The Prince Albert A&W Bears aren’t ready to go into hibernation quite yet.
The Bears advanced to the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series with a 4-1 triumph over the Weyburn Gold Wings in the fifth and deciding game of their semifinal series on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Prince Albert will now take on the league’s No. 1 team, the Regina Rebels, in the best-of-five final with the first game of that match-up going tonight in Regina.
“The girls responded well,” said Bears’ head coach Jeff Willoughby after the thrilling decisive victory on Sunday which was needed when Weyburn evened the series with a 2-1 decision on Friday. “”They knew the season would be over if they didn’t perform tonight (Sunday).”
“We knew we were going to need four goals,” added Willoughby, the league’s coach of the year the last two seasons. “We said before the game that one or two goals and it would be up in the air.”
Shaylyn Constant gave the Bears a 1-0 lead in the first period and Morgan Willoughby increased the advantage to 2-0 early in the middle frame before Marissa Pirlot cut the deficit to 2-1 prior to the second intermission.
Lexi Van Camp, with a power-play marker, and Megan Sloboshan completed the scoring in the third period to send the Bears to their second provincial final in the last five seasons. Prince Albert won it all in 2009 when they also had to take on the top team (Swift Current) in the championship series.
Kaitlin Willoughby, the Bears’ captain, was a 13-year-old affiliate player on that team and although she never saw any action in the final series, she was with the club as they went through the gruelling battle to advance to the first-ever Western Canadian regional championship.
“It’s indescribable,” said Kaitlin Willoughby. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
“We have to take the momentum from tonight (Sunday) and take it to them tomorrow (tonight),” added the veteran forward.
Jessica Vance made 18 saves in the Prince Albert goal while Jane Kish was tested 26 times in the Weyburn goal.
With little time to prepare for the Rebels, Jeff Willoughby says that might be to the Bears’ advantage.
“Hopefully we can use the momentum from tonight and get the upper hand on them,” said the Bears’ coach. “Weyburn did it with us.”
The Gold Wings won Game 1 of the semifinal against Prince Albert less than 24 hours after playing a fifth and deciding game against Swift Current in the opening round.
Regina will be a little different, however, as the Rebels only lost one game all season and that was in a shootout to Prince Albert. The Rebels won the other 27 games in the regular season and they are 6-0 in the playoffs.
The second game of the championship final will be on Wednesday with the opening face-off set for 7:30 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.