Fans of female hockey will get a rare glimpse of what the Prince Albert A&W Bears will look like this season when they host the Saskatoon Stars in Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League pre-season action tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
The contest is the only home game on the exhibition schedule as the Bears have spent most of their time since training camp away from Prince Albert. Last weekend they were at a tournament in Swift Current and after tonight they will have a rematch with the Stars in Saskatoon on Tuesday. The regular season begins on Sept. 28 when the Weyburn Gold Wings visit Prince Albert.
In Swift Current, the Bears beat the Wesmen 3-1, but dropped a 6-3 decision to the Swift Current Wildcats, lost 5-3 to the Winnipeg Avros and were blanked 4-0 by Red Deer.
Second-year forward Tylor Lindsay led the Bears’ offence with three goals and two assists in the four games while newcomer Sierra Glass had a goal and three helpers. Glass is a 16-year-old forward from Cupar who is expected to help fill in some holes up front as the Bears are without their top two scorers from a year ago. Kaitlin Willoughby and Kelly Regnier graduated from the midget ranks and are now playing college hockey in Saskatoon and Regina, respectively.
In total, the Bears will have 10 new faces as just eight players are returning from the club that finished second in the regular season last year and lost in the league final to the Regina Rebels.
Jessica Vance is back in goal for a fourth year and the 16-year-old is expected to play a lot of minutes as the back-up this season is 15-year-old freshman Shayla Youngman from Saskatoon.
On the blueline the Bears return Morgan Willoughby, Brooke Hobson, Breanne Neudorf and Aleece Anderson with Willoughby and Neudorf each suiting up for a third campaign. Caitlin Welder, a 15-year-old from Humboldt, is also expected to be a part of the defensive corp. while a decision on the sixth member of the group has yet to be made.
Lindsay leads a rookie-laden offensive unit with Crystal Berube and Amy Weightman the only other returning veterans up front. Berube is entering her fourth season with the Bears while Weightman is back for a third year. Both will provide plenty of leadership to the young group of rookies.
The list for that group includes 15-year-old Kaytlyn Chickowski from Prince Albert, 15-year-old Ireland South from Melfort, 16-year-old Brittany Yeager from St. Brieux, 15-year-old Tannis Carle from Caron, Sask., and 17-year-old Kendra Winny from Rosetown along with Glass. One more spot on the forward unit still has to be firmed up before the roster is finalized.
A major strength of the Bears, as has been the case every year, is the coaching staff. Jeff Willoughby is back for a third season with his first two years behind the bench resulting in coach-of-the-year honours. Joining him this year is Gord Hobson, a former Junior B standout with the old Prince Albert North Stars squad, and veteran assistant coach Jerome Mrazek.
The Bears are coming off a record-breaking season where they accumulated 41 points on 19 wins and three overtime losses in 28 games and they are hoping to do better than that this year. Tonight’s game is another step in getting ready to achieve that goal.