In a field that featured some of the best female midget hockey programs in Western Canada, the Prince Albert Northern Bears turned in their best performance of the season over the weekend.
After a 7-2 win over the Regina Rebels Sunday afternoon in Wilcox, the Bears were able to come away with a bronze medal from the 2018 edition of the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament.
“I think it’s a real testament to how our girls are really coming together as a team and how they are all playing for each other,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.
“It may not show in our results in the league at the moment, but everything was clicking for us down there over the weekend and I think you’ll see that carry over into the second half of the regular season.”
Having lost a hard-fought 5-4 semifinal affair to the Notre Dame Hounds a day earlier, the Bears bounced back in style Sunday as seven different players found the back of the net against the Rebels.
“It’s obviously a tough game to be in for both teams as we each had close losses and just missed out on being in the gold medal game,” Willoughby said.
“With that said, you might as well put the effort in because it’s a chance to end the weekend on a high note. It was a tentative start for us early, but we were able to take the game over and had a strong showing from everyone on the team.”
The Bears clinched their spot in the playoffs by finishing first in Pool A play with a 3-0 record.
They edged the Eastman Selects of Manitoba by a score of 4-3, topped the Northern Alberta Xtreme prep school program 3-2 and defeated the Lloydminster Steelers in a 2-1 affair.
“In each of those games, we jumped out to the lead,” Willoughby said. “There were are few times where our opponents were able to whittle down that lead, but the girls were able to handle those challenges and that helped us a lot in the round-robin.
“We played well in the semifinal against Notre Dame, but we ended up running into some penalty trouble and allowed a few more goals than we would have liked. The girls worked hard to try and force overtime, but we just ran out of time.”
Although the Bears had a number of key contributors to their success, Miranda Heidt’s offensive output in the round-robin was something that stood out to Willoughby.
“I think she had six or seven goals for us in the first three games,” Willoughby said.
“When you have players like her doing that on offence, plus a solid team defence that limits our goals against, that can be pretty tough to beat.”
It was also a strong weekend for the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League as the top four teams at the tournament came from the eight-team loop.
“Everyone knows that if you don’t show up to play against anyone in this league, you are going to be in for a tough night,” Willoughby said.
“The level of play in our league has stepped a lot from where it was five years ago, and I think what you saw this weekend was a true testament to how female hockey is doing in our province.”
The Saskatoon Stars captured the gold medal Sunday with a 3-1 win over the host Hounds.
The Bears will be back in action this weekend as they go on the road for a pair of games against the Swift Current Wildcats.
They will then host the Battleford Sharks on Friday, Dec. 21 and Saturday, Dec. 22 at the Art Hauser Centre in their last games before Christmas.