Thursday, 16 March 2017

Bears impress in Game 1 win

Stars forced to regroup in SFMAAAHL championship series

The Bears celebrate a second period goal from Camryn Amundson.
    It appears the Prince Albert Northern Bears are ready to end the Saskatoon Stars quest for the three-peat.
    On Thursday at the Agriplace Arena, the Bears took Game 1 of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series by a decisive 5-1 score over the host Stars.
    The Stars enter the best-of-five series looking to win their third straight Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title, but during their run of success, the Bears have always seemed to be the club that forces the Saskatoon side to reset.
    The Stars will have to do just that when the series shifts to Prince Albert for Game 2 on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. 
Grace Shirley gave the Stars an early 1-0 lead on Thursday night.
    During the regular season, the Stars and Bears split their four head-to-head encounters, but they haven’t met since Dec. 14, 2017, when the Stars claimed a 3-0 victory at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert. Saskatoon finished first in the SFMAAAHL with a 25-2-1 record, and Prince Albert was second with a 22-6 mark.
    For those that saw Thursday’s clash, they saw a Bears team hit the ice that was pretty much a mirror image of the Stars.
    Prince Albert rolled out four good forward lines, a solid group of six defenders and received sound goaltending from Ryan Fontaine.
    Speedy forward Camryn Amundson likely turned the most heads out of the Prince Albert bunch netting a goal and an assist in the win, but it wasn’t one or two star players from the Bears that burned the Stars. It seemed like everyone on the Prince Albert side contributed in the win.
Camryn Amundson slips home a knuckleball shot for the Bears.
    The Bears played with sound structure, and they also played calm and under control game. What makes the Bears an even tougher opponent is the fact they have a good team culture and credit for that has to be given to head coach Jeff Willoughby and his staff for that.
    When the Bears play, it is easy to find an alum or two in the stands who consider Willoughby like having another father. Those words come from former players other than his two extremely talented daughters Kaitlin and Morgan who star for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    For the Stars, this visit to the SFMAAAHL championship series will be harder to win than when they won it all in each of the past two years. This Prince Albert team is better than the one Saskatoon swept out of the SFMAAAHL title series in 2015.
Stars netminder Jordan Ivanco holds back pressure from the Bears.
    With all that in mind, the Stars got out to a good jump in Game 1. Just 75 seconds in, standout forward Grace Shirley wired home a shot to the top left corner of the Prince Albert goal to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
    Just before the midway point of an evenly played first period, 15-year-old forward Miranda Heidt potted the equalizer for the Bears to force a 1-1 tie.
    Early in the second, the Stars had a big chance to jump back out in front, when forward Brooke Hausermann was stopped trying to shovel in a short-handed marker at the side of the Prince Albert goal.
    Shortly after that opportunity, the game turned when Bears forward Story Navrot potted a short-handed goal to put the visitors up 2-1. Just 2:05 later, standout 15-year-old rookie forward Kate Ball scored to put the Bears up 3-1.
Forward Sierra Parenteau (#10) fires a backhand shot on goal for the Bears.
    The Bears weren’t done just yet. With 4:05 to play in the second, Amundson scored on a knuckleball shot to give Prince Albert a 4-1 edge.
    Underage 14-year-old forward Brooklyn Anderson rounded out the scoring for the visitors in the third and Fontaine made 29 stops to pick up the win in goal.
    Jordan Ivanco turned away 23 shots to take the loss in goal for the Stars.
    Both teams failed to score on the power play, with the Bears going 0-for-5 and the Stars 0-for-7.
    Despite being down, the Stars did try to mount a comeback holding a 12-7 edge in shots on goal in the third period. Veteran centre Kianna Dietz had the best chance to score, when she misfired on a puck looking into an open Prince Albert cage early in the frame.
Kate Ball circles in the offensive zone for the Bears.
    The Stars don’t have to battle back from adversity often, but they have done that in the past.
    Last year, they dropped the opening game of the SFMAAAHL championship series 4-3 to the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats, but rallied to take the series with three straight wins.
    The adversity after Thursday’s loss to the Bears looms larger than last year’s loss to the Wildcats.
    Still, the Stars roster is filled with talent in the likes of captain Willow Slobodzian, Mackenna Parker, Grace Shirley, Abby Shirley, Joelle Fiala, Anna Leschyshyn and Julia Rongve.
    They have won in all sorts of circumstances that included going into rinks on the road that are filled with huge support for the opponent.
Willow Slobodzian works the point for the Stars.
    Guided by a first rate coaching staff headed by Greg Slobodzian, it would be highly unlikely to see the Stars fall again in Game 2 by a lopsided score.
    The Stars road to a three-peat will be a hard one, but if the three-peat is achieved, it will be that much more fulfilling.
    As one wise veteran hockey coach often told me in the past, if something was easy to do, everyone would do it.
    If you’re a good team, you want to play a tough opponent that has a good culture, because that makes you better.
    The Bears took round one, but this heavyweight tilt likely won’t be a short one.

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