RDC Queens captain Casey Nicholson went into the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League playoffs hoping to face the NAIT Ooks in the final.
“When we locked up first place I was hoping to see NAIT in the final,” she said. “To be the best you have to beat the best and they are the defending champions and I want nothing more than to beat them in the finals.”
But things didn’t work out for Nicholson and the Queens Thursday when they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Ooks in the opening game of the best-of-five series before a good crowd at the Arena.
“I just don’t think we came out as strong as we need to,” said Nicholson. “We needed to play the way we did in the third period. Hopefully we set the tone in that period for Saturday.”
The second game goes Saturday at NAIT with the third next Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arena.
For the first nine minutes of the opening period it was the Ooks who looked tight. In fact their netminder Tehnille Gard looked shaky as she battled the puck, but the Ooks got the first goal at 8:58 when Kendra Hanson deflected a shot past RDC netminder Jen West and that changed the momentum. The Queens were outshooting the Ooks 5-0 early but were outshot 11-6 for the period.
“We needed to react better to that goal,” said Nicholson. “It seemed to fire them up and we didn’t have the tenacity we needed to bring.”
Queens head coach Kelly Coulter, who was named the ACAC coach of the year, agreed.
“Our goal is to generate as many shots as we can and we weren’t doing that,” he said. “We have to start with a sense of urgency. It came in the third period but it has to start from the drop of the puck.
“We have to execute our game plan and that’s with the forecheck, getting pucks on net and using our speed.”
The Queens started to take control of the game in the second period, outshooting the Ooks 9-5. In fact the best two scoring chances were by RDC’s Jade Petrie, who was stopped by Gard in the slot and on a breakaway.
The Ooks finally got to the Queens on the power play to make it 2-0 at 3:52 of the third period when Erika Iglesias grabbed a loose puck in the slot, after it hit a defender in front, and beat West high to the glove side.
The Queens got on the board at 7:28 of the final period when Ashley Graf tipped in a Petrie feed and from then on the ice was slanted in RDC’s favour. In the end they held a 22-5 edge in shots in the third period and 37-21 overall.
“She’s a good goalie, but we have to be a bit more selective with some of our shots and make her work a bit harder,” said Coulter, who gave credit to his coaching staff for the award.
“It’s an honour when selected by your peers, but I think kudos go to my staff. I have a fantastic staff to work with, which makes it easy. As well the girls are easy to coach. They did everything I asked all year. This recognition goes to them all. It’s a team award.”
Nicholson and Emily Swier were named to the first All-Conference team with Graf on the second team.