It was a busy weekend for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs.
With the Mac’s Midget Tournament less than a week away, Red Deer’s own Midget AAA team looked to make their final tweaks and preparations last weekend before they head off to Calgary on Boxing Day.
The Chiefs kicked off the final stretch last Friday night, when they hosted the Lethbridge Midget AAA Hurricanes at the Red Deer Arena.
The game didn’t go quite as planned, though, as the Hurricanes shut them out 4-0, despite Red Deer out shooting them 34-30.
“We played a good team tonight that played hard and I thought we played well early. Then, you know, a couple of bad bounces and they get ahead and we just didn’t really recover,” said Head Coach Brandin Cote after Friday’s game.
Red Deer definitely looked like the stronger team out of the gate. They spent the majority of the first 10 minutes on the attack thanks to a strong forecheck that forced the Lethbridge defense to commit a number of turnovers and icings.
They also made sure to test Hurricanes’ goalie Andrew Suriano early and often, putting five shots on him in the first five minutes.
That all changed at the six-minute mark of the first period.
A quick transition by the Hurricanes in their own zone led to an odd man rush going the other way.
And the Hurricanes made no mistake, as D-Jay Jerome dropped it off for Connor Lyons who fired it past Red Deer goalie Dawson Weatherhill to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The goal came on Lethbridge’s third shot of the game and led to a shift in momentum that Red Deer couldn’t recover from.
It also highlighted one of the biggest struggles they faced that night – goaltending.
Weatherhill has been outstanding for the Chiefs so far this year. Prior to Friday night’s game he had allowed just 20 goals on 336 shots for a .940 save percentage on the season.
But the Chief’s second-year starter had a slow start on Friday night, allowing two goals on the first seven shots he faced.
“Our goaltending wasn’t as strong as what I would have liked tonight,” Cote said, adding the team also needed to convert on some of their scoring chances.
“We need to bury some chances because no matter what the score is, I mean, you’ve got to get more than one to win.”
The Hurricanes played an excellent game as well. Their defense was outstanding and their offense took advantage of nearly every quality scoring chance they got.
While the Chiefs out shot Lethbridge 24-14 in the first two periods, the majority of their shots, especially in the second and third, came from low-scoring areas because the Hurricanes’ defense were just all over Red Deer’s forwards.
And the few quality scoring chances the Chiefs could get were turned aside by Suriano, who stopped all 34 shots that came his way.
“Their goaltender played well, but I don’t know if we tested him enough, really, with some real good scoring chances or second chances around the net,” Cote said.
At the end of the day, the Hurricanes just played more physically and more aggressively than the Chiefs, which is why they came away with the win.
Saturday didn’t go much better for the Chiefs as they travelled south on the QEII Hwy. to take on the Calgary Midget AAA Flames.
In stark contrast to Friday’s loss, Saturday’s game saw them get out shot 41-31 on the way to a 6-3 loss.
It wasn’t the way the Chiefs wanted to follow up after Friday night’s game, especially considering they only managed to direct five shots towards the opposing goaltender through the entire first period.
The Chief’s special teams also suffered a set back, Saturday, allowing two short handed goals and a power play marker on one of their only two penalty kills in the game.
“We just have to play a little bit more disciplined,” Cote said.
It’s going to be a tough and important game for the Chiefs as they look to bounce back on Wednesday night when they head to Airdrie to take on the Airdrie Lighting in their final contest before the Mac’s Tournament begins on Dec. 26th.