Hounds edge Bears in series opener

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Kate Ball's shot bounces off of the post during the late stages of the Prince Albert Northern Bears' 3-2 loss to the Notre Dame Hounds at the Art Hauser Centre Thursday.

Following a near three-week break due to the Canada Winter Games, the Prince Albert Northern Bears got back in the swing of things Thursday at the Art Hauser Centre.

However, they now find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger to start off their best-of-five Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League quarter-final series as they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Notre Dame Hounds.

“It’s nice to get into the grind of playing games again, but we need to take advantage of our chances,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said after the game.

“Of the 34 shots that we had tonight, six or seven of them were really good opportunities, so to only get two goals was disappointing. However, I told the girls that we can’t hang our heads low as we are still in this.”

The Bears had a number of chances to tie the game late, including a shot from Kate Ball that hit the post with 27 seconds to go, but they were unable to solve Hounds netminder Kaitlyn Ross.

“When Kaitlyn is on her game and we’re trying to hold on to a lead, I’m really happy to have her in our net,” Hounds head coach Craig Perrett said.

“We just tried to keep things simple out there tonight. If we try to play fancy, we end up getting into trouble. However, this is going to be a series where it comes down to one shot as these teams are so evenly matched.”

It was a well-balanced offensive attack for the fifth-seeded Hounds as they got goals from Kaitlyn Gilroy, Claire Nimegeers and affiliated player Keara Merriman.

“She’s someone that has a really hard shot so it was nice to see her step up like that,” Perrett said of Merriman, who plays for the Hounds’ midget AA program.

“That was only her second game at this level and she really adapted well to the playoff pace.”

Kailey Ledoux led the way for the hosts as she scored in the second period and helped to set up Paris Oleksyn’s third period marker.

Jesse Herner had a pair of assists for the fourth seeded Bears, while Lexi Beuker made 23 saves.

The two sides will travel to Wilcox for a rematch on Saturday, with game three taking place at the Art Hauser Centre on Monday at 7 p.m.

“I think the biggest thing we need to work on is just getting more bodies in front of the net or having someone drive towards the goal when we’re coming in on offence,” Willoughby said.

“If you look at Notre Dame’s first goal, that was a result of them just hammering away until the puck it went in. We can do that as well.”

If needed, the fourth game in the series will be held at the Duncan McNeill Arena on Wednesday, with a fifth and deciding matchup taking place in Prince Albert on Thursday, March 14 at 7 p.m.

The Bears also raised $5,000 for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Mental Assistance Fund on Thursday as they auctioned off their Humboldt Broncos “We Play for Them” jerseys that they wore for their last two regular season games and their playoff opener.

The other two SFMAAAHL playoff series got underway Thursday, as the second-seeded Regina Rebels shutout the seventh-ranked Melville Prairie Fire 5-0, while the third-ranked Swift Current Wildcats picked up a 6-2 win over the sixth-seeded Battlefords Sharks.