If goaltending is the back bone of a hockey team, then the RDC Queens appear to now be in good hands.
After a rough start to the season, the tandem of Moriah Andrews and Summer Roberts have rounded into one of the top duos in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Women’s hockey.
With goal scoring at as much of a premium as it is in women’s hockey, the self-inflicted pressure on the two to be perfect has been immense.
But they both started to play their best when head coach Bob Rutz told them, Andrews in particular, to relax.
“Bob pulled me aside and said ‘when you get in the door, drop everything, just think about hockey,” said Andrews, 19, who had a heavy course load in the first semester and was getting used to playing with a bigger work load. “I started doing that and I started visualizing before games and it’s really worked for me.”
The meeting with his veteran goal keeper came a few weeks into the season with the Queens sitting at 0-4. Andrews had been afflicted with a bad habit of surrendering a bad goal a game, but those issues appear to be a thing of the past.
“She was trying to put the whole weight of the world on her shoulders and mentally she thought she had to win games for us,” said Rutz. “We just told her ‘your job is not to win hockey games for us, your job is to give us a chance by making the saves you need to make.”
Andrews, in her second and final year with the team, is ranked fourth in the league with a 1.72 goals against average but eighth with a .904 save percentage — a result of her early struggles and low shot count of 166 in nine starts.
SAIT’s Laticia Castillo, for example, has played in one less game but has faced 63 more shots and carries a .921 save percentage but a GAA of 2.21.
For most goalies, it’s a case of the more shots the better. With less shots, there is less room for error and it is more difficult to keep focus.
“There’s tons of pressure, because in this league everything is so tight,” said Andrews.
“You want to be that goalie up in the top three, but when you only get 12 shots a game and you give up a goal, it looks bad.”
Roberts has faced a higher shots per game count with 153 in seven games, and her GAA is third in the league at 1.14 with the second best save percentage at .948. But she also carries a losing record at 3-4, which includes a pair of 1-0 shut out wins.
“I’m just doing my best … I don’t go into games thinking I need to get a shutout but it’s definitely on my mind a little bit,” said Roberts, 18.
With the team’s recent offensive resurgence, the two goalies have played even better, confident that one goal against is not the end of the world.
“I don’t have to go into games so nervous now, I have that feeling that my team is going to back me up if I make a mistake,” said Roberts.
Rutz is not concerned about either goalie.
Both have an even keeled, calm demeanor, are tall but athletic and get a long. They even know each other from their minor hockey days when Andrews, a Regina native, played with the Swift Current Wildcats and Roberts, a Martensville, Sask., product, played with the Regina Rebels Midget AAAs.
Early in the season was all about adjustments for the two netminder. Andrews was coming off a freshman season in which she played in just five games, stuck behind starter Camille Trautman. Roberts, meanwhile, was trying to get used to a higher level of play.
They have since figured things out.
“They give us a lot of confidence back there,” said Rutz, noting he is comfortable splitting time all of the way through the playoffs. “I like to think we’re pretty solid in our D-zone most of the time, but we’re at the point now where we know they’re going to make the saves they should make and when you have that kind of confidence in your goalies it gives you the confidence to play more aggressively 5-on-5.”
The Queens have undergone a transformation in their confidence. Coming out of Christmas they were sitting in last place, but in the three weeks since, they have since gone 4-0-2, with both losses in shootouts. That run has propelled them up the standings to second place with a three-point cushion over the SAIT Trojans.
“The whole entire atmosphere in the room is changed,” said Andrews. “After Christmas we were all hanging our heads a little bit, but Bob said ‘it’s pretty much a new season, just give it all you’ve got and let’s see where we can go’ … Now we’re second in the league.”
The Queens (7-5-4) will have their hands full this weekend with a home-and-home series with the MacEwan University Griffins (5-9-2) who are playing for their playoff lives, sitting in fourth place — the top three teams make the post-season.
They play tonight at 7 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena and on Saturday in Edmonton. The Queens have only won once in six games against MacEwan this season with two shootout losses and only one loss by more than one goal — 2-0 on Oct. 24.
“They’ve always been our toughest competition … I think this is going to be the two biggest games we’ve had all year,” said Andrews. “We just have to come to the rink ready and prepared. We have to start strong and play the whole 60 minutes.”
• The RDC Kings (9-12-0-1) are in Fort McMurray this weekend to play the Keyano Huskies (11-8-1-2). The Kings are coming off a sweep at the hands of the second place NAIT Ooks (18-3-0-1).
• RDC basketball is back off a bye week and in Medicine Hat to play the Rattlers. The Kings are 13-3 this season and will be facing a tough MHC team at 12-4. The Queens’ (2-14) struggles have continued since the Christmas break While the Rattlers (8-8) have improved since a 5-7 start to the season.
• Queens hockey player Kaely McMurtry and Kings volleyball player Adam Turlejski were named Boston Pizza RDC Athletes of the Week. McMurtry scored four points (two goals, two assists) in a pair of wins over the SAIT Trojans this past weekend. Turlejeski, showed why he is fast becoming one of the top middles in the ACAC, dominating at the net in a sweep over the Ambrose Lions. He finished with eight blocks, 10 kills and three digs in the two 3-0 match sweeps.