Northern Bears to take on Notre Dame in first round of playoffs

Herald File Photo. The Prince Albert Northern Bears celebrate a goal during a home game earlier this season.

For the second season in a row, the Prince Albert Northern Bears (6-18-3-3) have a first playoff matchup with the Notre Dame Hounds (11-14-2-3).

Notre Dame finished in third place in the Saskatchewan Female Under 18 AAA Hockey League (SFU18AAAHL) standings while Prince Albert finished in sixth place.

Northern Bears head coach Steve Young says the series is shaping up to be very competitive.

“I think it’ll be close. Notre Dame does a good job with their hockey club. We have to be aware that they work hard and we have to be ready all the time to counter that work ethic of theirs.”

The SFU18AAAHL plays best-of-three series in the playoffs to emulate what is done at the USPORTS level. Last season, the Bears and Hounds would go all the way to a winner-take-all third game. Notre Dame would defend home ice with a 4-0 victory in Game 1, Prince Albert would stave off elimination with a 3-0 Game 2 victory at the Art Hauser Centre with the Hounds clinching the series with a 4-0 win in the decisive Game 3.

With the second playoff meeting between the two teams in as many years, there will be familiar faces on both benches during the series.

“A lot of the girls from both teams have experience in this league and the playoffs” Young says. “They will know what to do and they’ve been through it. Hopefully that brings the intensity up and it’s a good series.”

In five games against the Hounds this season, Prince Albert managed two overtime victories, one overtime loss and two losses in regulation.

Young says the Bears didn’t play up to their full potential at times against Notre Dame during the season.

“We were like a jekyll and hyde team. I thought we played really well against them and then there were times where we didn’t play that well. That’s a tribute to them as well. They do work hard, they keep you honest. The year is done now and the playoffs start so it’s nothing-nothing and we have to be ready to go Friday night.”

Raelyn Vezeau is one of the Bears graduating 2006-born players that played in the series against Notre Dame last season. She says the team is feeling confident heading into the series.

“I think it’ll be interesting. I don’t remember a lot from last year, but I feel like we might have a pretty good chance of beating them. There’s been games where it’s been close and into overtime.”

Even with a first round exit last season, the Bears gained invaluable experience as the host team at the 2023 Esso Cup which was hosted at the Art Hauser Centre.

Vezeau says the Bears will look to tap into the experience they gained at the tournament.

“I think it’ll be very important, I can speak from last year and I AP’d the first year and I also got to go to Okotoks but it was an insane experience. (It was) honestly one I’ve never imagined of even being a part of and just the opportunity to do it was insanely special.”

Young says Prince Albert will look to lean on their graduating players throughout the series.

“The ‘06s have been to the (Esso) Cup two times as well. They understand the intensity of the play. That’s what they have to bring to the dressing room and the practices and everything down the stretch as well.”

Season Series At A Glance

Dec. 3: Notre Dame 5 @ Prince Albert 4 (OT)
Jan. 6: Prince Albert 3 @ Notre Dame 2 (OT)
Jan. 7: Prince Albert 2 @ Notre Dame 6
Feb. 24: Notre Dame 5 @ Prince Albert 0
Feb. 25: Notre Dame 2 @ Prince Albert 3 (OT)

Game 1 of the series goes Friday night at Duncan McNeill Arena in Wilcox. The Bears will host Game 2 at 7 p.m. Sunday night at the Art Hauser Centre.