Northern Bears head into final round robin game with knockout stage in sight

Brooke Archer stopped 38 of 42 shots against the Notre Dame Hounds on Thursday night at the Esso Cup. --Photo from Hockey Canada

Win and they’re in. That’s all the Prince Albert Northern Bears have to do on Friday to punch their ticket into the semi finals at the Esso Cup. They’re currently holding onto third place in the six team standings, but the Notre Dame Hounds and Northern Selects are nipping at their heels with just one game remaining in round robin play.

The Bears fell 4-2 to the Hounds on Thursday night, but head coach Steve Young was happy with the way his team fought throughout the game.

“I thought it was a good game, and both teams worked very hard,” he said. “Notre Dame is a team that we’re used to seeing, and they do a lot of good things right. We wanted to make sure that we were doing the same thing, but we faltered a couple of times. We felt that we played a hard game against them, which is good for our team.”

Prince Albert and Notre Dame played a scoreless first period, but the Hounds jumped out to a big 3-0 lead in the second period with the help of a pair of powerplay goals. Ryann Perrett opened the scoring 11:56 into the middle frame with an even strength marker, before adding her second of the night on the man advantage 15:26 into the second. Keara Merriman gave the Hounds a 3-0 lead with 1:37 to go in the frame on another man advantage.

“We know Notre Dame has a very good powerplay and that’s a strength that they have,” Young said. “I think the toughest thing that we have found in this tournament is that they have so many officials, so you have to adjust to what the different officials are calling. Once we got that figured out, I think we got better, but we knew Notre Dame’s powerplay was going to be key, and it was for them on Thursday.

Payten Evans widened the gap 3:52 into the third to put Notre Dame up 4-0, but Tristyn Endicott scored twice for the Bears in the final frame to make it a 4-2 final. Despite going down 4-0 in the third period, Young was proud of the way his team kept fighting to score a couple of goals.

“We know this tournament is one game at a time, and it’s important that you work hard from start to finish,” he explained. “I’ve been very proud of the girls, and we have to continue to play strong.  We went hard at them and we did what we needed to do.”

The Bears head into their most important game yet of the Esso Cup on Friday night, when they battle the Northern Selects, who are just one point behind Prince Albert in the standings. A win in any fashion would secure their spot in the knockout stage, but any loss combined with a Hounds win would send the Bears home empty handed. If both the Bears and Hounds lose in regulation, Prince Albert would advance. If the Bears lose in regulation and the Hounds lose in overtime, Notre Dame would advance.

“These girls have figured out that they deserve to be here just like the other teams, and they have continued to work hard,” Young said. “For the hockey club, I want to see them continue to work hard and be rewarded for it today.”