© Herald Photo by Dave Leaderhouse
Prince Albert A&W Bears coach Jeff Willoughby goes through a drill he wants goaltenders to perform during the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League club's spring camp held on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre. More than 50 girls took part in the day-long event which has Willoughby and rest of the staff already looking forward to next season.
All indications are pointing to the Prince Albert A&W Bears being one of the elite teams in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League next year. Actually, the Bears could be in pretty good shape for a number of years if this past weekend’s spring training camp serves as a barometer.
More than 50 girls took part in the day-long camp on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre and head coach Jeff Willoughby says that is by far the largest spring session he has worked with since taking over the coaching reins four years ago.
“We had about 20 bantam-aged girls which is good to see that much interest from that level coming up,” noted Willoughby prior to putting a group of eight goaltenders through their paces. “There are also another 20 midget-aged girls that will challenge for a spot.”
Therein lies a bit of a problem; the Bears only stand to lose three girls to graduation this year meaning 16 are eligible to return for the 2014-15 campaign.
“It is going to be a competitive fall camp if this is any indication,” says Willoughby. “The vets will be pushed to keep their spots – we will definitely be looking to upgrade in every area.”
The Bears are coming off a season that saw them finish in third place in the regular season and advance to the league semifinals before being eliminated by the eventual league-champion Weyburn Gold Wings.
The Bears will likely return both of their goaltenders with veteran Jessica Vance entering her fifth and final year of midget eligibility. Vance, who was backed by Shayla Youngman this past year, set a league record for minutes played and equalled another pair of league standards with her 12th shutout and 71st appearance. She should get sole possession of both of those marks in addition to eclipsing the record for most career wins as she enters next year just four wins shy of Jane Kish’s total of 39 victories.
Tylor Lindsay is also expected back for a third campaign and will undoubtedly move up the scoring list as she is presently tied for seventh place in Bears’ scoring and 57th overall in league history. Lindsay had a dynamic finish and an even stronger playoff performance to wrap up her sophomore season as she easily captured the team’s scoring title.
Brooke Hobson will also be back for a third season and with her 15th birthday still another month away, she will once again anchor a very strong defensive corp. Hobson and Vance were both first-team all-stars this year and also represented Saskatchewan at the national under-18 female hockey championship in November. Lindsay was a second-team all-star in a position that was strong throughout the league.
With the Bears losing two of their top four scorers – Crystal Berube and Kendra Winny – along with one of their steadiest defencemen – Aleece Anderson – to graduation, those returning will be looked upon to step up and fill the voids while the healthy list of recruits will be there to push everyone to be more competitive.
The future looks pretty good for the Bears.