There’s a lot of pressure on this year’s edition of the Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs.
After all they’re taking the reins from the two-time defending national midget AAA champions.
But head coach Doug Quinn isn’t worried about that. All he wants is for the 20 players to come together, work as a team and see what happens.
So far so good.
“I’ve been fairly pleased, he said, following a 5-2 Alberta Midget Hockey League exhibition victory over the Sherwood Park Kings at the Arena Sunday afternoon. “I like some of our young talent. The 15-year-olds have high end ability and our defence for the most part is mobile. I also like our balance and we have good depth. But we still have to continue to work hard and develop as a team.”
Quinn looked at the weekend games against the Kings as a good indicator of what the team needs to do as they go into the opening of the AMHL regular season at home Friday against the Calgary Flames.
‘The kids need to understand how hard it is to win in this league and how hard they have to work. They do need a few reminders from time to time that if they don’t play a certain way they become a very average team pretty quickly.”
He looked back at Friday’s 2-2 draw with the Kings and Sunday afternoon’s game.
“On Friday we played two good periods then let up in the third and we tied. Today we played well in the first period, let up in the second and fell behind, then turned it on in the third and managed to win.”
The Chiefs have four players back from last year, including outstanding defenceman Gabe Bast. Goaltender Jayden Sittler and forwards Jordie Lawson and Trey deGraaf are also regulars returning. Forwards Tyler Steenbergen and Chase Olsen and defencemen Riley Mathies and Cole Kapak all saw action with the team last season. Steenbergen and Olsen both saw significant amount of plating time in the playoffs.
“Having the four kids returning is nice and it’s also a luxury to have the other kids who gained experience with us last season. For those kids to get a taste of it really helped them.”
The team also has speedy forward Ross Heidt back from a year with Drayton Valley of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“Having him back was an unexpected bonus,” said Quinn. “He can really skate and we’ve been happy with the way he’s played.”
Overall the Rebels have outstanding team speed, which they utilize on their forechecking and getting back on defence,
“We have a team that’s always been built on good defence and pressure with the forechecking,” said Quinn. “It does take a while for some of the kids to play that style, but after the first couple of exhibition games we’ve tightened up a lot.”
Having Sittler back on goal will be a strength as well.
“We didn’t expect him back, but he was a big part of the team last year and we’re counting on him this year.”
Other netminder is still up in the air. It’s between Cole Sears and Brody Dirk, who is presently injured.
Quinn kept three 15-year-olds with defenceman T.J. Brown and Red Deer Rebels first-round bantam draft pick, Jeff de Wit, joining Steenbergen.
Other rearguards are Travis Verveda and Andrew Nielsen while Layne Bensmiller, Carter Sawicki, Brad Makofka, Teagan Kooman, Quentin Greenwood and Allan Pruss round out the forwards.
Bensmiller scored a pair of goals against the Kings Sunday with Kooman notching the winner after Heidt had tied it in the third period. Steenbergen had the first marker.
Sittler started in goal and allowed two goals on 13 shots while Sears made 11 saves in the second half.
The Chiefs had 37 shots on goal and took one of three minor penalties.
The Chiefs have one more exhibition game on tap as they host the Canadian Women’s Olympic team, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arena.