Jayna Kitchen has more than just good luck on her side of late.
The fourth year Red Deer College Queens forward wears a set of crown shaped earrings for every game as a lucky charm, but she has been making her own breaks the last few weeks.
She scored twice on Thursday in leading the Queens (11-6-4) to a 4-2 win over the SAIT Trojans (9-10-2) at the Red Deer Arena that all but locks up second place in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women’s hockey.
“The coaching staff had one-on-one meetings with everyone before the break, and they just challenged me,” said Kitchen. “They said I’m a fourth year and I have to be better, they need me to step up on this team, we need our older players to lead. That gave me the extra little push that I needed to get going.”
Rachel Hoppins and Rikki Leonard also scored for the Queens while Moriah Andrews made 14 saves for the win.
The Trojans responded with goals from Brocklyn McKenna and Red Deer native Becca Glackin. Goalie Laticia Castillo made 34 saves in the loss.
Kitchen has had an up and down career with the Queens. The Drayton Valley product had a huge rookie season, leading the team with 10 goals in 2011-12, but the next two seasons she combined for nine goals as she struggled to find her scoring touch. With three games remaining this season, she leads RDC with eight goals in 21 outings, including four in their last three contests.
As they head down the stretch into the playoffs, she the second line centre has emerged as a leader.
“She’s been simplifying her game with the puck where earlier on in the year she was trying to do too much with it,” said Queens head coach Bob Rutz. “I’m glad to see it because we’ve been trying to get her to change her ways for a couple of years now, and it’s a credit to her. She finally stuck with the plan and she’s getting rewarded for it.”
Thursday looked all too frustratingly familiar for much of the game. Despite dominating the game, RDC was tied with SAIT mid-way through the final period. It was scene that has played out too many times with the Queens this season where solid efforts were squandered.
But Leonard fired a puck from the right side boards on a power play that went off the post and in, past Castillo at 9:52, and suddenly the Queens were relaxed and confident.
Kitchen sealed the victory with a highlight reel short-handed marker at 17:19. She was sent in on a rush off a nice pass from Ashley Graf, beat the Trojans defenceman to the outside with a power move and cut in on Castillo who she tucked the puck behind.
“Earlier in the year when we weren’t scoring, we were getting frustrated, but now we’re just patient and we have confidence that we are going to get one,” said Rutz.
For the Queens it was a sign of how far they have come this season. They started out struggling to stay competitive against high school academy teams and heading into the second semester they were still mired in last place, struggling to score. But they have taken off since then and still have an outside shot at first place.
While that dream may be far fetched — the Queens have to complete the sweep against SAIT in Calgary tonight and then sweep the first place NAIT Ooks (15-3-2) next weekend while hoping the last place MacEwan Griffins (6-11-3) sweep NAIT this weekend — their goal is all about building momentum towards the playoffs where a championship is very much in reach.
“My first year we had a team of 16 rookies and a whole new coaching staff, so it was completely rebuilt from the ground up,” said Kitchen, who will be back for a fifth year. “We went from having 16 rookies to second place to third place and now it’s this year and we’re going for it all. We’ve got to get past NAIT, but that’s in the future, we’re focused on SAIT tomorrow night.”