It wasn’t the storybook ending the Prince Albert Northern Bears envisioned at the start of the year, but their season came to a close Thursday with a 6-1 loss to the Stoney Creek Sabres in the final game of Esso Cup preliminary play.
Bears head coach Steve Young says Stoney Creek provided a unique challenge compared to other teams in the tournament.
“We knew they were a strong hockey club. They play a different game than a lot of teams in this tournament, they make you turn over pucks. They play a patient game and attack. We knew that and I thought we did some good things at times. I give them credit, they did what they needed to do to win.”
Caleigh Tiller would open the scoring for Stoney Creek with a wrist shot that would beat Bears netminder Brooke Archer high blocker side to give the Sabres an early lead at the 7:40 mark of the first period. Jaela Carter and Holly Vannetten assisted on the play.
It appeared Stoney Creek would take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but Jaela Carter would burst into the Prince Albert zone with speed and sneak a backhand shot past Archer with just 8.3 seconds to go in the opening frame
Shots favored Stoney Creek 12-7 after one period of play.
Stoney Creek would pick up the lone goal of the second period on the power play at the 10:20 mark. Holly Vannetten would pick up her second point of the night with the goal. Jaela Carter and Madison Burr assisted on the play.
It didn’t take long for Prince Alberty to break through on the scoreboard in the third period and it came from a rather unlikely source.
In 36 games this season combined between SFU18AAHL and Esso Cup play, Ella Clarke had not scored a goal. That would change just 0:50 into the third period as she would put a rebound home for her first ever U18 AAA goal. Claudia Lammers and Julia Cey assisted on the play.
Young says Clarke’s goal provided energy to the bench for Prince Albert.
“She had her chances and she has been so close. When she scored tonight, our whole bench was excited. She is an energy player and she was rewarded tonight so we were happy for her.”
Stoney Creek would respond less than two minutes later as Aviah Bramer would sneak one through the pads of Archer to restore the three goal advantage for the Sabres.
The Sabres would pull away in the final minutes with a pair of power play goals from Holly Vannetten and Peyton Anzivino
Mya Castrillo made 19 saves in net for Stoney Creek while Brooke Archer turned aside 30 of 36 Sabre shots in the net for Prince Albert.
Onto the next chapter
With the final chapter in the 2022-2023 season written for the Prince Albert Northern Bears, it is the end of the line in the U18 AAA career of the team’s 2005-born players.
Young says the graduating group of players for Prince Albert were great to work with over their time in the program.
“It’s special. At any level, they come in young and think they are going to be here for a long time and all of a sudden, the years are up. I think that really hit the ‘05 [group] tonight, that this is it for them. They’re going to move on to bigger and better things, but at the same time, it takes a lot of emotion out of them to understand that this is it.”
One of the graduating players for Prince Albert is forward Jasmine Kohl. In the fall, Kohl will be attending Lake Forest College in Illinois, playing both softball and hockey while pursuing a degree in psychology.
Kohl says during her time in Prince Albert she learned several skills that she will apply when she suits up for the Foresters.
“I think that going through the practices and learning and breaking everything down has taught me how to become a better player, but more so a better person. I think I’ll be able to take that on with me because it’s a tougher game and it’s a lot faster and I need to know all those little attributes to keep going.”
Kohl appeared in parts of three seasons with Prince Albert after moving from her hometown of Moose Jaw.
She says her final season in Prince Albert was very memorable.
“I think my experience this last year was pretty entertaining. I feel like we learned a lot of new things in practices and we used them in games which were super awesome. The school and community was great. We made it a big deal in Prince Albert which was great.”
Unfortunately, not every graduating player on the Northern Bears will be moving onto play hockey at the collegiate level.
Goaltender Brooke Archer is not playing college hockey next season and she will begin her studies to pursue her goal of becoming a pharmacist.
She says playing in the Esso Cup in Prince Albert was a great closing act to her hockey career.
“It was a great feeling. As a team, the last three seasons I’ve played we’ve never seen the rinks packed this much. It was really special , it was a good way to go out I think. Our team did all we could do. We kept up with the teams and that’s all I can really ask for.”
Before the start of the third period, Archer was the lone player on the Northern Bears out on the bench with about seven minutes left in the intermission.
An emotional Archer said she needed the extra time to mentally prepare herself for the last period.
“I was trying to talk to myself to prepare for the third period. It was my last twenty minutes of hockey and I was preparing to leave it all out on the ice.”
Across three seasons in Prince Albert, Archer posted a 14-20 record, a 3.38 Goals Against Average and a.901 save percentage.
She says her time in Hockeytown North was crucial for helping her become who she is today.
“It’s been good. These last three years, I’ve really grown as a person. I’ve met friends that will be family forever that I can come back and visit. It’s really helped me a lot.”
The 2023 Esso Cup continues Friday with semifinals at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Matchups are still yet to be announced.