Preview: Bears prepped for fast, tight-knit Stars

Saskatoon Stars goalie Arden Kliewer (30) makes a kick save on a shot from the Prince Albert Northern Bears during SFMAAAHL action from P.A. on Dec. 20, 2017. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Teams kick off female Midget AAA championship final round Friday at Saskatoon’s Rutherford Arena

As the Prince Albert Northern Bears begin their quest for a repeat as champions of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League on Friday, they know what to expect from their opponents, the Saskatoon Stars, according to team captain Hannah Koroll.

“They’re definitely one of the fastest teams in the league. And all-around, they have a really high skill level. They’re really hard to play against, because the girls on the ice know each other really good,” the Bears defenceman said.

The Stars are heading to the league final for the third consecutive year; they last won the title in the 2015-16 season; the Bears beat the Stars last year three games to none to win the league title.

To advance to this year’s championship round, the Bears beat the Notre Dame Hounds three games to one in the semifinal series; the Stars swept their semifinal series against the Regina Rebels three games to none.

Koroll agreed that the Stars’ style of play is similar to that of the Prince Albert Mintos: They use speed and lots of long, stretch-type passes.

In terms of countering the Stars’ speed, the captain said, “We can take advantage if we pair some of our stronger lines against some of their defence; we might be able to catch them standing still and beat them with some of our more speedy forwards.”

Through three regular season games this year, the Stars hold the advantage, winning two of the three games. On Oct. 22, the Stars won 5-1 in Saskatoon; they beat the Bears 3-2 on Nov. 9 in P.A.

The Bears earned a measure of revenge on Dec. 20, also in P.A., by beating the Stars 2-1.

In terms of other advantages, Koroll thinks that the Bears’ strong contingent of Saskatoon-born skaters will be useful in finding holes in the Stars’ systems and play.

“We know a lot of their girls and that’s a strength to us, because they don’t know all of our team, when we pretty much know all of their girls and their type of play,” she said, adding that she and some of her teammates have played with and against several Stars players since they were young.

Koroll also noted that her team knows the weak-spots and the holes of Stars goalies Arden Kliewer and Jordan Ivanco.

The other strength she feels her team has is experience: Fourteen of the Bears’ 20 players were a part of the Bears’ championship team last year, including Koroll.

“Being the defending champs, our mentality going into it is definitely the same as last year. We have the same compete and wanting to win as we did last year,” she said.

Along with winning the provincial title last year, the Bears were Western Regional champions and advanced to the national Esso Cup.

That experience, she said, is irreplaceable for this year’s squad.

The following list shows the full schedule of the Bears-Stars championship round.

The winner of this series will move on to the Western Regional championship round, which is a best-of-five series. The opponent in that series will be a Manitoba representative, either the Eastman Selects or the Pembina Valley Hawks.

The Bears-Stars series is also a best-of-five format.

Round 3, provincial championship final round:

  • (1) Saskatoon Stars vs. (2) Prince Albert Northern Bears

Bears’ round 3 playoff schedule:

  • Game 1 – March 23, 8:30 p.m. at Saskatoon’s Rutherford Arena
  • Game 2 – March 25, 7 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre
  • Game 3 – March 27, 6:30 p.m. at Saskatoon’s Ag West Arena
  • Game 4 (if necessary) – March 31, 7 p.m. at P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre
  • Game 5 (if necessary) – April 1, 7 p.m. at Saskatoon’s Ag West Arena