The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs started the season with a win and a loss over the weekend.
Red Deer’s Midget AAA hockey team started the season off strong with a win over the Calgary Buffaloes on Friday night at home before jumping on the QEII Hwy. for an afternoon matchup against the Lethbridge Midget AAA Hurricanes. Despite a strong showing in the first game, the team couldn’t quite best the Hurricanes, falling 4-1.
“I think it was a positive step forward for sure,” said Head Coach Brandin Cote.
The first period of Friday’s game saw a fairly even matchup. Neither side scored, although the Optimist Chiefs ended up with a 12-9 lead in shots.
“Anytime you’re early in the season, I mean, there’s lots of things you still need to work on. But I really liked their energy level right from the start of the game,” Cote said, adding that the Buffaloes are a really quick and skilled team.
“We had weathered their storm early on. They kind of took it to us at the start.”
Cote said the first game at home for any team can be a bit of an emotionally charged moment, especially for younger players.
“Everyone’s kind of a little bit jacked up and nervous. I think once the boys settled their nerves a little bit and we settled in we were fine,” he said.
It took until halfway through the second period for someone to break the deadlock. At 11:15 of the second, the Chiefs drew first blood thanks to a goal by Landon Mackenzie. Dayton Playford and Josh Tarzwell picked up the assists.
“For the most part we controlled the play and we capitalized on some key opportunities,” Cote said.
The Chiefs would add another goal four minutes later on a shot by Landon Zetner to take a 2-0 lead going into the third period.
The home team kept the pressure on early in the third. Just four and a half minutes into the final frame, with the Chiefs on the power play, Landon Siegle picked up his first goal of the season to give his team a 3-0 lead.
Parker Smyth and Tyler Graber picked up the assists on the play.
Things started to look like they might fall apart late in the period, however, when Ayden Roche-Setoguchi and Kyle Harrison connected with Cooper Johnson on the power play to bring the Buffaloes within two.
“They had a push at the end where they scored one on the power play and then they pulled the goalie with 30 seconds left and they scored one,” Cote said. He added he thought the Chiefs did a really good job of not panicking and sticking to the game plan to come away with the win.
The Buffaloes’ second goal came with just six seconds remaining in the game.
Calgary ended up out-shooting Red Deer 33-27. Red Deer goaltender Justin Travis turned aside 31 shots while allowing only two goals and picking up an assist on the Zetner goal.
“At this point of the season, there’s not really one or two things. I think that it’s just the body of work that needs to continue to grow. We’re still trying to implement our team’s structure in terms of our special teams and our forecheck, so that’s going to take some time to implement,” the coach said.
Saturday turned out to be a much tougher challenge. The Chiefs headed south to Lethbridge for an afternoon matchup against the Hurricanes.
“That was a tough one. I mean we had a tough turnaround, I mean we played a late game on Friday and we were up early on Saturday for a mid-afternoon game,” Cote said, adding the quick turnarounds can be difficult for players to adjust to, especially when travel is involved.
“Not necessarily an excuse but that played a part in it I think.”
According to the coach, the Buffaloes came out flat-footed early in the game.
“The game was fairly even, kind of a feeling-out process.”
The Chiefs did manage to score the first goal of the game, as Siegle picked up his second of the weekend halfway through the first period.
The ‘Canes answered back the very next shift, though, taking some wind out of Red Deer’s sails.
“I think that kind of deflated us a little bit,” Cote said.
Lethbridge would add two more goals in the second and one in the third to claim a 4-1 victory.
“As the game went on, I didn’t necessarily think we were outplayed. They got a few breaks on a few goals where we had guys laying down to block shots and instead of them getting out of the zone, they stayed in,” Cote said.
“When you’re battling and things like that happen, it kind of takes the wind out of the sails a little bit.”
Cote said while the loss was unfortunate, he wasn’t disappointed with the team’s effort.
Next up for the Chiefs will be a couple of tough road games against the CAC Gregg Distributors and the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings. Their next home game will be Oct. 17th when they face off against the Distributors at Red Deer Arena. The puck drops on that one at 4:45 p.m.