The Prince Albert Northern Bears are off to the semifinals.
The Midget AAA club rode a dominant first period and the hot stick of forward Camryn Amundson to a 7-1 victory over the Battlefords Sharks Friday night in P.A. to sweep the quarterfinal playoff series three games to none.
The teams entered the game coming off a gritty, physical game 2 in Battleford on Wednesday that saw the Sharks push the Bears to the brink and nearly best their P.A. rivals.
On Friday the Bears responded in dominant fashion.
Amundson opened the scoring midway through the first period; she got the last laugh to close out the game’s scoring with 1.8 seconds left in the game. In between those first and last goals, the Bears used strong puck possession play, simple passes and heavy forechecking pressure to stifle the Sharks’ rhythm and passing.
“I think it’s just that playoff rush,” Amundson said of her play and her team’s win. She finished the game with three goals and two assists for five total points.
“My line mates and I – Jadyn (Kushniruik) and Kate (Ball) – are really clicking right now. I’m really happy with the chemistry that’s going on. We’re getting lots and lots of chances.”
Her two assists came on Kushniruik’s and Ball’s goals in the first and second periods, respectively.
“Her and Kate Ball and Jadyn just had a good connection on every game, and today especially was probably some of the nicest goals we’ve seen all year with some nice passing plays,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said of the line’s play.
The trio combined for 12 total points on the night. Along with their goals, Kushniruik and Ball had two and three assists, respectively.
“We just told the girls, ‘Camryn set a good example – just scoring her goals, (and) making a connection with her line mates,'” Willoughby said.
After Amundson’s opening score, the Bears had goals from Rhea Peterson and Kushniruik to go up 3-0 after 20 minutes.
The Sharks cut the deficit by a goal at 3:14 of the second period on the power play, after Madison Sansom scored. But that was the only time Battlefords could crack goalie Ryan Fontaine.
The Bears added to their lead on Ball’s and Abby Soyko’s even-strength goals to end the period up 5-1.
Amundson closed out the scoring in the third period, netting two even-strength goals to make the final tally 7-1 for the Bears.
Overall, Willoughby said, “It was a hard-fought series. Battlefords played really physical and they worked hard, so they pushed us hard to bring our game up in all three games.”
The team’s captain, Hannah Koroll, said everyone on the team is feeling confident, because everyone has upped their play, since the postseason started.
She agreed that the close Wednesday match was a good reminder of how tight playoff hockey games can be. “Just knowing that they could be close games and anything can happen; we have to play our best, and it was definitely a wake-up call.”
Koroll said the team bonding that’s began since the playoffs started is a positive building block as the Bears head for the semifinals. “The mood of (the playoffs) is so much more intense; you’ve gotta depend on everyone, and no one can take the team all the way by themselves.”
Amundson’s five-point night topped off a successful week for her. Through the Bears’ three postseason games over the week, she tallied nine total points. And on Monday evening before the start of game 1 in the series, she was awarded with the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year award.
“It means a lot to me,” she said with a big smile.
“I try my hardest to not really get into the scrums; and I try to show my character when I’m playing hockey, and I’m glad it gets noticed. I just want to represent God everywhere I go, and it’s just who I am.”
The Bears now await who their next opponent will be in the semifinals of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoffs.
The Regina Rebels lead the Swift Current Wildcats two games to none. The Notre Dame Hounds and the Melville Prairie Fire are tied at one game apiece; each game in that series was won in overtime. Game three in each series goes on Saturday.
The Bears will play the second-lowest seeded team among that group of four that emerges the winner. The Saskatoon Stars, who had a first round bye, will play the lowest seeded team among the group of four that emerges as the winner.
Watch the Daily Herald for updates on the Bears’ round 2 playoff schedule and a preview when they find out who their opponent will be.