Bears fall 5-2 to league leading Rebels

Prince Albert Bears goaltender Janae Neufeld searches for a loose puck after making one of her 26 saves against the Regina Rebels on Sunday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Bears built an early lead, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the league leading Regina Rebels on Sunday.

Paris Oleksyn had two goals and Janae Neufeld made 26 saves as the Bears jumped out to a 2-1 first period lead before eventually falling 5-2 at the Art Hauser Centre.

Coach Jeff Willoughby said the contest was a good measuring-stick game for his team. Despite the loss, he was pleased with most of his team’s play.

“For the first 45 minutes I thought we were right there,” Willoughby said afterwards. “The shots were pretty low and close. It was a tight-checking game for both teams. We’ve just got to turn that performance into 60 minutes. It’s not impossible. I think they’re setting the standard for our league. We just have to reach that and surpass it.”

“I think we worked really well together as a team,” Oleksyn added. “There’s some (things), like winning battles in the corner and beating people to the puck, that we need to work on. But, as a team we worked pretty well.

The Rebels entered Sunday’s contest with just one loss in 15 games this season and it wasn’t long before they opened the scoring. Allee Gerrard tipped in Penny Bellefontaine’s point shot just 2:38 into the first period to make it 1-0 for the visitors.

The Bears responded just 15 seconds later when Oleksyn intercepted a breakout pass and beat Rebels netminder Chantel Weller blocker side.

Prince Albert took the lead on the power play with just over two minutes to play in the period. Oleksyn was left all alone at the side of the net and tapped in a loose puck to make it 2-1.

“It felt pretty good to get the first one in after we just got scored on,” Oleksyn said afterwards. “Then the second was on our power play, with Andy (Brooklyn Anderson) and Jasper (Desmarais) also getting the assists on that making it a line goal, so it felt pretty good.”

The lead didn’t last long, however. Shaelyn Myers’ goal with 12 seconds left in the first sent the two teams into the first intermission tied at two.

The Rebels jumped in front for good when Neena Brick scored on a 3-on-1 at 4:19 of the second period. The visitors then poured it on in the third, outshooting Prince Albert 14-4 and cashing in on two power play opportunities to make the final 5-2.

“We had that confidence, just taking their time and space away consistently.” Willoughby said when asked what the Bears did differently those first two periods. “The shot clock showed (Regina) had, I think, 11 shots after a period and a half, so if you’re keeping them to 11 shots you must be doing something right.”

The loss was the second in a row for the Bears, who head in to the Christmas break in third place in the SFMHL standings. They’re off until Jan. 3, when they play the first of three straight games against the second place Swift Current Wildcats. The Wildcats are six points ahead of the Bears, and have five games in hand.

Willoughby said he’s happy with the club’s performance through the first half of the season, but there is still room for improvement.

“We’ve played some good measuring-stick games lately with (the) Mandy Schwartz (Tournament) and today,” he explained. “It’s evident in our results which areas we need to improve in, so they know that. We start back Jan. 2, so show up rested, show up ready to work. That’s our message.”