The Great North Estevan Bears know the kind of hockey they want to play if they're going to crack the SMAAAHL playoffs for the first time this season.

The Bears finished in 10th of 12 teams last season, posting a 12-24-8 record.

Head coach Ryan Pilon said they spent too much time chasing the puck.

"We were chasing, and when we did have the puck, I thought we were just batting it around and not making plays," said Pilon. "With this group this year and our returning guys... we're really trying to build on puck possession and making plays when we do have the puck. When a player does have the puck, you're the playmaker and you need to make a play. Whether that's a tape-to-tape pass or carrying it into the offensive zone."

Pilon also said they need to be fast all over, hard to play against in the defensive zone, and creative in the offensive zone.

The Bears, who joined the league during the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020-21 season, dropped their first two games of the preseason to the Yorkton Maulers, 5-3 and 6-1, while featuring a younger roster.

Then with some of their veterans back from junior camp, Estevan closed out their exhibition portion of the schedule with 5-2 and 4-1 wins over the Notre Dame Hounds.

Returning goalie Kaden Perron played half of the 4-1 game, stopping 11 of 12 shots.

"It was good to see him get some game time and kind of get some lines solidified and players solidified in the roles that they're going to be in," said Pilon, adding they were "firing on all four cylinders" for the Notre Dame games.

The 6-foot-3, 17-year-old Perron is going to be key to the Bears' success. 

"We're going to push him to be a top goalie in our league," said Pilon. "And he's got the capabilities."

The White City product had an .878 save percentage and 4.13 goals-against average in 30 games last season. He also played a game for the SJHL's Notre Dame Hounds, stopping 27 or 28 shots for the win.

He'll be joined in the cage by 15-year-old Cole Ivey.

The five returning skaters will also be leaned on heavily. They are forwards Carter Onrait, Marc Belanger, Evhan Allan, and defencemen Riley Craigen and Thomas Ries.

The Bears open the season at home against the Tisdale Trojans Saturday night at 7:30, then host Tisdale again Sunday afternoon at 1:45.

The Bears have gone over video of the Trojans' preseason special teams, but Pilon said they're not too sure what to expect in their season opener. The Trojans went 13-28-3 last season, finishing 11th. But Wes Rudy has taken over for Dennis Kubat as head coach, and the team has had a lot of roster turnover.

Pilon said the team is excited to finally get the season underway. He added that they're making a big push to sell season tickets, and hopes having this season's home games more spread out than last season's will help bring more fans to the stands.

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