Northern Bears back on the ice

Daily Herald f Prince Albert Northern Bears assistant coach Curtis Olsen goes over a drill during the team’s prospect camp at the Art Hauser Centre on Sunday afternoon.

Will host Lloydminster in pre-season game on Sept. 12

Sunday’s on-ice sessions at the Art Hauser Centre were a long time coming for the Prince Albert Northern Bears.

The Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League club hosted a prospect camp and also welcomed their regular players back on the ice for a practice session as they began their preparations for the 2021-22 season.

“Even going back to last fall, the anticipation level is a lot higher,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said.

“I think there’s a little more optimism compared to last season and it’s nice to be able to think ahead on things as we’re getting closer to normal and hopefully have a full season ahead.”

Sunday’s camp allowed the Bears to get a closer look at the upcoming players in the Under-15 age group that will be moving into the Under-18 ranks this fall.

“I think this is the first time in a couple of years that we have been able to have a prospect camp like this,” Willoughby said. “It was a smaller group with around 40 players but that’s a nice number to work around as it gives our coaches the chance to work with them through the drills.

“We anticipate that a lot of those players will be playing for local teams this season, so we’ll have the chance to see them in person as the year goes on and watch how they progress.”

The Bears also held an on-ice session with their returning players on Sunday, as they gear up to host the Esso Cup next April.

The club was to have held the event in 2020 and 2021, but both events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That 45-minute practice as basically a warmup to get the feet moving and have the girls get used to touching the puck again in certain situations,” Willoughby said. “I thought the practice had a really good pace to it.

“Our next two weeks are going to be full practice sessions as we get ready for our pre-season slate in September and early October. It’s going to be a really busy stretch, but we’re all excited for it.”

The Bears will begin their exhibition schedule on Saturday, Sept. 11 in Lloydminster against the host Steelers, with a rematch slated for Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Art Hauser Centre at 1:30 p.m.

The team will then travel to Calgary for the Firestarter Tournament from Sept. 16-19 before going to Swift Current for a league showcase event on Oct. 2 and 3.

Their regular season slate will start off with a four-game road trip, which begins on Oct. 9 and 10 against the Regina Rebels.

After visiting the Battlefords Sharks on Oct. 14 and the Saskatoon Stars on Oct. 17, the Bears will return to the Art Hauser Centre on Oct. 21 for a 7 p.m. meeting with the Sharks.

“We didn’t really have a large turnover of players from last year’s team,” Willoughby said.

“I think there’s a lot of strengths with this group. Our defence and goaltending are just as good as any in the league and I think our forwards are going to be tenacious and very hard to play against. We should get scoring from all over the lineup and I’m really excited to be coaching this team.”

Curtis Olsen will once again join Willoughby on the bench this season, while Steve Young and his daughter Morgan have also joined the coaching staff.

“It’s going to be a really unique experience to have my daughter joining me on the bench,” Willoughby said. “Morgan’s not too far removed from playing in U Sports (for the Saskatchewan Huskies) and she’s not that much older than the girls on the team, so I think she’ll be a really good role model for them.

“Steve brings a wealth of knowledge to our team as well, especially with his experience in the WHL (as a head coach for the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Prince Albert Raiders). We’re really excited to have him be a part of our team.”