Bears bid farewell to graduating players at year-end banquet

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Graduating Prince Albert Northern Bears players Abby Soyko, left, Miranda Heidt and Kate Ball received the team’s top scorer award from head coach Jeff Willoughby during the team’s year-end banquet Saturday night.

Saturday’s year-end banquet for the Prince Albert Northern Bears also marked the last time that six players will be a part of the team.

The Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League club officially said goodbye to Jadyn Kushniruk, Abby Soyko, Kate Ball, Alli Soyko, Miranda Heidt and Lexi Beuker as the evening’s event at the Nordale Community Club was their final one with the program before they graduate.

“For many of our players, they are here for three or four years before they age out of midget,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said. “There’s a pretty tight bond that all of the make and that was evident again tonight as they shared the memories that they made.

“I don’t think we can describe just how close all six of us are with the time that we’ve spent together the last few years,” Kushniruk added. “Whenever one of us is in trouble, we are all there for one another.”

The graduating group has been through a lot of ups and downs over the last few years, but their biggest highlights included going to the Esso Cup in 2017 and four members of the team (Ball, Kushniruk, Heidt and Abby Soyko) getting the chance to play for Saskatchewan at this year’s Canada Winter Games.

“The memories that you make and the friendships that you gain is something that you don’t forget,” Ball said.

“I can call all of these girls my best friends and I’m really going to miss playing with them on a regular basis.”

Four of the six graduating players know what’s ahead of them for their hockey careers, as Ball and Heidt will head to Saskatoon to play for the Saskatchewan Huskies, Kushniruk will suit up for the Regina Cougars and Beuker will go south of the border to play in goal for the Minot State Beavers.

The Soyko sisters have yet to determine their post-secondary plans.

“To see them continuing to play the game that they love is something that we as a coaching staff are excited to see,” Willoughby said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what their future holds.”

The graduating players plan to keep a close eye on the Bears next year though, as the team prepares to host the 2020 Esso Cup.

“The best advice I would give the girls that are coming back is to enjoy the ride,” Kushniruk said. “It goes by really fast and you just need to remember to have fun along the way.”

The award winners from Saturday’s banquet were as follows:

  • Most Dedicated Player: Lexi Beuker
  • Hardest Working Player: Kailee Peppler
  • Rookie of the Year: Kailey Ledoux
  • Top Academic Player: Jadyn Kushniruk
  • Most Improved Player: Haley Kicia
  • Top Forward: Abby Soyko
  • Top Defenceman: Tori MacDonald
  • Top Scorers: Kate Ball, Miranda Heidt and Abby Soyko
  • Most Valuable Player: Abby Soyko
  • Playoff MVP: Jessie Herner
  • Most Sportsmanlike Player: Alli Soyko