Bears set to play first home games in almost two months

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Jasper Desmarais celebrates with Prince Albert Northern Bears teammate Kate Ball after she scored a goal in their season opener against the Weyburn Gold Wings on Sept. 29.

A return to the Art Hauser Centre has been a long time coming for the Prince Albert Northern Bears.

After starting off the season at home with a pair of wins over the Weyburn Gold Wings on Sept. 29 and 30, the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League club has played their last eight games on the road.

They will finally be back in familiar surroundings this weekend, as they host the Swift Current Wildcats at 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s strange to have that many games on the road in a row, but that’s just the way it worked with the schedule this season,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.

“We’re just excited to be back at home and playing with our fans cheering us on,” Bears forward Abby Soyko added. “It’s been quite a long time since we didn’t have to get on the bus for a game.”

Following their eight game road trip, the Bears have put together a 5-4-1 record to sit in fourth place in the SFMAAAHL standings and are currently two points back of the Battlefords Sharks.

They started their time away from home on a winning note on Oct. 6 and 7 with a sweep of the Sharks, but then dropped two straight games to the Regina Rebels on Oct. 27 and 28.

After splitting a weekend set with the Melville Prairie Fire on Nov. 3 and 4, the Bears concluded their road swing with a pair of losses to the undefeated Saskatoon Stars on Nov. 10 and 11.

“When you go on the road for that long, there’s always some added stress and adversity as you go through that many games,” Willoughby said.

“Would we like to have some better results? The answer to that is probably yes, but it is what it is. We have to remember that it’s only November and there’s still a lot of hockey to play and things to work on. I told the girls recently that you could be undefeated and scoring a lot of goals, but there’s still things that you can be better at.”

The biggest positive from the long time away from home for the Bears was the fact that the team got to bond with one another and build some chemistry.

“When you are stuck together for 48 hours you really get to know one another during a weekend,” Soyko said.

“I would say that our attitude is a lot better than it was in that first weekend. We’re playing more for each other now and we’re able to fight back if we find ourselves in trouble.”

The Bears will be going up against a Wildcats squad that is currently in sixth place in the standings with a 3-4-1 record.

They are led by forward Taylor Lind, who has put together back-to-back 50-point campaigns and has committed to play in the NCAA for Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri next season.

“I believe the Wildcats have 16 players back from last year, so we’ll need to have a similar approach to how we’ve faced them in the past,” Willoughby said.

The Bears will be back home next weekend to play the Stars before travelling to Wilcox on Dec. 6-9 for the Mandi Schwartz Tournament.

After a road trip to visit the Wildcats on Dec. 15-16, the Bears last games before Christmas will be against the Sharks on Dec. 21 and 22.