First impressions

Prince Albert Northern Bears forward Story Navrot races Westman's Tori Williams to the puck during the first period of P.A.'s 6-4 win over the Wildcats at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday night. (Josef Jacobson/Daily Herald)

Northern Bears beat Manitoba’s Westman Wildcats 6-4 in Game 1 of best-of-three West Regionals

The Prince Albert Northern Bears scored five-straight goals to defeat Manitoba’s Westman Wildcats 6-4 at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday night. The Bears now lead the best-of-three West Regionals 1-0 with the winner earning a spot in the national female midget ‘AAA’ championship, the Esso Cup.

“It’s absolutely critical for us to start with a win. It’s something to build off of positively,” Bears coach Jeff Willoughby said.

“(The Wildcats) are really strong on the puck and they’re smart. They don’t over-forecheck, they don’t give up two-on-one situations too often, they’re efficient in their skating. They’re a good team. There’s a reason why they finished first in Manitoba.”

It took P.A. most of the first period to become acquainted with the Wildcats, a team they haven’t played since an exhibition matchup in January 2016. Westman scored on their second and third shots of the game to seize a 2-0 lead heading into intermission. Willoughby described it as a tentative and anxious first period.

“Towards the end of the first I thought we had a couple chances that could have went in and we just said, ‘We have to build off that,’” Willoughby said.

“And they did.”

Kate Ball put P.A. on the board just over two minutes into the second period. Later in the period Jadyn Kushniruk tied the score for the Bears and netted the go-ahead marker with four minutes to go in the frame. With 30 seconds remaining Story Navot scored the home team’s fourth goal of the second. After 40 minutes, it was a 4-2 P.A. game.

Brooklyn Anderson extended the Bears lead to 5-2 in the third period, but that’s when the Wildcats started to fight back. Westman scored a pair of goals about one minute apart late in the frame to bring the game to within one. The Wildcats continued to press, eventually pulling the goalie for the extra attacker. That plan would backfire, however, with the Bears firing the puck into the empty net for a 6-4 win.

Game 2 of the West Regionals is Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drop is 7 p.m.

“We told the girls we just have to prepare mentally to play a 60-minute game tomorrow,” Willoughby said.

“In all we probably played 40 minutes of Bears hockey. We need to play 60. So mentally, start preparing yourself right now for tomorrow’s game.”