The Red Deer Indy Graphics Chiefs were set up for a year of celebration, but ended up with heart ache.
The Chiefs season came to a crashing end on Saturday as they lost 5-1 in Game 4 of the South Central Alberta Midget AA Hockey League final to the Wheatland Chiefs out of Strathmore at the Red Deer Arena.
The 3-1 series loss followed closely on the heels of falling in overtime of the provincial final at the Arena the previous weekend, after rallying from a 3-0 third period deficit against the Calgary Royals.
“This year was an unbelievable run, we started in September and told these kids our goal was to be a provincial champion and a league champion,” said Chiefs head coach Al Sims. “We got to the dance in both but unfortunately got silver in both of them.”
On Saturday, Kyle Gibson scored the lone goal for Red Deer while Justin Anderson allowed four goals on 17 shots before getting replaced 37 seconds into the third period. Geordan Andrew stopped three of the four shots he faced.
Jayden Smith scored twice for Wheatland while Jayse Wilson, Cole Busslinger and Ryan Skytt also scored. Nolan Kent made 28 saves for the win.
Between provincials and league finals, they Chiefs played a lot of hockey in the last two weeks and appeared to run out of gas on Saturday.
But in truth, they probably lost the series on Friday when they lost 3-1 despite outshooting Wheatland 41-24.
The game was tied 1-1 12 minutes into the third period when Wheatland was given a full five-on-three power play on two calls the Chiefs debate.
Wheatland scored 25 seconds into the power play and then added an empty-netter to take all of the momentum in the series.
“Our coaches competed and our team competed and somebody else didn’t do the right thing in the game and didn’t compete properly,” said Sims. “It was an adversity that any team shouldn’t have to go through.”
It was still a largely successful season for the Chiefs, who rolled through the regular season at 26-6-2 to finish second in the North Division, one point behind the Red Deer Elks.
The Chiefs beat the Elks in the North final to advance to the league final.
The Elks, however, edged the Chiefs in the zone final to carry the banner into provincials. The Chiefs got their revenge in the zone semifinal, beating the Elks 4-2 to advance to the tournament final.
“You evaluate these kids in September and you pick kids for what you see, and sometimes they’re not the most talented kids in September but you know where you can bring them to in March and these kids have come a long way,” said Sims. “It’s been a good group, they listened and they learned.”
The Chiefs are graduating seven 17 year olds on to junior next year while many of the 16 year olds are expected to push for spots on the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs midget AAA team.
Lessons learned this year will go a long way into the steps they take in September.
Sims, however, will be walking away from the game, taking a much needed break from coaching after 15 years behind minor hockey benches. It’s a tough note to go out on.
“I actually had a tear in my eye during the national anthem, because looking over I knew this was the last time I was going to hear the national anthem while coaching this group of kids, my son included,” said Sims. “The other lousy thing for me is that this is the second last year for the Arena and my last year of coaching in it. It’s a glorious barn and it’s not right that it’s going to be torn down.”