The Red Deer Midget Optimist Rebel Chiefs have been down this road before, heading back to the Telus Cup national championship but while the road may be familiar there have been a few more potholes to avoid this time around.
“In previous years we kind of walked through the playoffs. I wouldn’t say easily but certainly not with the adversity this year,” said Head Coach Doug Quinn. “For us to come from behind a couple of times and have the injuries that we had, moving guys to different positions and still come out and win was really special.”
Three players, Quinn Brown, Rory Davidson and Matt Zentner all experienced the win last season and Quinn said this year’s edition, while new to the challenge and effort required, have certainly come together as a team.
“Guys have accepted roles because they have really bought into the team first philosophy and ultimately that’s what got us to this point.”
Another factor in the return trip to the title tournament has been the steady play of goaltending tandem Matt Zentner and Jayden Sittler.
The pair teamed up for a league record in posting the lowest goals against average in Alberta and Quinn heaped plenty of praise on his two goalies.
“They both have had strong years and played well at different points in time,” said Quinn.
Zentner had a front row seat at last year’s championship run and hopes to follow the example set by Dasan Sydora who was stellar in the Chiefs run in 2012.
“I have a ton of respect for that guy (Sydora), even through the practice leading up to the Telus Cup he was going hard and he never stopped working,” said Zentner. “It all paid off for him and I think I learned quite a bit last year.”
Zentner had his share of bumps and bruises to deal with as did his teammates but similar to last year, the group battled through the injury bug which bit hard.
“Both years we did come together as a team pretty well and I think that just shows the character we have in our room.”
As the last line of defense Zentner seems to embrace the pressure being placed on his shoulders.
“As a goalie you kind of have to enjoy that at some point but it’s not an individual sport. Everyone’s got to carry a certain load and maybe there’s a little bit more on the goaltender,” he said.
Quinn said once this is over the team would have put in about eight months or so of hard work on and off the ice but it’s worth the struggle to get to the national championship.
“We talk about it, that’s what makes it so rewarding, and when you have success, the time, the commitment, the effort that goes into it,” he said.
Last year the Optimist Rebel Chiefs made a dramatic come back in the final against Quebec to claim the title and Quinn said he hopes that lesson in intensity will serve him well this time around if the squad should fine themselves in a similar position.
“I think I’m starting to learn a little bit better balance and trying to control my emotions a little bit so hopefully I can take some of the experience we had last year and apply that to this year.”