The Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament is one of the toughest in all of Canada.
Held in Calgary and featuring teams from areas as far-flung as New York, Alaska and — in one case — Belarus, the annual championship is among the most competitive Midget tournaments in the world.
And that’s what makes it the perfect place for teams like the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs to test their mettle against some of the best hockey programs out there.
“It’s a difficult tournament to do well in with so many games and there’s no easy games. You’re playing basically the best teams in Alberta, B.C., some of the international teams,” said Optimist Chiefs’ Head Coach Doug Quinn of the Mac’s, which took place in Calgary over the week after Boxing Day.
It would turn out to be a solid five days of hockey for the Chiefs, although it didn’t start out that way.
“We lost our first game. Got off to a bad start,” said Quinn of the team’s opening game against the Foothills CFR Chemical Bisons, which they ended up losing 5-2 after allowing a pair of goals in the first six minutes of the game.
“I think they had two goals on four shots and that was kind of hard. We just never really could recover.”
At a tournament as short and competitive as the Mac’s, a single loss can mean the difference between qualifying for a playoff spot and heading home early because only the winner of each of the five pools and three wild card teams earn a spot in the single-elimination round.
If you lose one of your four games in the round robin, your odds of winning your five-team pool are pretty much up. If you lose two, you can basically forget about the wild card.
The Chiefs didn’t let the odds phase them, though. They proceeded to go undefeated throughout the rest of the round robin, posting big wins over the Moose Jaw Generals (3-1), Alaska Oilers (6-3) and Greater Vancouver Canadians (6-2) to finish the pool round with a 3-1 record and a good enough scoring differential to qualify in the first wild card spot.
“I thought we played three pretty strong games in a row to make the quarterfinals,” said Quinn.
Unfortunately, that’s where the ride would end for the Chiefs, who ran up against a Belarus U17 National team which had been dominant throughout the round robin.
Despite a valiant effort on Red Deer’s part, they couldn’t topple Belarus, falling 4-0 to the eventual tournament champs.
“I thought we competed pretty hard. The shots were only 18-14. They had guys who could make an individual play and we just never scored on our opportunities,” Quinn said, adding that overall the tournament was a good experience for his squad.
“Obviously we all wanted to win but I’m also looking to see if we improved and developed as a team and I definitely thought we did. I thought we took it to a new level.”
The strong performance in the tournament might prove to be a good indicator of things to come for the Chiefs. This past weekend, the team won a pair of important league games over the Knights of Columbus Pats and the Sherwood Park J. Ennis Kings.
“I think it helped give us a little bit more confidence and understand a little bit better how hard you have to work and how hard you have to compete. I think it definitely was a positive experience for us,” said Quinn.
The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs are back at home this Saturday as they host the SEAC Tigers at the Kinex Arenas. Puck drop on that game is at 4:30 p.m.