Red Deer Optimist Chiefs head coach Brandin Cote is adamant that despite a slow start, his team has what it takes to contend this season.
After falling 4-1 to the Calgary Northstars on Sunday at the Red Deer Arena, the Chiefs dropped to an uncharacteristic 2-4-2 record to open the Alberta Midget Hockey League season.
However, the Chiefs certainly did not look like a team that was lagging behind on Sunday.
“This was the best game we’ve played overall,” said Cote. “This weekend was probably our best weekend we’ve had overall in terms of playing better team defence, in terms of blocking shots and in terms of doing the little things we need to do to be successful.”
Adam Tisdale, Jason Wenzel, Blake Connor and Ben Zinkan all scored for Calgary while Logan Drackett made 26 saves for the win.
Ryan Vandervlis scored for Red Deer while Cole Sears stopped 16 shots in net.
The biggest issue facing the Chiefs this season has been their team defence.
The players have had difficulty adapting to Cote’s new systems, and through eight games they have allowed more goals 31, than any other team in the South Division.
On Saturday, however, there was a marked improvement in play in their own zone, despite a 2-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
That effort continued on Sunday as they outplayed the Northstars until the final few minutes of the game.
“The first three weeks we had people cheating on the wrong side of the puck, now we don’t as much,” said Cote. “We’re getting it , we’re blocking more shots, we’re playing tighter defensively, we have to shore some things up in terms of turnovers and mental errors in our own end. But it’s a mentality and that’s what we’re trying to teach the kids on a daily basis, and they’ll get it eventually.”
On Sunday, Tisdale opened the scoring for Calgary at 3:47 of the first period, then Wenzel made it 2-0 at 13:59 on the power play.
The Chiefs cut the lead in half at 7:50 of the second period but that’s as close as they would get.
They appeared to tie the game up late in the third period, but the goal was called back on a high stick.
About a minute later, Parker Smyth was called for charging and Blake snapped a third Northstars goal past Sears at 16:53. They added an empty-net goal at 17:42.
“We started off pretty good, we had a couple of mistakes end up in the back of our net — they’re an opportunistic team — and from there we took the game over, we dominated and probably deserved better,” said Cote. “We had a goal called back that I thought probably should have been a goal then we take a selfish penalty and it ends up in the back of our net.”
Cote is confident that he has the right pieces in place on this club to make a playoff run. Right now they sit in last place in the division with six points, but they are only two points behind the Calgary Royals for fourth place.
The head coach is preaching patience with this group.
“It’s hard I think from the outside looking in,” said Cote. “In the past I think the teams have started out well and just rolled through. We’ve got a different group of people, but we’ve got a good group of people and a group of kids. We’re working with them, we’re teaching and at this point that’s all we really can ask. I truly believe we’re going in the right direction …
“We don’t want to be a team who peaks in October, we want to be a team that peaks in February and March.”
Next week the Chiefs are on the road for both games, playing the Lloydminster Bobcats on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. and in Edmonton on Sunday to play the Canadian Athletic Club at 4:45 p.m.