Preview: Bears prepped for ‘hard-working’ Hounds

P.A. Northern Bears forward Paris Oleksyn (11) scores a goal on Notre Dame Hounds goalie Megan Peterson during teams' Nov. 25, 2017 game from P.A. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Relentless and hard-working.

That’s how Prince Albert Northern Bears goalie Ryan Fontaine describes the Notre Dame Hounds.

The two Midget AAA hockey teams are set to face off in round 2, the semifinal series, of the provincial female league’s 2017-18 postseason. Game 1 goes on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre at 1:30 p.m.

The winner of the best-of-five series earns a berth in the league final.

“They have one line that’s very strong, and with the rest, they can all shoot; they have a good screen in front of the net at all times, and they crash the net hard,” Fontaine said.

The Bears goalie referenced Abbey and Claire Nimegeers on the Hounds, both forwards and sisters. They were first and third on their team in regular season points scored, combining for 66 total points. Through four playoff games, they’ve combined for five total points.

“They move around quite a bit on that team,” she said.

After sweeping their series against the Battlefords Sharks three games to none, the Bears advanced to the semifinals last Friday; meanwhile, the Hounds beat the Melville Prairie Fire three games to one in their quarterfinal series, advancing on Sunday, March 4.

Through four regular season games between the two squads, P.A. won three contests to Notre Dame’s one. The Bears won two games by two goals and one game by one goal; the Hounds’ lone victory was by a score of 3-1 on Feb. 11 (their final goal was an empty netter in that game’s final 30 seconds).

According to Bears head coach Jeff Willougby, regular season records don’t matter; he said each series is like a new season, with each team starting at a 0-0 win-loss record.

He echoed Fontaine on Notre Dame’s play.

“They’re going to battle hard; no one wants to give up their season at this point. They’re not going to hand anything to us. We definitely have to go out there and take it,” he said.

“They play a pretty good positional game; they don’t seem to be out of position, and that’s what we have to try to do is get them out of position.

“And the goaltending is near the top of the league. Both goalies haven’t given up a lot of goals. We’re gonna have to put lots of traffic on the net; and second and third shots are always important,” he explained.

Fontaine said she expects to see a similar strategy from the Hounds when they have the puck in the Bears’ zone – lots of screens in front of her crease. That makes it incumbent on her defencemen to take care of the Hounds forwards and their shots.

“They’re taught to front the puck, which means they’re in front of me also, which is good; they’re pretty good at boxing people out. They’ve been pretty successful at that all year,” she said of her defensive teammates.

She said that also means her teammates will need to block shots for her at certain times. “The past couple years, I’ve learned to trust my teammates. They do a good job.”

Team captain Hannah Koroll will be one such defenceman expected to step into that role.

She agreed that the Nimegeers line is an important one for the Hounds, requiring the P.A. club to shut it down.

Given the Hounds’ propensity to be precise and exacting with their scoring chances, Koroll said that requires the Bears to play a tight, disciplined game.

“We need to be aware of always making the right play and not having those hiccups where you give them an opportunity that they can capitalize on. We need to play a consistent game,” she said.

There are now four teams remaining in the female Midget AAA league’s playoffs. Each semifinal series is a best-of-five series, with the higher seeded team having home-ice advantage.

The following list shows the second-round matchups.

The winner of each series earns a berth in the league finals.

Round 2:

  • (1) Saskatoon Stars vs. (4) Regina Rebels
  • (2) Prince Albert Northern Bears vs. (3) Notre Dame Hounds

Northern Bears’ round 2 playoff schedule:

  • Game 1 – March 10, 1:30 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre
  • Game 2 – March 11, 4:30 p.m. at Notre Dame’s Duncan McNeill arena, in Wilcox
  • Game 3 – March 14, 7 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre
  • Game 4 (if necessary) – March 17, 1 p.m. at N.D.’s Duncan McNeill arena, in Wilcox
  • Game 5 (if necessary) – March 18, 7 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre