With nothing to gain or lose, the Prince Albert A&W Bears’ loss to the Saskatoon Stars on Tuesday wasn’t overly disappointing.
It was, however, a tale of two tapes as the Bears showed how good they could be and how they can let an opposing team back in to the game when they take their foot off the pedal.
“They (Saskatoon) just kept going,” commented Bears’ head coach Jeff Willoughby after the 3-2 loss in Prince Albert’s final home game of the season at the Art Hauser Centre. “They had a stronger final 30 minutes.”
“Maybe they had more to play for,” admitted Willoughby. “The girls (Bears) are anxious for the playoffs I think.”
The loss, which drops Prince Albert’s record to 19-4-0-3, leaves them in second place in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings and with two games left on the schedule the Bears can’t move up or down.
Saskatoon, however, desperately needed Tuesday’s win to stay ahead of the Weyburn Gold Wings for third place. The victory moves the Stars three points in front of the Gold Wings, but Weyburn has a pair of games in hand.
It was also the first time during the season that Saskatoon had beat the Bears as Prince Albert had won the three previous meetings. The Stars did end Prince Albert’s run at the Mac’s tournament in Calgary over the Christmas break when they skated to a 5-2 triumph in semifinal play.
Prince Albert started Tuesday’s game as if they were the ones fighting for playoff positioning as they outshot the Stars 18-7 in the opening session and grabbed a 1-0 lead on Kelly Regnier’s 23rd goal of the season.
Saskatoon came out for the second period with a bit more urgency in their play and were rewarded with a power-play goal by Kennedy Harris to bring the game back on even terms.
A weak shot from the point by Morgan Willoughby somehow found its way behind Saskatoon netminder Samantha Ridgewell to restore Prince Albert’s one-goal lead at the end of 40 minutes of play.
The Stars again came out of the intermission as the more determined team and they battled back to tie the game on a goal by Kori Herner and eventually went ahead when Hailey Tyndall beat Bears’ netminder Jessica Vance with a wrist shot from deep in the slot.
Coincidentally, all three Saskatoon goalscorers – Harris, Herner and Tyndall – all just signed letters of intent last week to play with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies next year. They will join Prince Albert captain Kaitlin Willoughby on that squad.
Vance was tested 20 times in the Prince Albert goal while the Bears directed 39 blasts at Ridgewell, who was sensational, particularly in the opening session.
“We did more good things than they did so we will take that to Regina this weekend,” said Jeff Willoughby.
“It was definitely a learning experience before the playoffs,” added Willoughby.
The Bears complete the regular schedule this weekend when they take on the league-leading Rebels in Regina. The Rebels have just a shootout loss –against Prince Albert – as their only blemish this season. They have won all 24 of their other games.
Prince Albert might be without the services of outstanding 13-year-old rookie Brooke Hobson for the weekend as she was injured in a collision late in the second period and was favouring her knee after the game. Hobson did not return to the ice after the incident.
The playoffs are set to begin the week of Feb. 26 with Prince Albert’s first-round opponent yet to be determined. If the season were to end today it would be the Swift Current Wildcats they would face in the opening best-of-five series, but Notre Dame is just one point ahead of the Wildcats entering the final week of the regular schedule.