Photo by JOSH ALDRICH/Advocate staff -- for Josh's story -- Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs forward Maddison Toppe emerges from a crowd with the puck as Spruce Grove Saints Erika Iglesias

Sutter Fund Chiefs break losing streak

The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs broke out of their New Year doldrums in a big way on Sunday. The Chiefs hammered the Spruce Grove Saints 6-2 in Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League action at the Collicutt Centre, snapping a three-game losing skid in which they were shut out twice. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing with repetition and hard work,” said Chiefs head coach Tom Bast.

Chiefs 6 Saints 2

The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs broke out of their New Year doldrums in a big way on Sunday.

The Chiefs hammered the Spruce Grove Saints 6-2 in Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League action at the Collicutt Centre, snapping a three-game losing skid in which they were shut out twice.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing with repetition and hard work,” said Chiefs head coach Tom Bast.

“This is the junior A of women’s hockey. It’s very competitive and every win means everything to everybody; just to create wins and create confidence and to keep being successful. Success breeds confidence.”

Breanna Martin led the charge for the Chiefs (18-7-0-5) with two goals and an assist while Kirsten Baumgardt, Erika Marshall, Maddison Toppe and Abagael Thiessen also scored. Bailey Knapp made 18 saves for the win.

Jayme Abel and Tyra Meropoulis replied for Spruce Grove (11-14-1-2) while Courtney Beierbach made 28 saves in the loss.

Goals have been hard to come by for the Chiefs since the calendar turned over to 2015. They were given the Christmas break off in order to save themselves for what is going to be a long post-season as hosts of the Esso Cup. But they had just five goals in the first four games since returning to league play, dropping them back into the middle of the pack in the league in goals for. Their top two scorers — Thiessen and Martin —were tied for 20th in the league with 19 points each heading into Sunday.

It hasn’t just been their five-on-five offence that has struggled, their power play has also been an issue this season. On Sunday, however, they managed to score twice with the man advantage by loading up one unit with their top players, giving Bast hope they are starting to figure it out.

“It’s funny, we just can’t score,” said Bast. “We’ve been playing reasonably well … but we’ve just got to find a way to start scoring. If we start scoring, then our momentum, our confidence, all that stuff falls into place and away we go.”

The Chiefs back end continues to be the back bone of the team, allowing 57 goals on the season, second best in the league to the front-running Calgary Fire. Their goaltending duo of Knapp and Sarah Murray have kept the Chiefs in every game while their defensive unit has been solid.

If there is an issue defensively, it has been a penchant for turning the puck over inside their own blue line that has burned them throughout the season.

“We’ve got to work on getting pucks off the half wall,” said Bast. “It’s been a real nemesis of us all year … it’s somewhat frustrating but we are trying to get it done.”

The Chiefs continue to prep for the Esso Cup, the female major midget national championship, which they will host from April 19-25 at the Red Deer Arena. To do so, they played in some of the top tournaments in the country, including in Wilcox, Sask., in December, in Winnipeg earlier this month and are now set for Burnaby, B.C., in February. At these tournaments they have and will see some of the top teams in North America.

“One of my goals is to expose our girls to these tournaments, we see different teams,” said Bast. “Anytime you can expose your players to competition, I think it breeds success and it breeds confidence and it helps the girls understand what level of hockey can really, truly be played at this level.”

Up next for the Chiefs is a pair of home games at the Collicutt Centre, against the Medicine Hat Tigers (4-21-2-0) on Friday at 8:15 p.m. and on Sunday at 12:45 p.m. against the Grande Prairie Storm (12-11-2-2).

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