Character and consistency will be the keys to the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs’ Alberta Midget Hockey League season, in the opinion of head coach Brandin Cote.
“I think we have a solid group and more importantly for us as coaches, we have a solid character group with kids that are together and willing to be a team,” said Cote.
Certainly, the Chiefs will be looking at moving up in the standings this season after finishing seventh in the South Division during the 2014-15 campaign and missing the playoffs by three points.
“It’s not that we weren’t competitive last year. We were right there, but we just weren’t consistent enough,” said Cote. “From top to bottom this season I think we’ll see a bit more consistency and character.
“I don’t want to say that we lacked character last season, but we have a lot of character kids this year.”
The Chiefs were 0-5 at the recent AMHL preseason tournament at Strathmore and posted their first win this fall in their final exhibition game Sunday at the Arena, where they got two goals from rookie forward Josh Tarzwell in a 5-3 victory over the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in an exhibition tournament in terms of results,” said Cote. “My primary focus was picking our team. The reality is we had some people to watch and I wanted to get as many guys in there as I could to see who can play at this level and who couldn’t.
“I think we got the people we need to have, I think we got it right in terms of the people we brought on. I like our team, we’re solid from our goaltenders on out.”
The Chiefs’ roster features six returning players and two more — goaltender Dawson Weatherill, who stopped pucks at Notre Dame College last winter, and defenceman Matt Krawiec, who suited up with the Leduc Oil Kings — who have midget AAA experience.
The returnees are rearguards Dayton Playford and Landon Mackenzie and forwards Parker Smyth, Tyler Graber, Regan Doig and Tyrees Goodrunning.
The rookie group includes three 15-year-olds in defenceman Luke Bast and forwards Tarzwell and Josh McNeil, all of whom played major bantam last season, with McNeil also getting some time at the minor midget AAA level.
“All three have been real good so far,” said Cote. “They all have a high skill level and they’re also very intelligent players.
“They bring that energy that we need. They’re willing to work and they’re willing to listen and learn. That’s all you can ask from those guys.”
Justin Travis, up from the minor midget AAA ranks, will share goaltending duties with Weatherill. Newcomers on defence include Brady Park (midget AA last season) and Adam Sandstrom (minor midget AAA).
The other first-year forwards are Zachary Froehlick (major bantam last winter), Levi Glasman and Joel Ray from the minor midget AAA ranks and Kobe Scott, Tanner Zentner and Landon Siege, all of whom played midget AA in 2014-15.
“I don’t necessarily know if we’ll be one of the most skilled teams, but we’re going to be real competitive every night,” said Cote. “We’re going to work and the kids showed that Sunday.
“We have guys like Tyrees Goodrunning, Parker Smyth and Tyler Graber who we’re going to lean on for leadership up front, for sure, and guys like Landon Mackenzie and Adam Sandstroms are big parts of our back end.”
The Optimist Chiefs open their regular-season schedule Friday at the Arena against the Calgary Buffaloes. Game time is 8 p.m