,” Assenmacher said. “We were able to use that to our advantage .... If we had more players on our bench, we likely would have tried to out-run them. As it was, we only had 12 players available to us, and one of them was hurting. We decided to pace ourselves instead and take our opportunities where they were.”

Kim Cowan had a two-goal game for Portage, scoring both of her markers in the first half. The midfielder’s offensive skill was doubled with strong defensive play when it was required.
“She did a great job coming back on defence,” Assenmacher said.
Tannis Mauws added an insurance goal midway through the second half, but her contributions did not stop there. The veteran player saw action at every position except keeper because of the short bench, and did not look out of place at any of them.
“Her insurance goal was a key one for us,” Assenmacher said. “You have to take advantage of those whenever you can.”

With the shutout, keeper Carrie Blanchard racked up her ninth blanked game of the season. The only major threat to that shutout came midway in the second half, when a CCC United player broke the ball free from Blanchard and was left with an open net. The would-be scorer didn’t count on Mauws coming back to take the ball off her foot and clearing it to safety.
“Basically, we did everything we had to do to win,” Assenmacher said.
The Blaze have a the weekend to rest before meeting St. James Storm on home turf on Monday. In their only previous meeting in a league contest, Portage came home with a 2-1 victory.


BLAZE VS. WILDCATS

July 19, 2004 – 07:30 PM



BLAZE ROMP
BY NEATE SAGER

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 20, 2004

PORTAGE - Portage Blaze ended a mini-losing skid last night with a 5-0 win over the Wildcats in a Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League match at John Blumberg Park.
“We went back to the basics tonight,” said Portage’s Tanis Mauws, whose team won for the first time in three matches.
“Our attention to our fundamentals was exceptional, we played a solid 90-minute soccer game.”

The Blaze (7-3-1 in league play) got off on the right foot with defender Pam Nicoll’s goal 10 minutes into the first half. Nicoll’s strike came from just shy of the centre stripe.
“It was a monster kick,” Mauws said. “Seriously, it was huge.”
Jill Fast added two goals for Portage, while Andrea Addison and Andrea Moffatt each tallied. Carrie Blanchard recorded her eighth shutout of the season.
“Carrie was stellar, the defenders in front of her were stellar,” Blaze coach John Kerr said. “The midfield was a strong unit. I’d say Amy Link was player of the game. She was good in the midfield and both wings.”
The Blaze travel for a tournament this weekend at Kenora, Ont.


BLAZE VS. T-DEVILS

July 12, 2004 – 07:30 PM



PORTAGE BLAZE BURNED BY T-DEVILS
BY NEATE SAGER

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 13, 2004

PORTAGE — The wind in their faces and an unbeaten T-Devils team breathing down their necks proved too much for Portage Blaze in the first half last night. The Blaze entered the match only one point behind T-Devils for first place in Division 3 of the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League. Any aspiration of taking over top spot was quickly shelved, as front-running T-Devils rolled to a 5-1 win at Republic of Manitobah Park.

The visitors opened the match with a stiff breeze behind them and scored two quick goals from which the Blaze never fully recovered.
“The T-Devils were obviously fired up and wanting to keep their first-place spot,” Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said. “They were definitely first to nearly every ball tonight, outworked us basically throughout the game. The first half was closer than the score (3-1) indicated, but we just couldn’t get back on even terms.”
The Blaze won the coin toss and chose to defend the east goal and start out going into the wind. Trouble was, as midfielder Caitlin Pringle noted, that made for 45 minutes where it was tricky for the club to play precise soccer.
“When you’re running against it, it’s hard to get your lines set,” Pringle said. “You get frustrated when the ball keeps going all over the place instead of where you want it to. It was getting us down .... their team is pretty good, they have a lot of young legs. The skill level is about the same. Under better conditions, we could have had them.”

The score might have suggested otherwise, but T-Devils player-coach Renée Racine said the Blaze (6-3-1) played more aggressively in the teams’ previous meeting, an early-season 3-3 tie.
“They’re a pretty challenging team,” Racine said. “We just had to match their aggressiveness this time. It was score first and go from there. Our team played very, very well today.”
Andrea Addison, normally a hard-luck case around the net, provided one of the Blaze’s few bright spots when she scored her first goal of the season, converting a pass from youth call-up Janine Massinon. Sonja Tinovic scored three goals for T-Devils (7-0-2), while Kristine Grzyboski and Claire Robinson also tallied.
The visitors had Portage on their heels early, forcing goalkeeper Carrie Blanchard to make two tough saves. Grzyboski opened the scoring around the 20-minute mark, pouncing on a loose ball after a shot rang off the goalpost.

The teams traded goals over the next 10 minutes, with Robinson tallying before Addison’s goal trimmed the lead to 2-1. Late in the half, Tinovic slipped behind the defence to catch up to a long ball. The fleet-footed forward blew a high shot past Blanchard.
Similarly, on her second goal, midway through the second half, Tinovic had enough time to make a grocery list before taking her shot, having been sent in alone by a through ball which bisected the Blaze’s back line. For Portage, who spent much of the early part of the night expending a lot of energy organizing their counter-attacks, it was clear spending the first half running against the wind had taken its toll.
“We tried to fight back, but we were just out of gas in the second half,” Mintenko said.
The Blaze (10-5-2 overall) play again tonight, travelling to Winnipeg for a Manitoba Soccer Association Cup qualifier against Maniko, a Division 5 club.
“I think it will be similar to this one tonight,” Mintenko said. “We’ll definitely be doing a lot of running. If we win, we go on to take on Team Extreme, a Premier division team. We’d like that opportunity to play up.”
Following the MSA Cup match, the club’s next league outing is against Wildcats at John Blumberg Park on Monday.


BLAZE VS. CANADIANS

July 5, 2004 – 07:30 PM
 



PORTAGE BLAZE SET NETS ON FIRE
BY NEATE SAGER

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JULY 6, 2004

WINNIPEG -- Portage Blaze have come to expect constant attacking from their team this season.
Last night was no exception. The Blaze scored three goals in a span of less than 10 minutes in the first half, spurring them to a 5-1 victory over the Canadians in Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League Division 3 play at John Blumberg Park. With the win, the Blaze kept pace with division-leading T-Devils, whom they host next week.

“We played great in the first half, that was key,” said Blaze midfielder Janine Guinn, who scored her first competitive goal during the early binge. “We were first to the ball, controlling it really well. We definitely outplayed the other team. (Coach) Bryan (Mintenko) instilled confidence in us by saying as long as we come out in the first 15 minutes and we’re first to the ball every time, then we’ve got the game.”

Canadians coach Karen Macdonald echoed the sentiments from the Blaze camp.
“Basically, we came around in the second half,” Macdonald said. “We haven’t hit our second-half stride yet. Portage is a very, very developed team. Very structured, very positionally sound. I think they kind of got to my girls at first. Next game we’ll give them more of a run.”

Jill Fast had two goals for the Blaze (9-4-2 overall), while Shea Fust and Caitlin Pringle also tallied. Denyne Macdonald scored the Canadians’ goal midway through the second half. Fast opened the scoring in the 30th minute. After taking a long pass from Amy Link, Fast raced down the right wing and beat Canadians goalkeeper Jen St. Laurent with a high shot from 20 yards out. Almost immediately thereafter, Fust hit the crossbar, the first of three similarly unlucky shots the Blaze had on the night. A minute later, she beat Laurent from the top of the 18-yard box. In the 39th minute, Fust was stopped in close, but Guinn popped in the rebound for a 3-0 lead.
“It felt rewarding, awesome,” Guinn said.

While the first-half scoring proved decisive, the Blaze’s most impressive goal of the night came in the late stages after Macdonald cut the lead to 3-1. In the 78th minute, Pringle, whom the Blaze signed two weeks ago, took possession at midfield, zig-zagged around two defenders, and beat St. Laurent for Portage’s fourth goal. Fast completed the night’s scoring a few minutes later.
“Caitlin’s a really good player out of the program they have in Birtle,” Mintenko said. “I’m happy about her performance. She’s just getting into her groove now. This is her third game this summer and you can definitely tell she’s in game shape now.”
Mintenko added if all goes well, Pringle will join Fust as a player capable of scoring regularly and setting up the club’s forwards.
“Caitlin and Shea will be competing with each other for who takes control of the next game offensively,” he said. “Caitlin had several shots that just missed tonight. Hopefully they’ll be on the net tomorrow.”

The Blaze will need all the offence they can muster in their next few outings. Following a Manitoba Soccer Association Cup qualifier against St. James Storm tonight in Winnipeg, they host the T-Devils on Monday.
“I think we can beat them out,” Mintenko said. “We’ve had some pretty strong games so far. It’s basically the T-Devils, ourselves and Nova vying for top spot.”
Tonight’s contest is the Blaze’s second qualifying match for the MSA Cup, the provincial women’s club championship.
“I think it’ll be really close,” Mintenko said. “We have a lot of momentum from tonight’s game and hopefully it will carry over into our Cup game.”
Monday’s match against the T-Devils is a 7:30 p.m. start at Republic of Manitobah Park.


BLAZE VS. ORANGE KRUSH

June 28, 2004 – 07:00 PM



BLAZE WIN
DAILY GRAPHIC STAFF

PORTAGE DAILY GRAPHIC SPORTS - JUNE 29, 2004

WINNIPEG - Portage Blaze began qualifying for the Manitoba Soccer Association Cup tournament by edging Orange Krush 2-1 in Winnipeg last night. Jackie Gordon and Shea Fust scored first-half goals for Portage (8-4-2 overall). Orange Krush’s only tally came on an own goal.
“It was a good game tonight,” Blaze head coach Bryan Mintenko said. “Orange Krush is a top team in the fourth division and they gave us a good challenge. I think we had more shots than they did and generally controlled the play. We hit some crossbars and a few posts.”
The MSA Cup is the provincial women’s club championship which traditionally takes place in August.

The Blaze, who are one point out of first place in Division 3 of the Winnipeg Women’s Soccer League, resume action with back-to-back road matches next week. They face Canadians in league play on Monday at John Blumberg Park before facing St. James Storm in their next MSA Cup qualifier the following night.