Previewing the 2020-21 Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League Season

Daily Herald File Photo The Saskatoon Stars and Prince Albert Northern Bears will renew acquaintances with each other on Saturday afternoon at the Art Hauser Centre to start off the 2020-21 Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League season.

While the teams in the Saskatchewan Male Under-18 AAA Hockey League (then known as the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League) and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League got their playoffs underway last year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, that wasn’t the case for the then-named Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.

Their playoff series were set to begin on the second weekend of March, but that came to a screeching halt on March 12 when Hockey Canada shut down all activities.

As the newly-rebranded Saskatchewan Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League opens their 2020-21 campaign this weekend, the situation that all seven teams find themselves in is the same as last year.

With the Prince Albert Northern Bears slated to host the Esso Cup at a yet-to-be-determined date, they will be looking to enter the tournament through the front door.

However, the other six sides will all be looking to spoil those plans and make the trip to the Art Hauser Centre to vie for a national title. 

Battlefords Sharks

The Sharks are the only team that made a coaching change during the off-season as Ricci Girolami was brought into to replace Kelsey Harder, who was the bench boss for the previous two seasons.

After finishing in sixth place in the league standings following their third-straight seven-win season, the Sharks will be relying on their veteran players to lead the way as defender Madison Glynn and forwards Jordyn Blais and Logan Halter all had 13 points last season and are entering their fourth campaigns in the league.

Prince Albert product Madison Guitard is also back for her second year in the Sharks forward core after posing five points in her rookie campaign.

The team will also have to replace two key players as co-goaltender of the year Haylie Biever graduated to the Minot State Beavers program, while 16-year-old forward Kiana McNinch (who led the team in scoring last year with 20 points in 30 games) has joined a Lloydminster Steelers side that will host the Esso Cup in 2022.

Notre Dame Hounds

The Hounds, who are again coached by Craig Perrett, snagged the third spot in the standings last year but will lose three of the four top scorers from the team are moving on as forwards Claire Nimegeers and Kas Kingston have both graduated, along with co-defender of the year recipient Anna Liese-King.

However, their top scorer returns as future Robert Morris Colonials forward Ryann Perrett will look to improve upon her 31-point freshman campaign that saw her earn the league’s rookie of the year honours, while Kaitlyn Gilroy and Olivia Leier will look to step up their offensive output.

There’s also a connection to the Prince Albert Raiders on this year’s Hounds lineup as Evan Herman’s sister Julianna will make her debut for the Under-18 squad in Wilcox.

Prince Albert Northern Bears

As head coach Jeff Willoughby once again prepares to build the Bears for a run at the Esso Cup, he’ll do so with a dramatically different roster that features nine rookies.

Returning blueliners Paige Dawson and Taylor Leitch, along with former Regina Rebel Penny Bellafontaine, will be called upon to lead the way on defence after Jesse Herner, Tori McDonald, McKenzie Mayo and Kailee Peppler all moved on.

Although Brooklyn Anderson and Jasper Desmarais have both graduated to the Trinity Western Spartans and the Saskatchewan Huskies respectively, the Bears will welcome back future Huskies forward Paris Oleksyn, who led the team in scoring last year with 26 points.

Among the other key returnees for the Bears this season are forwards Kailey Ledoux, Rhea Peterson and Kiara Stewart, along with second-year netminder Janae Neufeld.

Regina Rebels

When the campaign came to an end, the Rebels were enjoying their best year since winning the league in 2013 as they compiled a 27-2-1 record and enjoyed a plus-117 goal difference during the regular season.

While goaltender Chantel Weller, blueliners Hanna Bailey and Emma DeCorby, and forwards Lauren Focht, Shaelyn Myers and Tavia Terry have all moved on, the biggest loss for the Rebels is the departure of league MVP Neena Brick.

Brick, who led the league in scoring last year with 58 points, has joined the Ontario-based Oakville Hornets before joining the NCAA’s Colgate Raiders in 2021.

Despite those losses, the Rebels will welcome back five forwards (Allee Gerrard, Megan Hayhurst, Jasmine Lamotte, Alexis Petford and Gwyneth Pritchard) and three defenders (Larissa Bohlken, Olivia Leggett and co-defender of the year Sydney Pedersen) that posted double-digit points last year.

Goaltender Payton Schlamp is also back for the Mike Merk coached squad this season after posing a 13-1-0 record with an 1.36 goals against average, .936 save percentage and four shutouts last year.

Saskatoon Stars

Robin Ulrich’s first year as the head coach for the Stars saw the team finish in fifth place in the standings as the program began to reload following four league titles in five seasons.

Among the changes this year is the graduation of four-year netminder Arden Kliewer, blueliner Emily Holmes and forwards Reauna Blight and Anica Gauthier, while 2004-born forward Ava Metzger has joined the Swift Current Wildcats.

The team will welcome back their top two leading scorers in Sydney Mercier and Makena Kushniruk, while Halle Helperl and Alison Olorenshaw also reached double digits in scoring last year.

While the defence will be younger, Prince Albert product Kaitlyn Cadrain should help everyone get up to speed early as she’s returning for her third season in between the pipes.

Swift Current Wildcats

The Wildcats will have a dramatically different look to their offence compared to last year’s squad that earned the second seed for the playoffs with five of their top six scorers moving on, including leading scorer Sara Kendall who takes her 47 points to the Saskatchewan Huskies.

While Terry Pavely will be looking for more offensive contributions from throughout the lineup, 41-point scorer Baylee Kirwan is back for the Wildcats on offence as she prepares to join the Robert Morris Colonials in the NCAA next year.

Another big piece for the team is fourth-year netminder Amaya Giraudier, who was the co-goaltender of the year last season after posting a 14-1-0 record with an 1.20 goals against average, a .949 save percentage and four shutouts.

Weyburn Gold Wings

After earning just one win in the three seasons since hosting the Esso Cup in 2016, the Gold Wings improved dramatically last season as they earned five victories, but they still found themselves at the bottom of the standings.

Among the key players for this year’s team, which is coached by Chad Kish, is fourth-year forward Dakota Bowler and netminder Lexi Peace.

Bowler was the only skater to reach double digits in scoring last season with 13 points in 30 games, while Peace earned three of the Gold Wings’ victories and is eligible to play for two more seasons.

A Sure-To-Be-Wrong League Table Prediction

  1. Regina Rebels
  2. Swift Current Wildcats
  3. Prince Albert Northern Bears
  4. Saskatoon Stars
  5. Notre Dame Hounds
  6. Battlefords Sharks
  7. Weyburn Gold Wings

Who Wins The League

In a lot of ways, the current outlook of the Female Under-18 AAA circuit is similar to where it was in March.

The Rebels appear to be the class of the league once again and are my pick to come away with a championship, while the Wildcats look to be in solid shape for second spot with the Bears, Stars, Hounds and Sharks all close behind.

For all of the teams, the ability to gel right away could make the difference of where they end up in the final standings and who they would face in a yet-to-be-announced playoff format.

Another thing that’s worth remembering is that the league is split into the two divisions until at least the new year as they follow the protocols put in place by the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.

The Bears, Sharks and Stars are in a three-team North Division, while the Gold Wings, Hounds, Rebels and Wildcats will take part in a four-team South Division.