Bears drop first game at Esso Cup

Prince Albert Northern Bears starter Paige Fischer made 37 saves in the loss to the Durham West Lightning on Monday morning at the Esso Cup in Okotoks. --Photo from Facebook/Hockey Canada

The Prince Albert Northern Bears fell in their first game of the Esso Cup 6-2 to the Ontario region champion Durham West Lightning on Monday morning. Despite the loss, head coach Steve Young thought it was a good first game back, after only being on the ice for team practices for the last two months.

“I thought we started really good,” Young said. “It was nice that we were able to keep the game scoreless after the first period, and that really helped to calm the nerves.”

The Bears were able to keep the score tied after one period thanks largely in part to the play of goaltender Paige Fischer, who was forced to make a handful of big saves for her team. The Lightning had four powerplays in the first period alone, but Fischer put a stop to any scoring chances on the score board.

“There were a few powerplays in the first that Ontario had, and I thought we did well enough killing them off,” Young said. “Paige (Fischer) kept us in the game and made the saves when she had to. There were a lot of positives to take away from that first period, and we’re hoping that the girls realize that they deserve to be here as well.”

The Lightning scored the first goal of the tournament 5:52 into the second period, when Kaileigh Quigg finally beat Fischer. Jessica Pellerin added two second period goals as well for the Lightning to go up 3-0. Kassie Ferster scored the first goal of the tournament for Prince Albert with 2:26 to go in the middle frame, making it a 3-1 deficit after 40 minutes. The Bears were outshot 17-6 in that second period, and 29-15 overall heading into the third.

“Everything just kind of happened in bunches,” Young explained. “Whether it was the goals or powerplays that they got, it seemed to come at once.”

The Lightning struck early in the third with three goals in the first five minutes. Sadie Hotles led the way for Ontario in the third, scoring twice, while Taylor Leemrijse added a goal of her own. After surrendering a late second period goal, the Lightning jumped out to a 6-1 lead.

Prince Albert’s leading rookie scorer Julia Cey found the back of the net with 4:32 left in the game cutting it to a 6-2 game, but that’s as close as the Bears would come, as Ontario took the contest by a 6-2 final.

Fischer made 37 saves on 43 shots in the loss, while Sophie Helfenstein stopped 22 of 24 shots in the win for Ontario.

“We just have to make sure that we’re better in limiting our mistakes,” Young added. “At the same time, we have to learn from it quick and move forward. I think consistency has to be the number one thing. If you’re going to be successful in this tournament, you have to be consistent. Mistakes are going to happen both ways, but we have to try and capitalize on the ones that we get, and try to limit the ones that you make.”

Sasha Malenfant, Bree Purcell, Kelsey Ledoux, and Jacquelyne Chief all joined the team for their first game on Monday, after being away in Membertou, Nova Scotia for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship. All four were held pointless in game one at the Esso Cup, but with the travel the quartet had to go through over the last couple of days all the way across the country, it wasn’t a huge surprise to Young. He says fatigue was to be expected of the four, but getting the chance to play some extra games was good for them.

“It was a bit of an adjustment, and obviously travel was the biggest factor for them. I think it helped them by playing games in Nova Scotia and getting back into the game mode. Just the fatigue from travelling is probably the biggest thing they fought through, but I thought all four of them fought through it and did well for the team.”

Up next for the Bears is a meeting with the Quebec champions, the Remparts du Richelieu on Tuesday afternoon. Puck drop is at 3 p.m.

Prince Albert also plays on Wednesday night against the Fraser Valley Rush. Puck drop for that contest is at 5 p.m. Game recaps for both of those contests will be published on Thursday.