After overcoming 40 minutes of tight, physical play and a stingy opposition netminder, the Prince Albert Northern Bears rode a three-goal third period to beat the Battlefords Sharks 5-1 Monday night from P.A.
The game was the first in the best-of-five, round 1 playoff series between the two female Midget AAA hockey teams.
As each team began its postseason, neither side was willing to budge in giving up the early lead; the Bears dominated puck possession and offensive zone time, while the Sharks showed a proclivity for creating turnovers and hard checking against their opposition.
Battlefords used those turnovers – created high in their defensive zone – to force odd-man rushes and near-breakaway plays, but they couldn’t crack Bears goalie Ryan Fontaine.
Meanwhile, the Bears peppered Fontaine’s counterpart, Sharks goalie Haylie Biever with shots. For the first 15 minutes of play, Biever stood tall and looked to be unbeatable.
It took an Abby Soyko wrist shot from the high slot area with a screened Sharks goalie for the Bears to find the back of the net. Soyko netted her wrist shot while on the power play at 14:59.
Similarly in the second period, the Bears could only find the back of the Sharks’ net once, again on the power play. After a scramble in front of the Sharks’ crease, players from each team tried grabbing the puck to either slide it away from the net or bang it home for the score.
Forward Miranda Heidt managed to get it on her tape and quickly slide it past Biever for the goal, making the score 2-0 in P.A.’s favour. That was late in the period at 16:43.
“They came at us hard. They were pretty physical, too, so you’ve got to obviously get past that and just focus on the game and keep your mind in it … that was obviously some adversity,” Heidt said of the game. “But it was kind of what we expected. They’ve been like that all year.”
She had a hand in getting the Bears’ three-goal third period started; she tapped home a loose puck that popped up and over Biever, landing behind her but not quite in the net. Heidt finished the job 8:42.
The two goals were a measure of redemption for the Bears forward; she took two first-period penalties and a third infraction in the second period to put her team down a skater.
“She ended up in the penalty box a few times, but didn’t necessarily need to be there; but she redeemed herself on the second goal she got on the power play,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said. “Redemption – you’re going to make mistakes and be undisciplined, but if you can pay back to your team in a different way, that’s what we want.”
Heidt said it felt good to contribute and help her team get the win, but also that “I’ve gotta stay out of the (penalty) box, and focus on getting the puck in the back of the net.”
Her second-period goal proved to be the game winner.
Fellow forward Camryn Amundson notched two third-period goals after Heidt to round out the scoring for P.A.
Her first score was a short-handed goal, instigated by a turnover that she turned into a breakaway. Amundson put a deke move on Biever to force her down and go to the goalie’s wide side with a forehand shot for the goal.
Battlefords managed to break Fontaine’s shutout with a power play goal in the game’s final four minutes, netted by Taylor Gravelle.
Willoughby said that he and the team’s coaches were happy to get the win, that “the physical effort was definitely there tonight. We threw lots of pucks at the net.
“One thing we talked about in the room was mentally, we have to be a little bit sharper; there were probably some missed passes that shouldn’t have been missed. There’s no reason to miss a communication and stuff like that.”
He also said that the Bears’ intensity level for the game – despite landing them penalties somewhat often – was a good thing. “It’s easy to reel that back in a little bit if you have to, then to light a fire; sometimes it’s hard to start a fire. It’s nice to see that they care.”
He figured that more mental focus in game 2 will reduce the amount of penalties the Bears incur.
The Bears and the Sharks play game 2 of their best-of-five series on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Battleford arena. Game 3 goes Friday at 7 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre.
Biever made 39 saves on 44 Bears’ shots, while Fontaine made 21 saves on 22 shots on Monday.