Midget Chiefs impress after downing Canadian women's team
Canadian national women’s hockey team head coach Dan Church was appreciative of the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs Tuesday.
He was also impressed with the midget AAA team.
“This was a fast game tonight. They (Chiefs) are well-coached and there’s a lot of good players on that side,” said Church, whose squad fell 2-1 to the Chiefs in an exhibition played before roughly 500 fans at the Red Deer Arena.
“There’s a lot of good players in this area and that’s part of why they’ve been so successful over the last couple of years,” added Church, in reference to the Chiefs’ back-to-back Canadian midget AAA championships. “They did a good job of pushing the pace all night.”
The Canadian women will play 30 games against Alberta Midget Hockey League teams this year while preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. Church, in his third season as head coach of the national squad, insisted the meetings will be crucial in preparing for the big stage.
“These games are great for us because they put us is so many different situations,” he said. “Tonight we were up a goal going into the second period. Then we were tied and then down a goal with five minutes to play and had to play six on five. That really helps our players to feel comfortable if those situations happen down the road.
“This is also a smaller rink than we’re used to playing on and to have to play against a fast team that puts pressure on is really good for us. It’s what we want to get out of these games.”
The Canadian team, which took a 5-1 record versus AMHL clubs heading into Tuesday’s outing, plays a fast-paced game that’s right at home with the Optimist Chiefs under head coach Doug Quinn.
“The women’s team was fast and we handled it well and moved the puck really well,” said Chiefs forward and Red Deer Rebels top-grade prospect Jeff de Wit. “You have to get shots on net, especially with a goalie like that.”
De Wit was referring to veteran Canadian netminder Charline Labonte, who finished with 23 saves, the same number of stops turned in by Optimist goaltender Cole Sears.
Jennifer Wakefield beat Sears with a quick volley from the high slot in the first period. Trey deGraaf pulled the home side even late in the middle frame — taking a perfect crossing pass from Tyler Steenbergen and stepping around Labonte — and Steenbergen potted the winner in the third period, converting a centering feed from defenceman Andrew Nielsen.
Church, who has a healthy mix of veterans and younger skaters vying for the rights to represent the country in the 2014 Olympics, hopes the heavy exhibition schedule against AMHL teams is beneficial to both sides.
“I’d like to think it helps them as well. We’ve had good feedback during the first games we’ve played against the midgets,” he said. “They’re impressed with our team game and I think that’s the strength of our team and what we bring to these guys — them knowing that they have to play three solid periods against a good tactical team.”
While women’s hockey does not allow body-checking, de Wit insisted it wasn’t overly difficult for the Chiefs to make the proper adjustments.
“It’s different for sure, but you still have to be aggressive with them, you still have to play your game to a certain point,” he said. “For sure you’re a little more cautious than usual but you still want to give them no space and be hard on them.”
Certainly the pre-game message from head coach Quinn didn’t change.
“We approached the game the same way we approach every game,” said de Wit. “Our coach just said to go out and have fun and keep the intensity up.”