It wasn’t the start the Prince Albert Northern Bears were hoping for.
A day after losing a tight 3-1 battle against the unbeaten Saskatoon Stars, the two sides were back at it Sunday afternoon at the Art Hauser Centre.
Despite the Bears outshooting their opponents and earning multiple chances on the powerplay, it was the Stars who struck first. Coming in on the rush, Kaitlin Jockims found Halle Helperl a half step in front of her defender. She tapped it past a sprawling Scout Anderson to put the Stars on top.
Saskatoon’s next chance came minutes later. While on a penalty kill, the Stars broke out on a two-on-one. Anderson made the initial save, but Ashley Messier banged home the rebound to go up 2-0.
With five minutes to go in the frame, the Bears headed to the PK. Saskatoon’s special teams were able to take advantage. Grace Shirley set up a give and go, feeding Kaitlin Jockims down low before cutting to the net. Jockims found Shirley in the slot, and she wristed the puck into the wide-open net to build a 3-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, the Stars used speed and skill to strike again. Abby DeCorby found Haylee Kos in front of the net. Kos tipped it in with four seconds to go in the frame to extend the lead to four goals.
The Bears went into the room in an early hole, despite leading in shots 7-6. Prince Albert wasn’t without its chances.
“The game could have changed earlier on,” head coach Jeff Willoughby said.
“I thought the second goal was pretty deflating for us. It shouldn’t be, but it was. I think that started the ball rolling for them. We had enough odd-man rushes throughout the game. Our focus wasn’t there to continue on the play to the net and get goals for ourselves.”
Saskatoon continued to pour it on in the second. Less than two minutes into the frame, DeCorby found a loose puck and fed it to Makena Kushniruk, who put it past Anderson to extend the lead to 5-0
Less than four minutes later, the Bears got their first chance of the frame on a 2-on1, but the play was broken up by the Stars, who took it the other way. Kaitlin Jockims won the puck down low and fed it to Kushniruk, who walked in alone and lifted it backhand over Anderson’s glove, bar-down, to go up 6-0.
That spelled the end of the afternoon for Anderson, who was relieved in goal by Lexi Beuker after allowing 6 goals on 11 shots.
The Bears pushed back. After a pair of big penalty kills, including a 5-on-3, the team found its legs.
Kate Ball gained the zone on the wing and fired a puck just over the open corner. She got another chance a few minutes later, dragging the puck past the defender and firing it right on net, but the chance was turned away by Kaitlyn Cadrain.
“We just told them, what do you want from this game?” Willoughby said. “Do you want to practice playing some good shifts, or do you just want to make up excuses? Keep working hard and pucks will start bouncing your way, and you can start making plays to the net.”
Prince Albert started the third on the powerplay. Miranda Heidt had the best chance of the advantage, breaking in on the wing, but was turned away by Cadrain.
The Stars took the puck the other way and got in alone, skating across the front of the net. But Beuker was there, sticking out her left leg to take away a sure goal.
The save proved huge, as a few minutes later, Jasper Desmarais found Heidt, who came in with speed, chipped the puck past a defender to herself before firing the puck past Cadrain on the short side to cut the lead to 6-1 with 13:47 to go in the frame.
“It felt pretty good,” Heidt said. It was a push back, to kind of get some momentum for the girls to spark something, and maybe get a few more goals.”
While Prince Albert continued to push, it didn’t take the Stars long to respond. Just three minutes later, The Stars pinned the Bears in their own end and, after a few chances, DeCorby found the back of the net for her first goal of the game.
Beuker made a few more key saves, but the Stars wouldn’t be kept off the scoreboard for long. On another rush, Halle Helperl fought her way past the defender and fired a shot on Beuker. She made a quick save, but the rebound bounced right to Shirley, who tapped it in for her second of the game.
With time winding down, the Bears earned another powerplay. For the first time Sunday, they made the extra skater count. Abby Soyko found Alli Soyko in front. Her shot went off Cadrain and knuckled into the air, falling behind the Stars’ goalie and bouncing in for the Bears’ second of the game. Final score: 8-2.
“It was nice to get a couple of goals, but just too little, too late,” Willoughby said.
“Our focus on our man advantages wasn’t there. We got pucks into positions where we had the advantage. We just didn’t take control.”
After those initial six goals, the Bears were able to turn things around and keep up with the Stars, Heidt said.
“It’s wasn’t a terrible finish, but it wasn’t our best game,” she said.
“It was a tough loss. I think we knew what we wanted to do, we just weren’t getting those lucky bounces. We have to really focus on who we’re getting, taking our people and regrouping. We all kind of knew in the dressing room that we weren’t playing our game. Even for the third, we had to get back to basics.”
Beuker stopped 16 of 18 shots she faced, while Anderson allowed six goals on ten shots. Heidt was named her team’s first star for scoring the Bears’ opening goal. Alli Soyko also finished with a goal, while Abby Soyko and Desmarais each earned a single assist.
Kushniruk led the scoring for Saskatoon with two goals and an assist. Shirley also had two goals and Messier, Helperl, Kos and DeCorby each added one. DeCorby and Messier finished with two assists each, while Kaitlin Jockims was named her team’s first star by finishing the game with three helpers. Cadrain, a Prince Albert product, stopped 17 of 19 for the win.
The back-to-back wins over the Bears gives the Stars a 14-0 perfect record, while Prince Albert falls to fourth place with a record of 6-6-1-1.
Those games against top-ranked opponents serve as a good measuring stick for where the Bears hope to be by the time the season ends.
“We know what we have to do,” Heidt said. “We have a lot to improve on, but I think we’re right up there when we bring our A-game.”
“It’s definitely where we want to be. Saskatoon and Regina are setting the bar for everyone to reach,” he said.
“It was probably a ‘B’ game for us today. If we bring our ‘A’ game for 60 minutes, I think we can (beat anybody). That’s what we’re working on for the next few months. Changing that B to an A.”
Next up for the Bears and the Stars is the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament at Notre Dame from December 6-9. Willoughby said the tournament will be another chance for the Bears to see how they match-up. Prince Albert plays home next on Dec. 21 and 22 against The Battlefords Sharks to wrap up 2018.