Optimist Chiefs look to clinch national title

If the Red Deer Midget AAA Optimist Chiefs are going to three-peat as national champions they will do so covering some familiar territory.

“It’s not the easiest road but it’s fun,” said goalie Jayden Sittler about the fact if the Chiefs make it to the league final, they won’t have home ice advantage.

The Chiefs did win their division but the first place overall slipped through their fingers making this run a little more difficult in some respects.

“We’ll do it the hard way,” said Sittler. “Last year with a lot of injuries and stuff like that and this year with the home ice but we’ll push through.”

If there is a concern with this team it’s the drought when it comes to scoring goals but Sittler and the team’s other goalie, Cole Sears, say that’s where they need to play their best.

“Just stop the puck and keep us in it so we get the win,” said Sittler.

“I just have to take everyday like I’m starting,” added Sears who is in his first year with the Midget AAA’s and is getting a taste of playoff action for the first time in awhile. “I have to be ready to play because you just never know.”

During the regular season both tenders were certainly ready with Sittler sporting a 12-4 record, 2.03 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

Sears put up some impressive numbers as well with a 10-2 record, 1.84 average and stopping .909% of the shots he faced.

Both goalies say the defensive corps in front of them is a real treat to play behind making their job so much simpler.

“They do a big job, they block a lot of shots and talk to me when I’m playing the puck, letting me know what to do,” said Sears.

Sittler agrees with that assessment of the valuable blue liners they have the pleasure of playing with.

“They get back there and take the big hits from those huge third and fourth line guys that like to dump it in and they’re big in front of the net which helps me a lot,” he said.

Gabe Bast is a veteran presence on the Chiefs’ blue line and he says last year’s run at the Telus Cup was something he will use to carry forward to this year’s challenge.

“I thought it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance at doing it again this year,” he said.

What is giving him that boost of confidence can be answered by simply looking around the dressing room in the Red Deer Arena.

“We’ve got great depth again,” said Bast. “When you get deep into the playoffs you need that depth with injuries so anybody can fill any role.”

Both Sittler and Sears give good scouting reports on each other’s ability to stop the puck and the mutual admiration society doesn’t end with the goaltenders union.

“Either one, they’re both good goalies and we trust them both and they’ll be there for us when we need them,” said Bast.

If the goal scoring situation doesn’t improve over this playoff run which starts against the UFA Bisons, then goaltending will certainly be in the spotlight for the Chiefs.