If you don’t succeed, try again; it might land you on cloud 9.
That’s where the Prince Albert Northern Bears are, according to goalie Ryan Fontaine after she backstopped her team to a 2-1 home win over the Saskatoon Stars Wednesday evening.
It’s the first time in four games this year that the female Midget AAA team beat its Saskatoon rival, a point not lost on Fontaine.
“We’re on cloud 9. Everyone is so pumped,” the third-year Bear said.
The Stars knocked off the Bears twice in October and once in November by a combined score of 12-5. The teams have been dead-locked for most of the season in a battle for the provincial league’s top spot, which the P.A. club holds, albeit with four extra games played over Saskatoon.
On Wednesday the Bears kept the Stars in check by stifling their speed-plays off of turnovers and boxing out their forwards in front of Fontaine’s crease.
And unlike two of those three losses, the Bears kept the Stars’ shot count to under 25; at game’s end, Saskatoon only managed to get 23 shots on Fontaine’s goal, thanks in part to sticky defence and mostly effective penalty killing.
“I thought they did a really good job and managed to block some shots,” she said of her defencemen.
The teams skated to a scoreless forty minutes of play through the first two periods. While the Stars tried to create offensive chances on the rush by using their up-tempo skaters, the Bears relied on their systematic passing, puck cycling and forecheck pressure to keep the Stars on their heels.
“There was a lot of back-and-forth play,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said. “There were a lot of blocked shots, a lot of tight checking. It’s not a high-shooting affair. Both teams held a tight gap all over the place, and that’s what we expected.”
Blocked shots or not, Fontaine said she was expecting precise, targeted shooting from the Stars.
“They’re really good. If I’m off-angle, they pick corners. They’re not really much of a crash-the-net team. They’re going to try and score on you with the first shot,” she said.
The Bears’ Rhea Peterson broke the tie at 3:07 in the third period after tipping in a point shot from Jessie Herner past Stars goalie Arden Kliewer.
Almost 10 minutes later, forward Alli Soyko scored what would be the game-winning goal, right after jumping out of the penalty box from a hooking infraction.
As the penalty expired, defenceman Hannah Koroll shot the puck up and out of her zone; it bounced and then slid to the Saskatoon netminder.
Soyko, alone and chasing the puck with only the Stars’ goalie in front of her, waited for Kliewer to make her move.
After the goalie errantly tried to clear the black rubber away from Soyko, “It bounced off the goalie’s stick – lucky. And then I just tapped it in,” she said. “It just happened. I wasn’t expecting to score.”
As far as she can recall, that’s one of her few game-winning goals during her two years with the Bears.
The Stars made it interesting by cutting the deficit to one goal while on the powerplay at 14:16, and then by nearly tying the score at 18:23.
Saskatoon scored its second goal after tipping in a point shot from a Stars defenceman, but referee Melonie Boulet disallowed the goal after watching it from behind Fontaine’s net; she ruled that it was scored because of a Saskatoon skater’s high stick, and hence called no-goal.
The Stars pulled their goalie for the extra skater, but to no success; the Bears’ defence held on for the win as the clock ticked down to 0:00.
The Bears (17-3-0-0) are now off for the next few days, before heading to Calgary for the annual Mac’s AAA Midget international hockey tournament. Grouped into pool 7, they’ll first play the Delta Academy Prep team in the morning of Dec. 27.
The team’s goal, according to Soyko, is to make it out of round-robin play and earn a spot in the tournament final, which will be played on Jan. 1, 2018 and broadcast live on TSN.
“We’re trying to get there,” she said.
Prince Albert wore its ugly-sweater-themed jerseys for Wednesday’s game to mark the upcoming Christmas break and as part of a charity drive. During the game, each player’s jersey was put on silent auction, with the funds slated to go to the Children’s Wish Foundation.
After the game, the team raised $3,230 from the jersey auctions.