It’s the elephant in the room for the Red Deer Midget AAA Optimist Chiefs.
The 2012 national championship banner hangs from the rafters in the west end of the Red Deer Arena but while the head coach says they do talk about last season quite a bit, the subject doesn’t dominate any discussion.
Doug Quinn says he learned a long time ago to be careful about comparing one team from the end of last year to another team at the start of a season.
“We try first and foremost to develop hockey players and teach them what it takes to play for a top program and to play for a championship,” he said. “The work ethic, the commitment that goes with it, it’s a long journey.”
One of the players he expects to help guide this team on that journey is 17-year-old defenseman Quinn Brown, the only returning rearguard from last year’s championship squad.
“He took some big steps last year and what I’ve seen at the start of this year he’s really tried to set an example and he’s really kind of taken charge to be one of our leaders this year.”
Being the veteran back of the blue line Brown says he anticipated having this role heading into the season.
“Yeah I think Doug looks towards me to kind of help the boys out, kind of show them what we went through last year and get through some of the ups and downs,” said Brown.
He admits there will be moments in the defensive zone where the team’s age might show a bit but it’s comforting to know there is a veteran goalie the calibre of Matt Zentner back there to possibly bail them out on occasion.
“Yeah it’s really good with lots of experience in net. He knows what it takes to get through there.”
Coach Quinn says he’s happy with having Zentner between the pipes this season and so far he likes what he has seen from the veteran.
“I was a little bit surprised that we had the opportunity for him to come back because I know he can certainly play at a higher level,” said Quinn. “But to have Matt back really solidified our goal tending this year.”
Quinn says this year’s edition has some good balance and depth which should take them a long way in the year.
“It’s similar to what we had in the past, maybe not some of the elite talent that maybe we had,” he said.
In spite of their age he likes the depth on his young defense corps and feels while the size up front isn’t the same as last year the skill set is comparable.
It’s still early and Quinn says at this point of the season it’s about getting players some ice time and see how they develop now with the second half of the season geared towards winning as much as possible in order to be a team to be reckoned with come playoff time.
“Over the last few years we’ve tried to develop a culture around here. The expectation is probably higher than they (the players) have experienced in the past. There’s a lot of commitment, there’s a lot of work that goes into building a championship team and that’s what we’re looking to build in these kids, a work ethic that’s second to none.”