The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs have spent the season building towards the Esso Cup.
On Tuesday, the trophy for the midget AAA girls hockey national championship was unveiled at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
Although the week-long tournament does not get underway until April 19, for the team it signifies the finish line coming within sight.
“The journey is pretty near over,” said Chiefs head coach Tom Bast. “All of the lessons that we’ve learned over time are going to benefit us in our final leg of this journey.”
The Chiefs are off for much of the next four weeks until the tournament starts — the exception being a training excursion to the Warner Hockey School — with the goal of getting healthy and fine-tuning their game.
And the Chiefs have every intention of being the first host team to win the Esso Cup in its seven-year history.
The Chiefs finished the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League season in second place in the standings and made it all of the way to the provincial final last weekend in Spruce Grove, falling 3-1 to the Edmonton Thunder in the championship game.
The Chiefs have played all over Western Canada this year, searching out the best possible competition in order to prepare for the Esso Cup, which will be played at the Red Deer Arena.
“All I know is we’re going to compete,” said Bast. “In hockey, you’ve got to have your bounces, you’ve got to have your goaltending, you’ve got to have all of the pieces of the puzzle working together for you. All I can say is we’re going to try. I’m a coach who pushes and these girls know how tough it’s going to be.”
The Esso Cup is the latest in a long series of national championships and tournaments to come to Red Deer in recent years, including the Telus Cup (national midget boys championship), Scotties Tournament of Hearts (women’s curling) and Allan Cup (senior mens hockey). Red Deer has also been awarded the 2016 Master Card Memorial Cup and the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
For Mayor Tara Veer, the Esso Cup holds a special importance.
“One of the aspects that I’m most excited about Red Deer securing the 2015 Esso Cup is the opportunity we have to grow young female athletes,” said Veer.
“They have made us proud by their sporting success and we need to, as a community, make them proud by showing up at the games, by volunteering and rallying behind them and saying that we believe in them and that they have unlimited potential.”
Organizers are still looking for some volunteers to handle things like security and other responsibilities. Interested parties can contact Red Deer Minor Hockey Association president and tournament director Todd Thiessen through the minor hockey head office or the association’s website.
Thiessen sees this tournament as a major opportunity for the association.
“The female game has really grown in the last 10 years,” he said. “The female game has changed … it is it’s own brand and we want to promote growth, we want more girls to play. It’s a great game to play and also to watch. But at the same time, it is a great tool to develop our youth who are going to be our future leaders.”
Tickets for the Esso Cup are available through the Hockey Canada website, with tournament packages set at $50. TSN will broadcast the final nationally on April 25.