Stars best Bears for 2-0 series lead

Saskatoon Stars goalie Arden Kliewer watches the puck bounce in front of her crease during the first period of her team's game against the Prince Albert Northern Bears in the SFMAAAHL final playoff round game on March 25, 2018 in P.A. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Saskatoon Stars played the role of perpetual momentum-killers Sunday night in Prince Albert; when their Northern Bears opponents scored a goal, they answered right back with a score of their own.

The Stars did that twice, and it was enough to emerge with a 4-2 win in Game 2 of the teams’ Midget AAA female league final playoff round; Saskatoon now has a 2-0 stranglehold on the best-of-five series that will determine the provincial champion.

(The Stars beat the Northern Bears 5-3 on Friday night in Saskatoon in the first game of the series.)

On Sunday, the game was close all night: Each team used its speed, physicality, shooting and goaltending to test the other.

“It’s the effort we needed to come with here today. Obviously it’s a pretty pivotal game; we would have liked to tie the series up,” Northern Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.

The game opened with both teams going scoreless through the first 15 minutes.

Bears captain Hannah Koroll got her team on the scoreboard first, with a point shot on the power play that beat a screened Arden Kliewer at 15:06.

Stars captain Mackenna Parker responded with a goal just over three minutes later to tie the game at 1-1. Less than 40 seconds later and in the first period’s final minute, teammate Grace Shirley put the Stars up 2-1 to stifle the Bears’ early momentum heading into the first intermission.

After a scoreless second period, a similar scenario played out in the final six minutes of the game.

Prince Albert Northern Bears forwards Jadyn Kushniruk (3) and Kate Ball (21) celebrate after teammate Hannah Koroll scored a goal in the first period against the Saskatoon Stars during the teams’ SFMAAAHL final playoff round game on March 25, 2018 in P.A. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

At 14:20, Bears alternate captain Abby Soyko willed her team to the tie: Starting just on the Stars’ side of the centre line with the puck, Soyko dangled through Saskatoon’s defencemen, powered her way up ice on Kliewer, and then pulled a deke to slide the puck through the goalie’s exposed five-hole.

The game was tied 2-2 and the Bears’ fans went wild.

Seventeen seconds later, it was Joelle Fiala’s turn to be a momentum-killer. The Stars forward took a pass on goalie Ryan Fontaine’s left side and sniped her wrist shot top shelf, glove side.

The Stars were up 3-2.

“That second goal for us was big,” Willoughby said. “They were just able to answer back right away.”

At 16:47, multi-sport athlete Kaitlin Jockims ensured the Stars held on to that momentum. The Stars forward, who had just played in a provincial high school basketball bronze medal game the day prior, scored a top-shelf, blocker-side wrist shot on Fontaine after creating a breakaway for herself.

Her score iced the game to secure the Stars’ win.

“We just didn’t answer the bell in a few different areas. The end of the first period was huge for us, if we could have got out of there one-nothing,” the Bears coach said.

He liked the shots (32) and traffic that his team got on net, but he said trying to fight through the Stars’ sticks was a struggle for his team; he explained that he found the referees’ officiating to be inconsistent and hard to follow during the game.

Despite that, Willoughby was optimistic about his team’s ability to pull-off the comeback for a series win.

That will start with Game 3 on Tuesday in Saskatoon. To get there, he said the Bears need to “continue pushing (Saskatoon’s) defencemen a bit more in the corners in their end.

“I thought we did a good job of forechecking, but stay on them, don’t let them off the hook just with a quick pass. I think that’s one area we need to keep on to is our forecheck, and we’ll get rewarded.”

Along with the Stars defencemen, the Bears will have to contend with Jockims, who’s playing with some extra motivation; she and the Saskatoon Centennial Chargers lost that bronze medal basketball game to the P.A. Carlton Crusaders on Saturday.

“Carlton was a tough loss … I came here wanting a win out of the weekend, so it was good today,” she said.

Game 3 is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Saskatoon’s Ag West arena. If the Bears win and force a Game 4, that’s set for March 31 at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.