The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs already know where their season will end up, right now they are concentrating on getting there in the best possible shape.
As Esso Cup hosts, the Chiefs (16-5-0-4) already have a bye to the female midget AAA national championship, but they have no intentions of resting on their laurels. Their goal is to win the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League and then knock off the B.C. provincial champ and earn their way in.
They got off to a red-hot start this season but have stumbled in recent weeks. However, with a 3-2 shootout win over the Rocky Mountain Raiders (8-8-5-3) on Sunday at the Collicutt Centre, they head into their Christmas break in second place, two points behind the Calgary Fire (17-2-2-2) for first.
It was a good bounce-back game after falling 2-1 to the St. Albert Slash (14-7-3-2) on Saturday at the Collicutt Centre.
“Last night’s loss was kind of rough for us, so getting the win was definitely nice before Christmas,” said Chiefs goalie Sarah Murray, 17.
“We started the season really strong and the other teams are starting to catch up to us, so we just got to push through and work on our conditioning and keep going.”
Murray made 15 saves on Sunday while Tyra Coutts and Gina Sosnowski scored in regulation. Cassidy Hollman and Mairead Bast scored in the shootout to clinch the win.
Hailey McCallum tied the game for the Raiders at 18:09 of the third period with a power-play goal to send the contest to the shootout. Kate Minor also scored while Courtney Toney made 18 saves in the loss.
For the Chiefs, this all leads to a well earned break.
For the first time in a number of years they will not be at the Macs AAA Midget Hockey Tournament in Calgary. Instead, they have an intensive schedule in the new year with tournaments and what they hope is a long road to the Esso Cup.
The time off will be much needed.
“I promised the girls I would give them a good Christmas break because last year I felt we didn’t do well at the Macs, and part of it was we were pretty tired,” said Chiefs head coach Tom Bast. “I really feel these girls need a break because I’m pretty intense, I’m a pusher.”
The Chiefs have played mostly strong hockey this year.
Their goaltending duo of Murray and Bailey Knapp have provided them a backbone to build from, while putting up some of the best numbers in the league. Murray (12-4-0) is second among all goalies with a 1.18 goals against average and a .950 save percentage while Knapp (4-5-0) sits seventh with a 1.98 G.A.A. and a .920 save percentage.
For Murray, there’s a little extra motivation to prove her critics wrong. Murray was a casualty of Calgary amalgamating the Flyers and Bruins clubs. However, the Chiefs offered the five-foot-four goalie an opportunity to play and she has taken full advantage.
“This year they cut down to one team and I got cut from there and ended up here, luckily,” said Murray, who was 4-8-1 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.90 G.A.A. on the last place Flyers.
If the Chiefs do have a weakness at this point it is on offence. Breanna Martin leads the team with 16 points (10 goals, six assists) while defenceman Abagael Thiessen is second with 15 points (11-4-15), placing them 19th and 22nd in the league overall.
With Sunday’s win, both Bast (in 13 games) and Hollman hit 10 points, beyond that they rely on more of a scoring by committee mentality.
“A coach’s dream is to have consistent scoring from everybody,” said Bast. “I would like to have more scoring from other people, but I think I’m going to get that through time, confidence and hard work.”
They do have time to build that offence.
The key is to stay focused on the end goal, the Esso Cup from April 19-25.
“In the second half of the season we have to prepare for the league playoffs,” said Bast.
“We’ve got to continue to grow as a team and continue to learn processes and systems.”
NOTES — Hollman scored Red Deer’s lone goal in their 2-1 loss to the St. Albert Slash on Saturday, as Murray made 28 saves in net for the Chiefs … The Chiefs next league game is Jan. 4 in Edmonton against the Thunder. Their next home game is Jan. 10 against the Raiders.