© Herald Photo by Dave Leaderhouse
Two members of the Prince Albert A&W Bears, Jessica Vance (left) and Brooke Hobson, got an exciting phone call this week when they were named to Team Saskatchewan for the upcoming national under-18 female hockey championships. Vance and Hobson will both be in action this weekend when the Bears open their Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League season with a doubleheader against the Weyburn Goldwings.
The Prince Albert A&W Bears have a tough act to follow, but they also have one more step they have to take to achieve their ultimate goal.
Coming off a franchise-best 41-point campaign last year, the Bears begin their quest to capture a Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship this weekend when they host the Weyburn Gold Wings in a pair of opening-weekend contests.
“There is no reason for us not to want to be better than last year,” says Bears’ head coach Jeff Willoughby. “We’re younger, but so is the rest of the league.”
The Bears lose some veteran leadership in the graduation of their two leading scorers Kelly Regnier and Kaitlin Willoughby. Both are now playing at the university level so others are going to have to step forward says Jeff Willoughby, the two-time SFMAAAHL coach of the year.
“Tylor Lindsay is ready for a breakout season offensively,” says Willoughby of the second-year forward who was third in team scoring least year with 25 points in 28 games. “Sierra Glass and Crystal Berube (along with Lindsay) will be our top line so we will be looking for a lot of offense from them.”
“Brooke (Hobson) and Morgan (Willoughby) will be strong on defence and we expect them to be our anchors back there,” added Willoughby. “Jessica (Vance) is going into her fourth year (in goal) and she will be taking the reins there.”
The Bears return just eight players from the team that lost the league final to the Regina Rebels last spring so that means 10 players will be seeing action at the Midget AAA level for the first time.
It might take some time to get the nerves out of the system, but Willoughby says he, along with his assistant coaches Gord Hobson and Jerome Mrazek, have been impressed with what they have seen so far.
“We’re getting a good work ethic out of them and that is what you want first,” says Willoughby. “The skill level will come later.”
Before the first puck is even dropped, however, the Bears have accomplished something the team has never done before.
Earlier this week Hobson and Vance were notified that they had made the final roster for Team Saskatchewan, a club that will compete at the national under-18 female hockey championship scheduled for Calgary in early November. Morgan Willoughby was also on the short list of 25 players trying to secure a spot on the team, but she was not included on the final roster.
That bodes well for what the team has established in developing players for a high level of play and they will need all 18 players to perform at their best beginning with Weyburn.
The Gold Wings enter the season as an early favourite considering they have 10 returning players including veteran Jane Kish in goal. Weyburn also has Caitlin Dempsey back for a third year up front while Whitney Thorpe and Madison Colbow lead the blueline brigade.
The Bears play Weyburn on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kinsmen Arena and then again on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. Prince Albert will remain at home for four of their next five games as they will host Regina next weekend and Notre Dame one week after that. Just a quick road trip to the Battlefords breaks up the homestand.