For the first time in nearly a half decade, the Prince Albert Northern Bears don’t have the goal of hosting the Esso Cup at the outset of the season.
However, the Bears are looking make noise within the Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League (SFU18AAAHL) this upcoming year.
Northern Bears head coach Steve Young says the experience that Prince Albert gained at the Esso Cup last April will be crucial for this year’s team.
“The biggest thing is you can gain experience from everything and to go to the Esso Cup and see teams that we competed against is a big thing. I think this year being a little different, that we have to earn our spot wherever we’re headed this year. The girls have to understand that and be prepared to work hard.”
Prince Albert will look to replace the production lost from their graduating 2005-born players from last season. The list of graduating Bears players from last year includes Jacquelyne Chief (22 points in 30 games), Jasmine Kohl (19 points in 30 games), Kassie Ferster (15 points in 30 games), Claudia Lammers (13 points in 30 games), Jazlyn Petreman (9 points in 30 games), Kaebree Young (5 points in 30 games), Taelyr Ballard (4 points in 30 games) and goaltender Brooke Archer (.908 save percentage, 3.13 Goals Against Average in 19 games).
Young says he feels the Bears have done an adequate job to replace the production of last year’s graduates in the lineup.
“We feel good about it. I think one thing we have done with our hockey club this year, we’ve added a lot of girls with experience in the league, so we’re hoping that will help and then the younger ones that don’t have any experience, we’re hoping they can jump in and learn right away.”
Last season, the Northern Bears finished in fifth place in the SFU18AAAHL standings posting a record of 9-18-1-2. Prince Albert would fall in the first round of the playoffs to the fourth seeded Notre Dame Hounds in three games.
The Northern Bears would compete in the 2023 Esso Cup as the host team at the Art Hauser Centre, but would finished the tournament with a 0-0-5-0 record and not qualify for the playoffs.
Young says that Prince Albert will need to compete as a team and be a tough opponent to play against.
“I think the biggest thing for our hockey club is we have to be a team that competes every night no matter who we’re playing. At the end of the game, the opposition has to know that they played a tough game.”
Last season, the Northern Bears did not have a single player finish as a point-per-game scorer. Young says Prince Albert will look to find success as a team, rather than relying on individuals to carry the load.
“Their strength is we’re going to have to do it as a group. I don’t think we’re going to have one particular person that we’re going to have to rely on or want to rely on. We want to make sure we rely on everybody as a group. There are going to be individuals that excel more than others, and that’s just hockey. For us to have success, it has to be as a group.”
One key returning player for the Northern Bears this season is forward Julia Cey, who led Prince Albert in scoring last season notching 25 points in 30 games played during the regular season.
Cey says she is optimistic heading into the season.
“I’m really excited. I think we have lots of experience from our past and other team members coming in from around the league and I think it’ll be positive in a season of growth. I think we will win some games.”
Cey has participated in the previous two Esso Cups with the Northern Bears in 2022 (Okotoks and 2023 (Prince Albert). She says although they didn’t win a game in 2023, there were positives from the tournament.
“We’re always building towards something, we didn’t win a game (at Esso), but I think we’re working throughout the whole thing, and I think we’ve got that kind of drive within this group too.”
Cey adds that the Northern Bears will have the drive to succeed no matter what situations they face this season.
“I think we’ve got grit. We might not be the most skilled, which we could end up being that. But I know we’ve got grit no matter what, so I think we could do anything.”
The Northern Bears open the pre-season on Sept. 17 when they welcome the Battlefords Sharks to the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drops at 4 p.m.
The Bears will travel to a tournament in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba Sept. 23-24 before beginning their regular season home schedule against the Weyburn Gold Wings on Sept. 30