© Herald Photo by Dave Leaderhouse
Kaitlin Willoughby enjoys playing in big games and she will have plenty of opportunities to do just that in the next two weeks.
The 17-year-old winger with the Prince Albert A&W Bears will be a part of Team Saskatchewan at the national under-18 women‚Äôs hockey championships early next month in Dawson Creek, B.C., but before that she will be trying to help her team maintain their perch atop the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings when they host the Regina Rebels in a doubleheader this weekend.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm really focusing on this weekend,‚ÄĚ says Willoughby, who has played parts of five seasons with the Bears, including the last two as a full-time member. ‚ÄúWe have to beat them (Regina) because if we don‚Äôt it will be hard to battle back for first place.‚ÄĚ
The Bears are 5-1-0-1 after getting a split in overtime games played in Weyburn last weekend while Regina has yet to lose in five games this year. The Bears and Rebels have not met since the playoffs last year when Prince Albert surprised Regina in three straight games.
The two teams will square off in a neutral-game in Melfort on Friday before returning to action at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Once the weekend is over, Willoughby will change her focus to the national championship, an event she played in last year and was the leading scorer for Team Saskatchewan.
‚ÄúOur team will be a lot better this year,‚ÄĚ says Willoughby. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm hoping to get a medal at nationals.‚ÄĚ
One thing Willoughby won‚Äôt have to worry about is college scouts as she recently signed a letter of intent to play with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies next year. With that obstacle out of the way, she will be focusing on another goal.
‚ÄúThere will be a lot of Team Canada scouts there so hopefully I can open their eyes,‚ÄĚ says Willoughby. ‚ÄúI obviously want to score a lot so I can be seen.‚ÄĚ
Scoring is something she has done with regularity since she first started playing with the Bears as an affiliate player as a 13-year-old. She only played in 10 games during that provincial championship year of 2008-09, but she played a big role in filling in for injured players and collected one assist.
The next year, she played in all 28 games and notched six goals and 15 assists before once again returning to the affiliate list for a year where she recorded two goals and two assists in a pair of games.
Last year she was back with the team full time and led the club in scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists in 28 games and this year she is off to a good start with 2-6-8 totals in the first seven games.
Despite having one year of experience with the provincial team, she realizes everyone starts at the same level every year and she will have to work hard for her ice time at the national event, which runs from Nov. 7-12.
‚ÄúEvery year you have to start from the beginning,‚ÄĚ says Willoughby. ‚ÄúI had to work as hard as everyone else to make the team.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI‚Äôll do anything to help my team,‚ÄĚ added Willoughby.
She has proven that year after year with the Bears and Team Saskatchewan got to see that last year. Now she has another opportunity to display her talents with the provincial team and the Huskies are waiting in the wings. With any luck, so is Team Canada.