Over the last four years the Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs have been the premier midget AAA hockey team in the province.
Three times they won the Pacific regional title and competed at the Telus Cup. The last two years they’ve went on to capture the Canadian championship, including Sunday when they downed the Ottawa Jr. 67’s 5-0 in the gold medal game on national televisions. It was only the fourth time in the Telus Cup history a team has won back-to-back titles.
The major reason behind the team’s success has a lot to do with head coach Doug Quinn and his coaching staff.
And Quinn has already declared he’ll be returning next season.
“I like the fact that each year is a challenge as you have no idea who’ll be back and who we’ll have on the team,” he said. “It’s rewarding to take a group of 20 different individuals and personalities and build a team. It’s exciting as you see them buy into the team concept.
“The difficult part is taking individuals who were top, top players at other levels and having them adapt to our philosophies and adjust and accept their roles. At times it’s a struggle, but when they come together and buy into the team you can see it on and off the ice.”
Quinn and his staff have shown the ability to mold players into a championship team, no matter what level of talent they have. Two years ago the team was a touch more physical than this year’s edition, which possessed outstanding speed and the desire to consistently put pressure on their opponent.
“Last year we were a bit more physical and may have had a few more high end players, but this year I felt the team was a bit better,” he said. “We had a skating team that worked as a team.”
It was that ability to play at a high tempo that allowed them to dominate Ottawa.
“We watched them play the day before and they tried to slow the game down, so we wanted to use our speed and transition game and it worked to perfection. We had all four lines and six defencemen going. Even last year we seemed to tire a bit, but this year we never let down.”
Quinn went into the Telus Cup believing the team was prepared to make a run at their second straight title.
“You never know exactly what will happen, but we were getting stronger with our injured players returning. We played a lot of the playoffs with injuries and we had everyone back.”
The blueline was the biggest benefactor with Gabe Bast and Colton Bobyk returning along with forward Garrett Engert.
“We didn’t know how strong Gabe and Colton would be, but both got stronger as the week went on.”
Bast was impressive to say the least as he was named the tournament’s top defenceman, while Bobyk, who had missed a month prior to the tournament, was his normal deadly self on the point during the power play.
Although the Telus Cup was in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the Chiefs received excellent fan support.
“The fan support from the Red Deer parents and families was outstanding,” said Quinn. “And really, except when we played the host team, the local fans were very supportive.”
Next year’s Telus Cup is in Moose Jaw, although that’s a long way off for Quinn. First he has to put together a new group, although he is familiar with several of the players expected to make the team.
Two of them are bantam grad Tyler Steenbergen and Chase Olsen, who played 15-year-old last season. Both are forwards and helped the Chiefs win the province and Pacific titles when filling in for injured players.
“They played a major role in our success and what also helped a lot this year was that the Red Deer Minor Hockey allowed players to practice with us and having them there to learn about the speed and intensity of the game helped a lot.”
Quinn can’t say for sure where next year’s players will come from, but feels there’s a strong group coming in from the minor midget AAA and bantam. There’s also always a solid contingent of players from Central Alberta and midget AA who are ready to make the jump.
The midgets will be honoured Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arena.