GEARING UP – Jordyn Burgar pushes the puck up the ice during a recent practice in preparation for the upcoming Esso Cup at the Red Deer Arena.

Puck drops for Esso Cup in Red Deer this weekend

What will Edmonton, Saskatoon, Sudbury, Moncton and Central Plains have in common on April 19th?

The answer to this riddle is Red Deer.

Each of the respective cities will be converging on Central Alberta in hopes of being named the 2015 major midget female hockey champions at the 2015 Esso Cup.

It’s been a long road of preparation to get ready for the Esso Cup, said Red Deer Minor Hockey Association’s President Todd Thiessen, but it was one filled full of excitement and incredible acts of commitment and community.

When Thiessen heard from Hockey Canada that the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs would be hosting the Cup last June his initial reaction was excitement – but holding true to Red Deer Minor Hockey’s standard of doing big events over the top, he knew there would be a lot of work to do.

“It took some time to seriously wrap my head around how many people we were going to need to make this happen as it’s a big undertaking – so I knew I had to do some hunting and get the perfect committee to head this,” said Thiessen. “On one hand I want to say it was tough – but in reality it wasn’t because Red Deer has such amazing spirit for volunteerism.

“So when I started asking the people I wanted on the committee they without hesitation jumped at the chance and said ‘Yes! Let’s make this happen’.”

He added he couldn’t think of a better way to promote female hockey in Central Alberta than hosting a national championship.

“Female hockey has grown exponentially in the last seven to eight years in Central Alberta. I think the Olympics have had a lot to do with it – seeing the Canadian women’s teams do so well was incredibly inspirational for a lot of young women.

“As a whole, female hockey has just become more mainstream than it has been in the past.”

Host team, the Red Deer Sutter Funds Chiefs, finished second in the Alberta Major Midget Hockey League, leaving the Edmonton Thunder, who finished first in the same league, as the only other Alberta team to compete in the tournament.

Thiessen said it was comical in a way to see how the league finished off, after having beat out the Calgary Fire, who was first in the league heading into playoffs.

“We have two girls on our team from Calgary this year who were cut from the Calgary Fire – goalie Sarah Murray and forward Jenna McCully,” said Thiessen. “After they were cut we gladly picked them up, then when we ended up playing the Fire in the semi-finals for the provincial title and beat them 5-0 it was awesome for the girls and a huge win for them.”

Thiessen added Murray and McCully have been driving back and forth for practices and games to which they have shown admirable commitment. He explained the team is made up of a rather motley mix of Central Albertan communities, including Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Innisfail.

“A lot of the girls have played together for a long time,” said Thiessen. “They are a young team but they are extremely talented – we only have two girls leaving the team this year due to age.”

Although it has been a long season for all athletes competing in the 2015 Esso Cup, Thiessen believes seeing the Red Deer Arena decked out in Hockey Canada’s signature red, white and black will spark a passion in the players.

“I can only imagine the girls are starting to tire out – with practicing, dry land, and games it’s been steady four to five nights a week for them, not to mention school for them as well. There’s going to be a lot of people in the stands, the rink will look totally different and it will surely ignite all of the player’s passion for the game.”

All games will be available for viewing online at www.fasthockey.com with the final games being broadcast through Telus and TSN.

The tournament will see each region of Canada’s respective champions as well the Red Deer host team go head to head from April 19th until they have all played each other once. The semi-finals take place on April 24th with the bronze medal game at noon on Saturday, and the gold medal game to follow at 3:30 p.m. with an added tailgate party from 1-3 p.m. in the parking lot of the Red Deer Arena.

One of the unique aspects of the Esso Cup from other Hockey Canada tournaments is the round robin points system. The Esso Cup uses the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Foundation) format, which awards three points for a win in regulation time. If the game goes to overtime and/or a shootout, the winning team receives two points and the loser receives one. After the round robin is complete, the top four teams (by points) qualify for the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-final games move on to play for the gold medal.

The Sutter Fund Chiefs will play every night at 7 p.m. and invite all of Central Alberta to support them in their push to be the 2015 national champions. For more information visit www.hockeycanada.ca.

jswan@reddeerexpress.com

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