After posting an 18-3-3 record and finishing in first place in the ACAC during the regular season, the RDC Queens women’s hockey team wrapped up a season of successes, Friday, winning the ACAC championship series 3-1 over the NAIT Ooks.
“I think we’ve been preparing all year. To be prepared in the playoffs you have to be ready for any situation that can occur, so I think as a group we’ve always been working on making sure we’re prepared to execute in any situation,” said Queens’ Head Coach Kelly Coulter.
The Queens didn’t get off to the best of starts during best of five series, which kicked off on March 3rd at the Red Deer Arena, losing game one 2-1 to the Ooks. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as the Queens put 36 shots on goal that game, with 21 of them coming in the third period alone.
NAIT goalie Tehnille Gard proved to be a tough challenge for the Queens’ offense all series long, stopping 30 shots or more on three separate occasions, including two 40-plus save performances.
The game one loss, however, was the only one the Queens would give up in the series, as they went on to sweep the next three games to clinch the banner, starting with game two at NAIT, in which they claimed a decisive 5-1 victory.
“The girls showed a lot of perseverance and belief in themselves that they could pull out the victory,” Coulter said, adding the team has been good at playing from behind all season long.
Game three in Red Deer was about as close as you can get in the score department, though the shots column tells a slightly different story.
After a back and forth start to the game, the Queens managed to strike first in the opening frame as Jayna Kitchen notched her second goal of the playoffs with the assist coming from Keinyn Nordel at 17:22 of the first period, during which RDC out shot the Ooks 18-9.
It didn’t take long for NAIT to respond, though. Just nine minutes into the middle period, Lindsey Roth managed to beat RDC goaltender Jen West to tie it up at one goal apiece heading into the final frame.
Despite the close score, the Queens were the front runners during game three. After two periods they had out shot the Ooks 31-17 and showed no signs of slowing down, so it was only a matter of time until they managed to find a way past Gard.
It took another 16 minutes for them to do just that, though, as Gard continued to stymie Red Deer’s offense before a scramble in front of NAIT’s net allowed Jessica Anderson to jam in a rebound off of a Julia Murrell shot for the game winner.
“It’s a war of attrition and I think the girls understand that. We have to continue to do what we do well in the next game,” Coulter said after the third game.
The win gave RDC a 2-1 series lead and a chance to win it all on Friday night in Edmonton.
“It started out very good for us in the first period. We were up 2-0 at the end of 20 (minutes),” Coulter said of the fourth game, which was easily the closest of the series. RDC’s first two of the game were power play markers by Emily Swier (assists from Rikki Leonard and Kaely McMurtry) and Jade Petrie (assist by Nikki Connor).
The lead, however, was short-lived.
Just four minutes in the the second period, Carlin Boey of the Ooks managed to beat West and cut the lead in half. Three minutes later, NAIT tied it up with a goal by Chelsea Gauchier. Just two minutes after that they took a 3-2 lead with a goal by Roth.
“It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster because we were down 3-2 after two periods. Some interesting goals were scored throughout the series, so it was a very tight emotional roller coaster.”
To make matters worse for the Queens, Gard was playing arguably her best game of the series and managed to stop all 12 shots thrown at her during the second period alone.
It wasn’t until the final minute of the third period that RDC was able to break through, as Ashely Graf scored on a Cassidy Anderson assist to knot it up with just 15 seconds remaining and force overtime.
The first overtime was West’s time to shine. She stopped seven shots and the Queens killed off a key cross-checking penalty early in the extra frame to keep the game alive.
“I think what we had told them as a coaching staff between the first overtime period and the second one was we’re leading the series, so what we want to do is continue to create turnovers but continue to play our game,” Coulter said, adding the approach worked.
Swier was the overtime hero for the Queens as she put it past Gard six minutes into the second overtime frame for the game, and championship winning goal.
“I was ecstatic for our players. Many of them have been here over the years and hadn’t achieved a gold medal so I’m extremely happy and proud of them. Probably just a sense of satisfaction on the bench and very proud to see the girls with smiles on their faces.”
This is the first time the Queens have won the championship since 2002.