Rockets 3 Chiefs 1
The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs find themselves in a familiar position.
Last season the Chiefs dropped the opening game of the best-of-three Pacific Cup midget AAA hockey championship, before storming back to win the next two games and eventually go on to win their second straight Telus Cup championship.
And last year’s Pacific Cup playoff was on the road.
So when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Okanagan Rockets of Kelowna before an estimated crowd of close to 1,300 at the Arena Friday head coach Doug Quinn wasn’t about to panic.
“We lost the first game last year and that’s something we talked about,” he said. “We need to win two games and we lost the first one, now we need to focus on tomorrow (7 p.m. tonight), put in a better effort and try to win that game. If it gets to a deciding game anything an happen.”
Quinn felt several of his players were trying too hard to please everyone, but themselves.
“This is supposed to be a positive thing. We play with a lot of expectations at times. Looking at the teams of the past and the kids feel if we don’t do well they’ll let their friends and parents down, but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter. We need to play for each other in that room and have fun with it. If we win great, if we lose it’s not life or death.”
The Chiefs weren’t overly sharp, but then the Rockets didn’t exactly storm out of the gate either. The Rockets managed just three shots in the opening period, but the third shot gave them a 1-0 lead when Tanner Campbell’s pass deflected off Red Deer defenceman Travis Verveda’s skate under goaltender Jayden Sittler at 10:25 while on the power play.
“They had a power play just before that and we managed to kill it off and we got one right away and I felt it was our time,” said Rockets head coach Mack O’Rourke. “We’ve had a lot of success on the power play.
“We did get a break when the puck went in off a skate, but we’ll take it. It seemed to mellow the guys out.”
The Rebels managed a 9-3 edge in shots in the opening frame, but had limited scoring chances. The Rockets made it 2-0 at 6:02 of the middle stanza when Tyson Jost converted a rebound while on a two-man advantage.
“I thought we were really uptight and weren’t skating and playing the way we’re capable of, then when they scored that second goal we really tightened up,” said Quinn. “We’ve had stretches like that before and have a really hard time scoring. We just have to forget about this game, it’s already gone, and regroup and be better tomorrow. We have to learn and grow from this experience.”
Tanner Wishnowski made it 3-0 at 15:46 of the second period shovelling home a rebound into the open side. The Chiefs seemed to relax a bit in the third period and Jeff de Wit put them on the board, tipping in a point shot on the power play at 13:10.
The Chiefs could have won the game on the power play as they had eight man advantages, although the last one was only seven seconds.
“They blocked a lot of shots,” said Quinn. “They did a good job of taking away the shooting lanes, but sometimes our recognition wasn’t there.
“We’ll make a couple of small changes, but the biggest thing is to lighten up and relax. It’s not supposed to feel like torture.”
O’Rourke liked the way his team performed, but wasn’t happy with the penalties.
“We did a lot of good things that game . . . I wasn’t disappointed in anything. I liked our speed, although I would like a few more shots and obviously we don’t want to take seven penalties and give that power play that many chances.”
The Rockets killed penalties similar to Lloydminster, as they plugged up the middle and blocked shots. It wasn’t something O’Rourke saw in the Chiefs win over Lloydminster in the Alberta final.
“There isn’t any video from Alberta, but we played them (Chiefs) in the Mac’s (at Christmas) and did have that footage . . . we saw their tendencies and hoped for the best.”
The Chiefs managed 33 shots on the Rockets Brendan Barry, who was named their player of the game. Defenceman Gabe Bast was Red Deer’s top player. Sittler faced 21 shots.
If a third game is necessary it’s Sunday at 2 p.m.