Red Deer College Queens head coach Bob Rutz is hoping their final exhibition game is a sign of things to come.
The Queens routed the Banff Hockey Academy Bears 5-1 on Thursday at the Arena in their final tune up for the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference hockey season.
The score, however, could have been slanted even more in favour of the Queens as they outshot their overmatched guests 55-8.
Ashley Graf scored twice for RDC while Cassidy Holt, Kaley McMurtry and Jena Holden also tallied. Moriah Andrews stopped seven shots in net for the win.
Anna Lagzdina replied for the Bears while Rachel Fontinha made 50 saves.
This kind of offensive outburst is big for the Queens after losing three of their top four point producers from last season.
“In women’s hockey, scoring is one of the bigger issues in the game, anytime you can put more than three goals in on a team it does nothing but give girls confidence,” said Rutz. “We work so hard on shooting and scoring … it’s nice to see them rewarded.”
The Queens struggled to get the offence going during their long exhibition season, as they finished with a 3-6-2 record against some top opposition, and had been outscored 19-25 heading into Thursday night’s win.
This off-season they lost leading scorer Jade Petrie (eight goals, eight assists), and Emily Lougheed (7-8-13) and Laura Salomons (6-7-13) who finished tied for third. For a team that was not an offensive juggernaut to begin with, it is a gaping hole to make up.
“I think we’re going to have to score by committee this year,” said Rutz. “Our philosophy is, we’re going to drive the net hard and we’re going to get pucks to the net, we’re going to have to work hard for our goals this year.”
That committee will be lead by Rachael Hoppins, who was second on the team in scoring last season with 14 points (5-9-14). But it’s also an opportunity for the likes of third year centre Graf, second year winger Hailey Smyl and McMurtry, a top recruit out of Port Coquitlam, B.C. with the Fraser Valley Phantoms, to step into a bigger role.
Graf is no stranger to putting up big points. She led the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League in scoring in 2011-12 while playing for the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs with 49 points (20-29-49) in 32 games. That year she played on a line with Petrie and Lougheed and all three scored at more than a point a game pace.
In Graf’s ACAC rookie season, she finished third on the Queens in scoring with 16 points (4-12-16), but she took a big step back last year in Rutz’s first season with the team, scoring eight points (1-7-8) in 15 games.
However, she’s feeling confident in her offensive game once again.
“Those are my second and third goals this pre-season, so it feels pretty good going into the season on a positive note,” said Graf, 20, a nursing student. “I’m starting to enjoy it more, it’s all about fun this year and also being able to compete. School is a stresser but it makes it fun.”
But Rutz will not be leaning solely on his forwards for offence. He is expecting his blue line to produce as well, just as they did last year when Casey Nicholson finished fifth in scoring with 12 points (6-6-12).
Some of his defensive recruits this year have also shown a point-scoring aptitude as well, like Ashtin Peterson who scored 14 points (2-12-14) in 32 games with the Grande Prairie Storm in the AMMFHL and Kailey Butz who had 23 points (4-19-23) in 43 games with the Lloydminster Steelers of the AMMFHL.
“Kailey has been a real solid player for us, she sees the ice well and has a great shot,” said Rutz. “We got a lot of offence from our D last year, so we’re hoping that we can have the same this year again.”
Perhaps the biggest mystery heading into the season is who will be the No. 1 goalie this year. Incumbent Andrews and freshman Summer Roberts split the pre-season and both played well.
Rutz says they will likely platoon the two netminders until one starts to run away with the job.
With the season starting on Thursday when they host the MacEwan Griffins at 7 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena, Rutz is feeling confident about how his team is playing.
But he isn’t setting any expectations on this group.
It is a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process the team has embraced.
“(First place) is an expectation, but it’s not a priority,” said Graf. “We’re going to go one game at a time and see where it gets us.”