Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Ball finds home with Northern Bears in Prince Albert

Kate Ball was a perfect fit with the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
    Kate Ball and the Prince Albert Northern Bears ended up being a match made in heaven.
    Before the season started, the 15-year-old Saskatoon product was kicking tires looking for a female midget AAA team where she would have a chance to contribute in an offensive role. On a whim, she decided to attend a tryout camp with the Bears, and head coach Jeff Willoughby asked if she wanted to play.
    Ball had a choice of playing with either the Saskatoon Stars in her hometown and the Bears. With the Stars returning almost all of their key offensive players from the previous campaign, the skilled centre decided to go play for the Bears.
    “It has actually been so exciting,” said Ball. “I love my team. They are just all like really awesome.
    “The room is just filled with like positive. We’re all like really nice to each other. It is just like really great.”
Kate Ball celebrates a goal with Jasper Desmarais and Camryn Amundson.
    With the Bears, Ball, who stands 5-foot-5, had a spectacular rookie season finishing second in team scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games. Prince Albert finished with its best record in team history going 22-6.
    In the post-season, the Bears won their first 11 straight contests sweeping the Stars in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series in three games and taking out Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats in a two-game sweep in a Western regional playdown series in Prince Albert.
    Those victories allowed the Bears to earn a berth in the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament for the first time in team history. The Esso Cup started on Sunday and runs to Saturday in Morden, Man.
Kate Ball (#21) battles for the puck behind the net in the offensive zone.
    While big goals were established on personal and team fronts before the season started, Ball was still a bit awestruck that those goals were realized.
    “I wasn’t expecting myself to do that good,” said Ball. “I guess just really good teammates just helped me a lot.
    “I actually never thought we would like come this far. I am just so proud of my team coming this far. It is just an amazing feeling.”
    Willoughby said the Bears were fortunate Ball decided to come to Prince Albert to play.
    “She’s been playing very consistent for us,” said Willoughby. “We’ve asked her to play an offensive role, and she jumped right into that.
    “She is always around the puck. She definitely knows where the net is. Her effort she has given is second to none.
    “Getting a point a game as a rookie is a pretty outstanding feet.”
Kate Ball, left, enjoys the Bears SFMAAAHL title win.
    Willoughby said it was cool seeing Ball improve on the ice and off the ice. Away from the game, the bench boss was impressed with how quickly Ball found a high comfort level with the rest of her Bears teammate.
    “At the start of the year, I think she was maybe a little bit to herself and shy like a lot of rookies would be,” said Willoughby. “I think she’s come along.
    “She’s really opened up. I think she is no different than the rest of them. They are all such good teammates, and they care about each other, and they care about what the other person is doing.
    “They want to help each other out, and that is exactly what Kate (Ball) has been doing.”
    Ball’s move to the Bears was also made easier by the fact nine other players from the Saskatoon area were also on the team. The Bears roster contains fellow Saskatoon products Jadyn Kushniruk, Kassidy Kicia, Kate Wagner, Sierra Parenteau, Hannah Koroll and Miranda Heidt.
    Also on the team are Warman products Jordan Ashe and Jasper Desmarais and Martensville’s Story Navrot.
Kate Ball cuts into the offensive zone for the Bears.
    Ball said she actually knew more players on the Bears than she did on the Stars due a lot to her experiences playing spring hockey. On the ice, she found magic playing on a line with Desmarais and speedy Debden product Camryn Amundson.
    “I’ve played with Jasper for four years, so we have like good chemistry,” said Ball. “Camryn, me and her just like clicked right away, so it was really great.”
    As for her start in the sport, Ball followed in the footsteps of her two older brothers Daylon and Justin. Daylon, who is now 21, finished his competitive playing days at age 16.
    Justin was with the Saskatoon Contacts last season, who played in the Telus Cup midget AAA national championship tournament, and he recently finished his 18-year-old rookie season in junior A with the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
    Kate’s brothers weren’t her only family members that made waves as competitive athletes. Her uncle Sheldon was a star quarterback first with the Saskatoon Hilltops and then the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. He has been the offensive coordinator of the Hilltops for the past 11 seasons.
Kate Ball piled up 30 points in 28 regular season games with the Bears.
    While she has had a lot of good influences to help her along in hockey, Ball found her own love for the sport.
    “I love skating,” said Ball. “Skating is my passion. I just love it.
    “I like the playmaking. It is just really fun.”
    Ball admitted beating the Stars in the SFMAAAHL championship series was a big highlight this season along with winning the Western regional over the Wildcats with a thrilling come-from-behind 7-6 series clinching victory in Game 2. The Bears were down 6-3 with 13:24 to play in the third period and closed the contest with four unanswered goals.
    She was pumped to go to Esso Cup and is also looking forward to playing two more seasons with the Bears. 
Kate Ball, left, and her teammates enjoy the Bears Western regional win.
    This season she continued to live in Saskatoon, and her parents drove to her to Prince Albert for practices and her games.
    Next season, Ball is planning to live with a billet family in Prince Albert.
    “I’m actually real excited to think about two more years,” said Ball. “I just love this group of girls and just being here. I think it will be good.”
    After her midget AAA playing days are done, Ball has a wish of where she would like to play on the post-secondary front.
    “Hopefully, I get to play with University of Saskatchewan, because it is like a mile from my house,” said Ball. “That would be really convenient.
    “If that doesn’t work out, then NCAA or college in the States that would be really good too.”

Bears pick up first win at Esso Cup

Camryn Amundson (#9) scored twice for the Bears on Tuesday at Esso Cup.
    On Tuesday in Morden, Man., the Bears picked up their first win at Esso Cup dumping the Summerside, P.E.I., based Mid-Isle Wildcats 6-1 at the Access Events Centre.
    Camryn Amundson and Jadyn Kushniruk both scored twice for the Bears, while Story Navrot and Miranda Heidt each netted singles. Ryan Fontaine turned away 13 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Bears.
    Madison Vincent had the lone reply for the Wildcats. Maggie Johnson turned away 57 shots to take the loss in goal for the Wildcats.
    The win allowed the Bears to improve to 1-2, while the Wildcats fell to 0-3.
    The Bears opened the Esso Cup on Sunday falling 2-1 to the host and Manitoba champion Pembina Valley Hawks. On Monday, the Bears dropped a 5-1 decision to the Pickering, Ont., based Durham West Lightning.
    Prince Albert returns to action on Wednesday taking on the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash. The Bears close their round robin schedule at Esso Cup on Thursday, when they face the Sherbrooke, Que., based Harfangs du Triolet.
    The top four teams in the round robin standings qualify for the playoff round. The semifinal round for the Esso Cup is set for Friday. The bronze and gold medal games will be held on Saturday.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.