Heading into this weekend’s series against the Notre Dame Hounds, Prince Albert Northern Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby expected both games to go right down to the wire.
That proved to be the case at the Art Hauser Centre this weekend as the Hounds picked up 4-3 and 3-2 triumphs over the 2020 Esso Cup hosts on Saturday and Sunday.
“Both of those games were back and forth,” Willoughby said. “There were a lot of dump-ins and getting the pucks out of our end to beat their forecheck pressure in both games, plus there were a ton of battles in front of both teams net.
“However, we just didn’t win enough of those battles.”
Sunday’s setback was easily the toughest of the campaign for the Bears, as their 2-1 lead disappeared on an Annemarie Niedermeier goal with 3:06 to go.
After Bears captain Brooklyn Anderson was called for body checking with 1:16 left on the clock, the Hounds completed the comeback when a shot by Olivia Leier from the side of the net got by Bears netminder Dani Day.
“You have to play through those situations even if you think that the penalty is deserved or not,” Willoughby said. “It doesn’t matter in the end, you need to set that aside and deal with it.
“With that said, I’d rather we go through those situations now than have it happen five months from now.”
The Bears also lost the services of blueliner Tori MacDonald during the first period of play with an apparent right leg injury.
“Tori is being checked out by the doctor so it’s a wait and see process at this point,” Willoughby said after the game. “Hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
McKenzie Mayo and Kailey Ledoux both scored for the Bears, while Day turned aside 22 shots.
Anna-Liese King had a pair of assists for the Hounds, who also got a goal from Kaitlyn Severson and a 26-save showing from Rayanna Mckenzie.
“The girls are fighting through adversity a lot better than they were last year,” Hounds coach Craig Perrett said about his team, who are in fifth place in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings with a 5-5-1 record.
“We have 10 new girls in our lineup and we weren’t getting the results right away, but now that we are starting to know each other a little more, we are starting to get those bounces.”
Jada Livingston led the way for the visitors on Saturday with a pair of assists as the Hounds handed the Bears their first home loss of the campaign.
“We had been in a bit of a slump to start the year but we dug down deep and we’ve started to bury our chances as of late,” Livingston said.
“We have lots of energy all across our lineup and I think it’s showing over the last few games with our performances.”
Madison Rutz, Ryann Perrett, Severson and Niedermeier all scored for the Hounds, who received a 24-save performance from Eva Filippova.
Anderson paced the Bears on offence with two helpers and Janae Neufeld stopped 21 shots.
Paige Dawson, Kiara Stewart and Mayo all lit the lamp in the loss.
Next up for the Bears, who sit in third place in the standings with a 7-3 record, is a three-game road swing through the southern half of the province.
They will go to Wilcox Friday for another contest with the Hounds before facing the 8-0-1 Regina Rebels on Saturday and Sunday.
“We have a whole pile of league games coming up here over the next month, along with the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament in Wilcox in a couple of weeks,” Willoughby said.
“The most important thing for us right now is to get our 60-minute efforts stapled down and to keep that level of play up all the way through Christmas.”
The Bears won’t return to the Art Hauser Centre until Sunday, Dec. 22 for a 1 p.m. matchup with Regina.