Two of the most successful coaches in Red Deer Optimist Chiefs’ history are going head-to-head in the best-of-five Alberta Midget Hockey League South Division semifinal, which opened at the Arena Wednesday.
Former head coach Dan MacDonald, who took the Chiefs to four national finals, finishing second twice, is in his first season with the UFA Bisons while Doug Quinn is on the bench for the two-time defending Telus Cup champion Chiefs.
Quinn, who has attended the last three Telus Cup finals, and the Chiefs got the early edge in the series with a 3-2 victory.
“They were just a few points behind us so we expect a tough series,” said Quinn. “They’re a good team, skate well and are well coached. They have a good transition game, which caught us a couple of times and created some scoring chances. In fact they scored their second goal off it.”
After a scoreless first period, Quentin Greenwood gave the Chiefs the lead at 6:05 of the second period on a scramble in front of netminder Garrett Mason.
Joshua Bishop tied the game for the Bisons at 18:07 with a shot from the point that deflected off a Red Deer stick. However, Travis Verveda put Red Deer ahead again with a blast from the point on the power play at 19:32.
Clay Murray tied the score for the Bisons at 3:35 of the third period, setting the stage for an outstanding play by Tyler Steenbergen, who potted the winner at 16:53. Steenbergen out-raced a Bison defender to get a loose puck before it reached the icing line, cut across in front of Mason and calmly shovelled the puck in the open side.
“That was a great play by Tyler,” said Quinn. “He certainly has the ability to score. He made a play out of nothing.”
Steenbergen also drew a penalty with a little over two minutes remaining, but the Chiefs were unable to capitalize. As a result the Bisons were able to get Mason out of the goal and then Red Deer took a penalty with 9.3 seconds remaining.
“We had a chance to get the puck out of our zone with a little over 10 seconds remaining, but failed to do so and were forced to take a penalty, then lost the draw,” explained Quinn.
As a result the Bisons had several glorious chances to tie the game before netminder Jayden Sittler managed to jump on the puck at the whistle.
“Jayden had to come up with three outstanding saves over those final seconds,” said Quinn.
“We just didn’t finish,” said MacDonald, who last coached the Chiefs in 2001. “But we’re alright. There’s nothing wrong with our team, although we don’t have the charisma they do and don’t have the same expectations. They have a helluva team, but we’re not done We’ll make a game (series) of it.”
Quinn knows all about MacDonald’s history.
“I’m certainly aware of what he did in his career. He worked with some of my assistant coaches and he has had success at all levels and has the experience and knowledge.”
The Chiefs held a 49-24 edge in shots and Quinn feels they can even be a bit better, especially early in the game.
“We were off for over a week and it affected us a bit,” he said. “They came with a lot of speed and we didn’t react as well early as we should have. But we settled down and I was happy with the effort and happy with the win.”
While MacDonald is playing his old team, he can’t look at it that way.
“It is what it is. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing I can’t look at it that way. We know it will be tough and we need to look at how to get through it,” concluded MacDonald, who teaches high school in Strathmore where all the players attend.
The second game goes Friday at 8 p.m. in Strathmore with the third game Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Arena. If a fourth game is necessary it’s March 4 in Strathmore with possibly the fifth game March 7 at 8 p.m. at the Arena.