ESTEVAN - The Estevan Eclipse Downhole Solutions U18 AAA Bears opened the 2021-22 season with a pair of defeats to the Warman Wildcats at Affinity Place.
Estevan lost 4-1 on Saturday night and 5-1 on Sunday afternoon.
After a scoreless, closely played first period on Saturday, most of the offence came in a 64-second span of the middle frame. Brock Evans opened the scoring for Warman 3:19 into the stanza, but 20 seconds later, Caden Drury tallied for the Bears to tie the game.
Jaydon Jessiman restored Warman’s lead 44 seconds after Drury’s goal.
Dustin Renas scored six minutes into the third to give the Wildcats the insurance marker, and added an empty net goal in the final minute.
Jackson Miller stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced for the Bears.
“I thought Jackson was stellar,” said Bears head coach Jeff Smith. “He’s one of the best goalies in the league, and tonight he showed why. He’s sound. If he lets one goal in, he doesn’t let it bother him. He keeps playing and he keeps kicking the puck out.”
Alex Worthington made 25 saves for the Wildcats.
Sunday’s game started just like Saturday’s, as the two teams were scoreless after the first period. Jessiman scored on a power play 54 seconds into the second period to give the Wildcats the lead. Kole Keen responded with a goal eight minutes into the second to tie the game.
But Mason Bueckert and Jessiman scored 94 seconds apart before the period was finished to give the Wildcats a 3-1 advantage. Renas and Rhett Dekowny tallied in the third to finish the scoring.
Kaden Perron stopped 34 of the 39 shots he faced for Estevan.
Luke Brunen made 20 saves in the Warman goal.
Smith said the Wildcats were what the Bears expected – a fast-paced, high-energy team.
“They’re a well-oiled machine. They’ve already very gelled together and they’re playing very well together,” said Smith.
Estevan and Warman entered the Saskatchewan Male AAA Hockey League together last season, but due to the truncated 2020-21 schedule, this was the first time they played.
“This was the battle of the expansion teams, and there is more of a rivalry because of that,” said Smith.
As for the Bears, Smith described them as a work in progress, but he believes they are much further along than they were at the start of the 2020-21 season. Estevan did go 2-1 in the preseason this year.
“I think we’re leaps and bounds ahead of last year already,” said Smith. “Last year we had a lot of holes and a lot of individual work we had to work with. This year’s it’s just a few tweaks here and there that we’re going to have to make, as opposed to the major reconstructive surgery last year.”
Also on Saturday, the Bears announced their leadership team for this season. Drury will be the captain, and Tucker Buhay, Carson Birnie and Ayden Lamarre will be the alternate captains.
“It was super exciting,” said Drury. “Obviously it’s an honour to be named the captain of a team that’s in our second year in the league.”
The Bears have several players who would have been worthy choices. Drury said he’ll try to be a vocal leader on the ice and in the dressing room this season.
Smith believes that Drury was a “no-brainer” to be the captain.
“For the staff and especially the players, we did a little poll, and 95 per cent of his own teammates picked him as the captain. He leads by example on and off the ice. He’s a great leader to go to the gym. He’s a good student, so the kids follow him there. Even on the ice, he’s a hard worker and he never quits,” said Smith.
The alternate captains are as good off the ice as they are on it, Smith said.
The Bears’ next game is at the Moose Jaw Warriors on Sept. 29. Then they will host the Tisdale Trojans on Oct. 2 at 7:45 p.m. and Oct. 3 at 2:30 p.m.