Hounds knock Bears out of playoffs

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Tori MacDonald of the Prince Albert Northern Bears tries to slow down Notre Dame Hounds forward Claire Nimegeers at the Art Hauser Centre Monday night.

For the first time since 2011, the Prince Albert Northern Bears will not be among the final four teams left competing for the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title.

Their 2018-19 campaign came to an end Wednesday at the Duncan McNeil Arena in Wilcox as the fifth-seeded Notre Dame Hounds picked up a 5-1 win over the fourth-ranked Bears to wrap up their quarter-final series in four games.

Although they outshot the Hounds by a 21-15 margin, the Bears could only solve goaltender Kaitlyn Ross once as Jadyn Kushniruk scored late in the second period to cut the hosts’ lead to 4-1.

“It was a pretty much a carbon copy of how things went for us in Game 2 down there last weekend,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said. “The shots were fairly similar in both games but we just couldn’t cash in on our scoring chances.

“That was probably one of the contributing factors in the series. I can count the number of scoring chances we had that went across their crease that we couldn’t put home.”

Sophie Young led the way for the Hounds with a goal and two assists, while Kaitlyn Gilroy scored twice.

Ally Kosteniuk and Claire Nimegeers had a goal and an assist each in the victory, which saw Ross make 20 saves as she ended the series with a 1.76 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.

“We were a lot better than we were in Prince Albert for Game 3,” Hounds head coach Craig Perrett said. “We applied what we learned from that game into Wednesday’s game, as we were a lot more prepared to play.”

“There was a lot of confidence on our part in this series. Kaitlyn was phenomenal in goal in every single game, which went a long way towards giving the girls the extra boost that they needed in those close games. I felt like they got better as the series went on.”

Beuker stopped 10 shots in her final game in a Bears uniform, as she will be graduating from the midget ranks along with Kushniruk, Miranda Heidt, Kate Ball and twin sisters Abby and Alli Soyko.

With the season now over, the Bears are now starting to gear up for the 2019-20 season, which will see the program host the Esso Cup national championship.

“For the girls that are coming back, I think they all realize the grind that you go through during the season,” Willoughby said.

“It’s certainly not a sprint when you get to this level and they know that. You have to be ready to work hard every day in order to get to where you want to be, as every team in the league is working just as hard.”

Meanwhile, the Hounds will know prepare for their best-of-five semifinal series with the Saskatoon Stars, which gets underway on Friday night in Saskatoon.

“Saskatoon’s a strong team, but we’re going to be focusing on our game and what makes us successful,” Perrett said.

“One of the biggest things that we have to make sure of doing against them is to not over pursue pucks. If you do that against the Stars, you are going to be in a bit of trouble.”

The other final four matchup, which gets underway Saturday, will see the second-seeded Regina Rebels and the third-ranked Swift Current Wildcats.