Bears and Hounds coaches expecting a close series

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald The Prince Albert Northern Bears celebrate after an overtime win against the Notre Dame Hounds last season.

If the regular season series is any indication, the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final matchup between the Prince Albert Northern Bears and Notre Dame Hounds could go down to the wire.

The two sides split their season series with a pair of wins each, with two of their four games going to overtime and the Bears holding a 12-9 advantage in the goals department.

“If we are to get past them we need to have everyone working hard, as that’s one of the keys to Notre Dame’s success,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said. “We’re okay with how we played in the season series against the Hounds, but the girls know that we have a lot more to offer.”

“It’s going to be a long series with a number of one-goal games,” Hounds head coach Craig Perrett said. “If we stay committed to our game and move pucks easily out of our zone while forechecking hard, we should have success against the Bears. Plus, we’re lucky to have a goalie like Kaitlyn Ross to help us out when we make mistakes.”

When the series gets underway at the Art Hauser Centre Thursday at 7 p.m., it will mark the first competitive game for either side in over two weeks.

The Bears last played at the Kinsmen Arena on Saturday, Feb. 16 with a 4-3 overtime win over the Regina Rebels, while the Hounds last took to the ice on Wednesday, Feb. 20 as they picked up a 2-1 road win over the Rebels.

“It would have been nice to have another game in between the break, but it was good to get a bit of a rest period for the girls as well,” Willoughby said.

“It’s going to be a bit of hectic schedule this year with the first round being pushed back due to the Canada Winter Games. If a team goes the distance in all three rounds, there’s a chance they could be playing 15 games in 25 nights.”

The Bears, who finished the regular season with a 16-9-2 record, solidified the fourth seed for the post-season with an impressive 7-2-1 mark after the Christmas break.

“I think if we just continue to focus on the important parts of our game and continue to bring a good work ethic to the rink, we should do well,” Willoughby said.

“We have a healthy lineup and no one’s out due to suspensions, so the girls are all ready to go.”

The fifth-ranked Hounds, who had a 12-13-3 regular season record, had a busy schedule after the Christmas break as they posted a 9-5-1 mark to pass the Battlefords Sharks in the standings.

“The back half of the year went much better for us,” Perrett said. “We had a number of girls that were new to the school this year, so it took them a little bit to get settled in.

“We also played the Saskatoon Starts and Regina on a number of occasions, and that just makes you better when you play those top teams.”

The Hounds will be without the services of second year forward Jillian Schmit for the series, as she’s missed the last month with a separated shoulder.

Following Thursday’s opener, which will see the Bears were their Humboldt Broncos tribute jerseys that will be auctioned off after the game to help support the SJHL’s Mental Assistance Fund, the Hounds will host the second contest in the series at the Duncan McNeill Arena on Saturday night.

The Bears will welcome the Hounds back to the Art Hauser Centre for game three at 7 p.m. Monday.

If needed, a fourth game would be held in Wilcox on Wednesday, March 13, while a fifth and deciding would take place on Thursday, March 14 in Prince Albert at 7 p.m.

The other two quarter-final series get underway Thursday, as the second seeded Rebels will host the seventh ranked Melville Prairie Fire and the third seeded Swift Current Wildcats will go up against the sixth ranked Sharks.

The Stars, who went 27-1 in the regular season, have earned a bye to the semifinal round.