You could argue that Sunday night was the most anticipated game in the history of the Prince Albert Northern Bears franchise.
A trio of second period goals proved costly as Prince Albert dropped their opening game of the 2023 Esso Cup preliminary play to the Atlantic representative Northern Selects 4-3 Sunday night at the Art Hauser Centre.
Prince Albert was initially awarded the 2020 edition of the Esso Cup, but due to several cancellations and postponements the event finally kicked off on Sunday.
Northern Bears head coach Steve Young says it was a special feeling to be on the bench for the Bears first Esso Cup game at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It was exciting. For these girls, it’s been a long time coming. I think once they got on the ice and realized that this was it, it was good. Good crowd tonight and a great opening ceremony. Everything went perfectly except the result on the ice for us.”
After a slashing penalty against Prince Albert’s Tristyn Endicott, the Northern Selects would open up the scoring thanks to Bree MacPherson’s first goal of the tournament at the 3:50 mark of the first period. Kendall Doiron had the lone assist.
Prince Albert would respond at the 7:31 mark of the opening frame as Sasha Malenfant would fire a wrist shot past Selects goaltender Jorja Burrows to knot the score at 1-1. Jazlyn Petreman had the lone assist on the play.
Malenfant says the reality of scoring the first goal of the Esso Cup for PA is still settling in.
“It was so special. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. It didn’t really feel real.”
Malenfant adds she was grateful for the support that the Bears received from the Art Hauser Centre faithful.
“For sure the rink is all decked out. The crowd adds a lot. It shows us a lot of support to have PA behind us as we strive for greatness.”
The Northern Bears would have a premium opportunity to take the lead as Jasmine Kohl found a loose puck at the mouth of the crease but couldn’t lift it over the left pad of Selects goaltender Jorja Burrows.
Shots favored Prince Albert 13-10 after twenty minutes of play.
Northern Selects would take the lead just 1:12 into the second period as Laci Boyd would strike for her first goal of the tournament. Erin MacNeil and Brooke Williams picked up assists on the play.
Olivia Marks would double the Select lead to 3-1 at the 2:26 mark of the middle frame. Williams and Grace MacDougall assisted on the play.
After a penalty against the Selects’ Karyss Ross, the Bears power play would cut the lead to 3-2 at the 3:59 mark as Kassie Ferster would strike for her first goal of the Esso Cup. Julia Cey and Tristyn Endicott assisted on the play.
The Selects would restore the two-goal advantage at the 5:56 mark of the second period as Laci Boyd found the back of the net for the second time in the hockey game. Doiron picked up her second point of the night with an assist on the play.
Prince Albert led the shots 25-20 after forty minutes of play.
THe Bears had been out of action since Mar. 13, a 4-0 loss to the Notre Dame Hounds
Young says that Prince Albert was able to shake off the cobwebs early.
“We knew going into this tournament that the first 10 minutes were going to be key for us to get our legs back underneath us in game action. As the game went on, we played more like the team we are capable of playing. Frustrating anytime you lose a game where you outshoot the opposition, but give them credit for making the saves they had to tonight.”
THe lone goal of the last frame would come off the tape of Sasha Malenfant who would fire a backhand shot past Jorja Burrows to cut the Select lead to just one at 4-3 at the 19:22 mark of the third period.
Burrows made 34 saves in net for the Northern Selects while Brooke Archer made 20 for the Northern Bears.
Although the result of the game didn’t finish the way the Northern Bears had wanted, Young says the Bears showed a level of grit that they will need to carry throughout the week.
“It’s important that we have heart. We have to play as a team. We can’t rely on one individual and we have to play as a team and work hard. We got to have energy doing it that way. We have to do the same thing tomorrow and the next day as well.”
THe Northern Selects return to action at 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon against Quebec while the Northern Bears play at 7 p.m. against the Fraser Valley Rush