Al Sim was unsure just how his team would respond to being hosts at the Hockey Alberta Major Midget AA Provincial Championships.
The answer he got exceeded any expectations.
The Red Deer Indy Graphics Chiefs crushed the Edmonton’s South Side Athletic Club 6-2 at the Red Deer Arena on Thursday night to open the tournament in style.
“With all of the emotions going to provincials and the opening ceremonies, we’re happy with the start,” said Sim, the Chiefs head coach. “These guys are kids, so you never know. Day-to-day, hour-by-hour you try to keep them on the straight and narrow. Overall we had a bit of a slower start, the D side of the game wasn’t great, but as the game went on we got way stronger and better.”
The Chiefs were led by Mack Differenz who scored twice and added an assist while Declan Johnston, Devon Langelaar, Justin Paarup and Tanner Zentner also tallied for Red Deer. Justin Anderson made 22 saves for the win.
Jared Smith and Derek Mcwhinnie replied for SSAC while Reid Conroy-Dutton made 28 saves in the loss.
Offensively, the Chiefs came out on fire. They scored three goals in the first 15:08 to take a 3-1 lead, but it was their defence that hurt them early, allowing a late first period power-play goal to open the door for Edmonton.
SSAC carried that momentum over into the second period, killing off an extended five-on-three power play for the Chiefs early in the frame. But Red Deer finally broke through at 9:40 as Zentner put home a rebound to put the Chiefs back up by two goals.
Differenz then stretched the lead to 5-2 at 15:33 as he buried a cross-crease pass from Kyle Gibson.
He iced the game at 6:59 of the third period as he danced around an Edmonton defender and beat Conroy-Dutton. He was in on all three of the Chiefs final goals, as he the first assist on Zentner’s marker.
“That’s kind of my role on this team, I always look to produce for the team and it just happened to bounce my way tonight,” said Differenz.
The five-foot-nine Differenz, 18, was third on the team in scoring this year with 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 39 games, behind Zentner (29-31-60) and Logan Linnell (24-28-52).
“Mack’s a great player, he’s had a great season,” said Sim. “He’s just so dynamic with the puck and he’s a warrior for this team.”
The Chiefs made to provincials thanks to the host slot, but they nearly made it in with the Zone 4 banner, which they lost to the Red Deer Elks in three games. The Elks (26-5-3) and Chiefs (26-6-2) battled all season, finishing one-two in the South Central Alberta Hockey League standings, and a dream match up would have the two meeting in Sunday’s final, though Sim says they are not looking past today’s 11:15 a.m. meeting with the Wainwright Polar Kings. The Chiefs also play the Northeast Panthers at 8 p.m.
But there is an undeniable chip on the team’s shoulder with the belief they have something to prove.
“Not winning zones really gave us a boost into the (league playoff) series with Strathmore … but here I feel it’s a whole new game against teams we’ve never seen before,” said Differenz.
• Results from the Elks first game against the Calgary Royals was not available at press time. They play the Wheatland Chiefs today at 4:30 p.m. at the Kinex Arena. In other action, the Peace River Royals beat the Taber Golden Suns 6-5, the Northeast Panthers tied the Wainwright Polar Kings 3-3.