Bears set for season opener

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Scout Anderson makes a save during a practice session for the Prince Albert Northern Bears Thursday at the Art Hauser Centre.

In between all of the excitement that came with finding out that they’ll be hosting the Esso Cup in 2020, the Prince Albert Northern Bears have been focusing on their immediate future.

The Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League team will begin their 2018-19 season Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre at 5 p.m. against the Weyburn Gold Wings, with a rematch slated at the same venue Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Our main focus has been on keep things simple with our systems and not making things complicated for the first game” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.

“You don’t want to cloud things up too much at the start of the year, especially with our younger players. You want them to get their feet wet out there and not put too much pressure on their overall performance.”

The Bears tuned up for the campaign in Calgary two weeks ago, as they posted a 2-1-1 record at the Fire Starter Midget AAA tournament.

“We were up against opponents that we might not see until later in the year, so it was a good measuring point for us to see how we stacked up against the teams from other provinces,” Willoughby said.

“The teams we played from Alberta are a little older, so I think that physical test we faced should help us out as we go forward.”

The Bears picked up 7-0 and 4-2 wins over the Thompson Okanagan Lakers and the Vancouver Island Seals respectively, but also played to a scoreless draw with the Red Deer Chiefs and dropped an 8-1 decision to the two-time defending national champion St. Albert Steel.

“Even though that game against St. Albert didn’t go the way we would have liked, I felt like we played well all weekend in Calgary,” Bears centre Kailey Ledoux said.

“We all know the expectations for our team this year and there’s nowhere to go but up.”

After their home games with the Gold Wings, the Bears will go on the road next weekend to face the Battlefords Sharks.