The Prince Albert Northern Bears notched two tight wins over the weekend, after taking back-to-back games against the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League action Saturday and Sunday from the Art Hauser Centre.
The Bears won the first game 4-3 on Saturday evening, backstopped by goalie Ryan Fontaine’s 18-save performance and helped by forward Kate Ball’s game winning goal.
The Hounds used their speed and their offensive zone pressure to try to disrupt the Bears’ puck movement plays out of their zone.
When the Bears moved the puck into the Hounds’ zone, they shot frequently on goalie Megan Peterson, tallying 39 total shots on the netminder.
“Their goaltender played well. Her rebound control is good. They cleaned out the front of their net fairly well,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said after the Saturday game.
The Hounds’ speed proved somewhat effective in also disrupting the Bears’ puck movement through the neutral zone, forcing the P.A. club to reset in its zone.
Notre Dame’s speedy defencemen played a large role in that regard.
“I saw a few of them rush the puck well, when it’s needed. So they had some timely rushes with the puck, and that backs up our defence.
“I thought on our blue line they made some good plays, and two of their goals came from point shots that got through, and one was deflected.”
Willoughby also said his team’s defence could have been better.
“We can’t be pretending to block shots. It isn’t going to help us. We have to do the actual thing.”
Adding to the Bears’ first victory was rookie forward Paris Oleksyn, who scored her first Midget AAA goal at 2:03 into the second period of the game.
It put her team up 2-1 at that point.
“It was really exciting. I was really happy when (teammate Rhea Peterson) hit the goalie and the puck came out in front of the net.
“I just rebounded it in,” she said of the score.
“I’m happy for her. She’s probably been waiting for that to happen sooner than this,” Willoughby said. “That line continues to keep growing together, and we need them to contribute.”
Along with Peterson, fellow line mate Miranda Heidt assisted on the goal.
On Sunday the Bears doubled their win margin, earning a 4-2 victory over the Hounds, but the game was played equally tight, if not more so.
The Hounds generated more offensive chances, firing 27 shots on Bears goalie Lexi Beuker.
“They really move the puck fast down low, so passes out front are hard to stop,” she said.
The afternoon game was Beuker’s seventh start and sixth win this year.
Compared to the previous six games, she said the Hounds’ speed created more traffic in front of her net, pushing her to gain proper crease position.
When a team is frequently rushing the net and pressing in her zone, the key is to control rebounds with her blocker and pads.
“I just try to move it to a place that they’re not, which is hard, because that’s how they scored both their goals, because they were rebounds.”
The game ended in a tense final three minutes of play after the Notre Dame coaches pulled goalie Kaitlyn Ross to gain the extra skater.
Beuker stopped the shots she faced, and her defensive unit was effective in keeping the puck away from her crease and move it to the neutral zone.
“I feel like it boosted my confidence a lot more, especially when I didn’t let in a goal when they were six-on-five,” she said.
Offensively, the Bears took the lead at 18:56 in the second on a Camryn Amundson breakaway goal.
Amundson was near her blue line, defending against the Hounds’ puck cycling.
As she went to block the Notre Dame defenceman’s shot, “I ended up poking the puck through, so I thought, ‘well now i have to take it down.’
“I got a jump on it and I ended up getting a little bit ahead of them. By the time I got there, I shot, and I just kind of swung again and it was in the net.” It was her seventh goal and 13th point of the year.
It put the Bears up 3-2.
After the game, Willoughby said he thought the Hounds played just as hard, if not harder than the Saturday game.
He also spoke about the competition between the team’s two goalies, Fontaine and Beuker.
“It’s nice that they both give our team a chance to win. And they know the importance of giving this team a chance, because given enough time, you’ll score enough goals to win the game as well.
Each netminder competes hard in practices, too, according to Willoughby. “It’s not just the games, we evaluate their practices as well.”
Which is to say that the team doesn’t yet have a clear starting goaltender.
“Nothing’s written in stone – who get the start or if they’ll be (split) 50 per cent – that’s not the case. We evaluate as much as we can of their play, and so far they’ve been close. Their results are close.
“So we’ll probably continue looking down that road.”
The Bears now have 12 wins and three losses, good enough for second place in the eight-team provincial league. They sit two points back of the first place Saskatoon Stars, who have 12 wins, no losses and one overtime win.
The Bears next play on the road in North Battleford against the 3-13 Sharks in back-to-back weekend games on Dec. 9 and Dec. 10.
The girls team received a special donation on Sunday afternoon: The Prince Albert Optimist Club donated $3,000 to the hockey team.