The Prince Albert Northern Bears rode the stable goaltending of Ryan Fontaine and a high-pressure third period to beat the Notre Dame Hounds 1-0 in game 1 of the teams’ best-of-five semifinal playoff series.
The female Midget AAA hockey teams kept the game close throughout the contest, with Bears defenceman Jordan Ashe finally finding offensive success for her side after 50 minutes of 0-0 play.
Her even-strength wrist shot goal from the high slot proved to be the game-winner, with 9:42 left in the game.
The Bears were pressing in the Hounds’ zone, holding the puck for about 45 seconds.
As they tried to set up a passing-cycle system, the Hounds defencemen and forwards kept disrupting passes and checking the Bears skaters. When P.A. did manage to set up a shooter, Notre Dame would block the shot to prevent it from getting through to goalie Kaitlyn Ross.
After a third Bears’ shot, a Hounds skater tried to clear the puck out of the zone, but the attempt was short of her blue line, where Ashe jumped on it.
She skated deeper into the Hounds’ zone, just above the faceoff circles with the puck.
“I picked out a corner, because I knew the goalie was down already, because we had been pounding her with shots already,” Ashe said. “I just kind of picked a corner and shot.”
The Bears alternate captain said she was happy to get the score, but she underscored Fontaine’s play in powering P.A. to the win.
“She let out barely any rebounds; she hung on to her shots really well,” Ashe said.
The P.A. netminder turned aside all 26 Hounds’ shots she faced for the perfect game. “I’m feeling pretty good about it. It’s good for the confidence and good for the whole team,” Fontaine said of the win.
She also gave a nod to her counterpart, the Hounds’ Ross. “It’s always really hard to play against her, because you know that she’s always going to bring her A-game every single day.
“(I) just try to stick to what I know and prepare the exact same way I would for any other game.”
Up until the game’s last 15 minutes, the Hounds seemed to have the Bears figured out, aside from Fontaine. Notre Dame used its tight, hard forechecking to disrupt the Bears’ passing game; they also maintained a consistent box structure in their defensive zone to turn aside the Bears, forcing them to move the puck along the boards and in the corners.
Coming toward her end of the ice, Fontaine said the Hounds “move the puck laterally a lot. You won’t see much low-to-high. They take lots of bad-angle shots from the corner – (it’s) super difficult to stop those. They crash the net hard all the time.”
Notre Dame head coach Tegan Schroeder commended her team for that type of gritty, hard play.
“The Bears have a strong, good puck-moving team, so it was a challenge for our girls. It worked out in (P.A.’s) favour today, but we’re not going to let up on our battle from here on out,” she said.
The teams will now travel to Wilcox, about 30 minutes south of Regina, for game 2 in the playoff series on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Notre Dame’s Duncan McNeill arena.
Looking ahead to that game, Schroeder said solving Fontaine means making the game harder for her. “We need to make sure we’re getting more traffic (to the net), and not making Fontaine’s job so easy down there.”