Bears return to league play this weekend in Saskatoon

Daily Herald File Photo Prince Albert Northern Bears blueliner McKenzie Mayo keeps a close eye on Emily Holmes of the Saskatoon Stars during a game at the Art Hauser Centre in September.

Heading into this weekend’s slate of Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League games, a scant two points separate third through sixth place in the standings.

Two of those sides will look to solidify their status this weekend at Merlis Belsher in Saskatoon as the third place Prince Albert Northern Bears (7-6) will visit the sixth ranked Saskatoon Stars (5-7-2-0).

“It was a close scrappy game (a 4-3 overtime win for the Bears at the Art Hauser Centre) when we played all the way back in September to start the season,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.

“We don’t to be in a one-goal game like we have been lately, so we’re going to be moving our feet and try to get our offence going a little bit.”

Although the Bears are currently mired in a five-game losing streak in league play, they are coming off a trip to the playoffs at the Mandi Schwartz Tournament last weekend in Millstone and Wilcox.

After going 2-1 in round-robin play, they dropped a 3-2 affair in the consolation semifinal to the Rocky Mountain Raiders and lost a 3-1 contest against the Edmonton Pandas in the seventh place game. 

“It’s always nice to get into the top eight at a strong 16-tournament team like that,” Willoughby said.

“We would like to have that last round-robin game against Regina back, but we’ll have another chance at them (the Rebels) later this season. We played well against the two teams from Alberta, but a lack of offence did us in.”

The playoff games against two Alberta Female Hockey League sides was something that Willoughby was hoping for ahead of the tournament as it will serve as a good test ahead of hosting the Esso Cup in April.

“When you are up against those teams from other leagues, all that you know is their names,” Willoughby said. “You don’t know much about the players, the goaltending, the special teams and how deep each roster is.

“It’s a pretty quick translation once the games get started, but that’s what makes it fun.”

Unlike last year’s trip to the Mandi Schwartz Tournament, which saw Miranda Heidt score seven goals during the weekend, this year’s trip south saw a much more balanced attack from the Bears.

“Everyone took turns during our games and different parts of our team stood out,” Willoughby said.

“The offence was pretty spread out all weekend and it was a real group effort in all aspects of our play.”

The Edge Mountaineers prep program from Calgary took home the tournament title with a 3-2 overtime triumph over the Rebels.

After this weekend’s trip to Saskatoon, the Bears will go back out on the road next Thursday night for a 7:15 p.m. clash with the Battlefords Sharks at the Battleford Arena.

They will return to the Art Hauser Centre at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22 to face the Rebels in their last game before Christmas.