Call it the mid-season blues or a bump on the road, but whatever way you want to analyze it the Prince Albert A&W Bears are certainly not where they want to be right now.
For the third straight game the Bears lost to an opponent far lower than themselves in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings and what makes that even worse is all three losses were on home ice.
On the positive side, the Bears at least salvaged a point in two of those setbacks with the latest being a 4-3 shootout loss to the Melville Fox FM Prairie Fire on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm glad we came back from that two-goal deficit in the third (period),‚ÄĚ said Bears‚Äô head coach Jeff Willoughby of his team‚Äôs comeback on Sunday to force overtime and the shootout. ‚ÄúOne point is what we‚Äôll have to take (from the weekend) and take it with a grain of salt.‚ÄĚ
The Bears and Prairie Fire also met on Saturday with Melville scoring three unanswered goals in the second period to record a 4-1 victory.
The weekend results, coupled with the Regina Rebels‚Äô sweep of the Battlefords Sharks, drop Prince Albert to second place in the eight-team league. The Bears, who are 10-3-0-3 on the season, are now two points back of the undefeated Rebels with Regina still holding three games in hand. Melville improved to 7-7-1-0 and moved past the Notre Dame Hounds into fifth place in the standings.
Megan Sloboshan, Kelly Regnier and Brooke Hobson scored for the Bears on Sunday, but it was Fanny Grimstad netting the winner in the shootout for Melville.
Regnier, who scored the lone goal for Prince Albert on Saturday, also had an assist on Hobson‚Äôs equalizer with two minutes left in regulation time on Sunday to move back into the lead in the league‚Äôs scoring race. Regnier, who has 15 goals and 11 assists in 15 games, also became the Bears‚Äô all-time goal scorer on Saturday when her marker moved her past Carlee Hrenkiw in that category. Saturday‚Äôs goal was her 41st in two-plus years with the team.
The Bears played all of their games in December at home and Willoughby said they were hoping to run the table as all of the games were against teams lower in the standings. After sweeping the Swift Current Wildcats at the start of the month it looked like that might just happen, but a stunning 3-2 shootout loss to the Battlefords preceded the weekend set against Melville.
Prince Albert will now have more than three weeks off from league play, but they will be busy during the holidays as they travel to Calgary for the Mac‚Äôs Invitational tournament. Willoughby says getting back on the road might be just what is needed for the team.
‚ÄúMaybe we need to get away from our league and face different opponents,‚ÄĚ says Willoughby. ‚ÄúWe can get on a different stage.‚ÄĚ
Prince Albert tried that once already this year as they were in Edmonton for a pre-season tournament in September. At that event the Bears went undefeated and then got off to a great start when league play began. Time will tell if history repeats itself for the second half of the regular schedule.