PENHOLD — The Central Alberta Amazons have a bit of unfinished business they are trying to make amends for.
The Amazons (10-7-2) made it all of the way to the Alberta Junior Female Hockey League final last year before falling in three straight games to the Edmonton Wolves.
With a strong returning group of players, their goal is to get back to that point.
Problem is, they head into the Christmas break on a five-game losing skid as they battle a string of injuries.
This includes Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Warriors (8-10-1) and 4-1 loss to the Calgary Titans (10-8-2) — both games on home ice at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“We were fourth in the league last year at playoff time and fought back and beat the teams above us,” said second year head coach John Kadar, following Saturday’s defeat in which they blew a 2-0 third period lead. “We’ve got the team to do it, I think we’ve got a better team than last year, and we just have to keep it going.”
Despite their recent struggles, there is much to like out of the first half of the season.
When icing a full roster, they have been one of the 10-team league’s top clubs, as they raced out to a 10-4-0 start and were sitting in first place in the South Division before the slide started.
The current losing streak, however, has them in a tie for second place with the Titans.
“Our captain’s injured and then a bunch of the girls went home for Christmas,” said forward Emma Malsbury. “It’s hard because we were running with four lines all year and now we’re down to two, so it’s hard for some of the girls to get used to it.”
Kadar is seeing that lack of experience on the bench right now hurt them. Seven of their 13 players on the weekend were rookies, and that hurt them in closing out Saturday’s game and then were unable to stop the bleeding in the second period on Sunday as they were outscored 3-1 in the frame.
“When you’re missing your vets and you’re trying to keep control of the bench, it’s tough to do,” he said.
The Amazons have been leaning on their second and third year players on all year, but this month has been an opportunity for their rookies to experience the full weight of the league.
“Our veterans are leading really well, and our young girls are in the game and they’re learning,” said Kadar.
Goaltending has been one of their biggest strengths in the first half of the season.
First year goalie Nisa Bartlett of Red Deer has had to shoulder the load the last couple of weeks with veteran goalie Kelly Hauser one of the walking wounded. But the diminutive netminder has held up well, posting a 1.81 goals against average with a .932 save percentage, both numbers better than Hauser’s — 2.50 G.A.A. and .906 save percentage.
Offensively they have a solid group when healthy, but two of their top three scorers have missed considerable time.
Third year forward Kelsey Mastel leads the team with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assist) despite only playing 13 games while second year Amazon Stacey Duncan is third on team with 13 points (11-2-13) despite only suiting up 12 times.
Malsbury has 14 points (10-4-14) and has got into 15 of their 18 games.
“We have a really good offence, getting the puck to the net and scoring has really been our strong,” she said.
This is Malsbury’s first season with the club after playing the last two years with the SAIT Trojans of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
For the Penhold native and Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs alumni, having an opportunity to play competitive hockey at home is huge, and says the two levels are pretty close in ability.
“Obviously in college hockey you’re practicing more and playing more games, but here it’s just as good, I think, and pretty good competition,” said Malsbury.
One of the biggest challenges for the Amazons is trying to get their roster, which includes players from across Western Canada, all on the same page.
“We’ve managed to take some girls that are from all over the place — B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta — and that’s a real chore just to get them to bond together and really become a team,” said Kadar. “I think if we stick to our game plan and our systems, it will turn out.”
And there in lies the rub, just getting the team back together and healthy.
It is all about the post-Christmas schedule for the Amazons.
“We just have to get everybody here and everybody back in the groove and get our lines back to normal and everything will start clicking again,” said Malsbury.
The Amazons return to action on Jan. 3 when they host the Medicine Hat Hockey Hounds (4-12-0) at 4:15 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. The Lethbridge Eagles (14-4-0) then visit on Jan. 4 at 1:30 p.m.
NOTES — Malsbury and Kendra Rusaw both scored for the Amazons in Saturdays loss while Bartlett made 25 saves … Andrea Anderson score the Amazons’ lone goal in their 4-1 loss to the Titans on Sunday while Bartlett made 23 stops.