2022 esso cup prince albert bears team photo 960

Road to the 2022 Esso Cup: Prince Albert Bears

After two years of waiting, the Esso Cup hosts have put in the time and effort to have an opportunity at success in Okotoks

Shannon Coulter
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May 4, 2022
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It’s been a long time coming for the Prince Albert Bears.

After being awarded the honour of hosting the 2020 Esso Cup in September 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out two years of national championships, the time has finally come for the Bears to host Canada’s National Women’s U18 Club Championship—only they are doing it 765 kilometres away from Prince Albert, Sask.

This season was not without challenges for the Bears, though. Long-time head coach Jeff Willoughby resigned in January, and assistant coach Steve Young took over as bench boss. With only a handful of games left in the season at that point, the players and team were already well-established when Young was named head coach.

“With the coaching change that we had this year in January, we were just trying to make a few changes in that part, just with the different coaching personalities,” Young says.

The timing of the coaching change also created a unique opportunity to practice for the Esso Cup.

“I think we were down to six games when the coaching change was made. So, we kind of made that as a bit of preparation,” Young explains. “For example, this tournament, there are [seven] games. We had to make sure we did the right things.”

The Bears finished the regular season with a 10-15-5 record in the Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey League (SFU18AAAHL). One advantage the hosts have at the Esso Cup this year? Prince Albert is already very familiar with one of their tournament opponents: the Notre Dame Hounds, who are a member of the SFU18AAAHL and won the West Region.

“If anybody knows Notre Dame’s team, they’re a very hard-working team,” Young says. “They do a lot of good things. They’re aimed at you; you have to be at your best to be ready right off the bat when we play them.

“I think it’s also exciting … there’s two representatives from our province now, and it’s kind of nice to see how they’re going to do.”

The playoffs may not have gone as the Bears had hoped, being swept by the Saskatoon Stars in the opening round, but Young believes his team learned a lot from the experience.

“Although we lost three-straight in the best-of-five, I think as the playoff games went on, we got better and we got closer,” he says. “They learned that if they put in the time and do the proper things that we have an opportunity to have success.”

One of the team’s biggest strengths is its ability to play together as one. On the ice, the Bears are fully committed to their goals and work hard, but off the ice they love to have fun, laugh, joke around and enjoy each other’s company.

“They’re always a group that you never know what to expect from them,” Young says. “I think at the end of the year, when the [tournament] is over, we have potential to surprise some people, but I think most of all, it’s going to be a group that when the Esso Cup is over, they’re really going to miss each other as teammates.”

HOW THEY GOT TO OKOTOKS

Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey League
Quarter-final: lost to Saskatoon Stars 0-3 (3-7, 2-6, 2-3)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-OTW-OTL-L): 10-1-4-15 (5th in SFU18AAAHL)
Goals for: 83 (4th in SFU18AAAHL)
Goals against: 94 (5th in SFU18AAAHL)
Longest winning streak: 2 (Oct. 21-23, Dec. 4-5, Jan. 20-22, Feb. 26-27)
Top 3 scorers:
- Sophia Zuck – 15G 20A 35P (8th in SFU18AAAHL)
- Julia Cey – 12G 11A 23P (16th in SFU18AAAHL)
- Erin Kirkland – 9G 11A 20P (20th in SFU18AAAHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 0-3
Goals for: 7
Goals against: 16
Top 3 scorers:
- Erin Kirkland – 2G 0A 2P
- Julia Cey – 1G 1A 2P
- Brooklin Fry – 1G 1A 2P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

2017 – Prince Albert Bears | fifth place | 2-3 | 11GF 14GA

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ERIN KIRKLAND
difference maker off and on ice … ability to balance game and practice mindsets … great character and leadership

TAYLOR LEITCH
defensive defenceman … ability to contribute offensively ... patient … accurate shot … veteran leader

SOPHIA ZUCK
leading scorer … fast skater … excellent offensive player … leader and assistant captain

UNIVERSITY COMMITMENTS

Paige Dawson – Maryville University
Erin Kirkland – Iowa Western Community College (softball)
Taylor Leitch – University of Windsor
Sophia Zuck – University of Calgary

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

emadziya@hockeycanada.ca 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

jknight@hockeycanada.ca

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