Red Deer Optimist Chiefs got a early Christmas gift this year.
In early September head coach Doug Quinn learned talented winger Ross Heidt was returning to the Alberta Midget Hockey League squad after spending a year with the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“We certainly didn’t expect him back . . . it was a real bonus for us,” said Quinn following a 6-1 victory over the Edmonton South Side Athletics at the Arena Sunday afternoon.
“He’s a strong player with a lot of speed and creates scoring opportunities.”
Heidt joined the Thunder last season after graduating from the IROC Chiefs 15-year-old team, which won the league and provincial championships under head coach Tom Bast in the 2011-12 season.
And while Heidt enjoyed his year with the Thunder he felt he would be better off finishing his high school at home.
“I wasn’t bearing down . . . it was hard for me to commit myself there,” he said. “I wanted to return here, get my schooling, graduate and hopefully win the Telus Cup.
“It’s a lot nicer to be at home with family and friends, where I know the school (Notre Dame) and the teachers. It makes it a lot easier.”
The 17-year-old played 46 games with the Thunder, scoring three goals and adding seven assists. He also played one playoff game.
“I didn’t get a lot of ice time, not the ice time I would have here, but it was a good experience and helped me mature,” he said.
“It was also important for me to get that experience.”
After leaving the Thunder Heidt’s rights were picked up by the Sherwood Park Crusaders and he was called up for one game this season.
“They have my rights, but I don’t know what will happen next year, but I’d like to go back and play junior and possibly get a scholarship down the road,” he said.
Heidt has always been an elite level skater, something he knows he needs to continue to work on as he moves up the ranks,.
“When you get to the next level the guys are bigger, stronger and faster, so I need to continue to work on that part of my game to stay ahead of the game. It’s my biggest asset and I need to use it.”
The five-foot-eight, 155-pound Heidt also knows he needs to continue to fill out.
“I need to continue to get bigger, be stronger on the puck and to work harder on my defence,” he added.
Those are things he works on every day with the Chiefs.
“Playing back here really helps my confidence,” he said. “In Drayton Valley you were afraid to make mistakes. Doug gets on you here, but it helps. Everyone is committed and we’re all friends . . . it’s a lot of fun in the room.”
The two-time defending national champion Chiefs will try to add another title to their resume when they play in the Calgary Mac’s Christmas tournament, beginning Thursday.
“I’m excited about that . . . it will be a blast,” said Heidt.
The Chiefs looked like a championship team Sunday, one day after losing 1-0 to the lowly Calgary Northstars in Calgary.
“We outshot them (Northstars) 54-17, but we weren’t committed to play while today was a much better effort,” said Quinn. “We were determined and grittier.”
What they also did was score early in the first period.
“We played well in Sherwood Park, but tied 1-1 and then were shutout, so we scored once in six periods, so that first goal today gave everyone some confidence,” said Quinn.
“Overall it was a good effort and if we play like that we’ll be tough to beat.”
A lack of consistent scoring has been the only real negative for the Chiefs, who have the best defence in the league.
“We’re much stronger in the defensive zone. We’re moving the puck better, but we still have lapses were we can’t score. Today we were more determined in front of the net and were getting to the so-called dirty areas.”
Heidt opened the scoring at 5:05 of the first period while Trey deGraaf and Jordie Lawson also connected before the end of the first period.
Gabe Bast and Travis Verveda added second period goals with Bast putting the finishing touches on the scoring with a power play goal late in the third period.
Jayden Sittler finished with 16 saves for the Chiefs, who had 38 shots on Calgary’s Stuart Skinner.
On Saturday Cole Sears made 16 saves in goal.