If any Red Deer College team could have been hurt by the Christmas break, it was the Queens hockey team.
The Queens (3-5-2) had got off to a terrible start to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference women’s hockey season, but were playing their best hockey — including taking three of four points from the league leading NAIT Ooks — in the weeks leading up to the break.
But they dropped their final regular season game of the semester 3-0 to the SAIT Trojans (5-4-1) and then lost their one exhibition game post-Christmas, 4-0 to the Mount Royal University Cougars of the higher calibre Canada West Universities Athletic Association.
But head coach Bob Rutz has a different way of looking at the break altogether, knowing full well what his team is capable of.
“That last regular season game before Christmas, we laid a pretty big egg, so I think the momentum was lost before the break,” said Rutz. “We’re just viewing this as a fresh start and just looking forward to the challenge of getting into the playoffs and going from there.”
RDC seemingly lost some of its mojo in their final regular season game in December, losing 3-0 to SAIT, keeping them from climbing out of the ACAC’s basement and into second place.
In the four-team league, the top three teams advance to playoffs. The Queens are one point behind the MacEwan University Griffins (4-5-1) for that final spot. The Trojans are in second place, three points up on the Queens.
After their 0-3-0 start, they went 3-2-2 to close out the first half of the season, on many nights out playing their competition, regardless of the result. In their 10 regular season games, they were only outshot twice and tied once more on the shot clock once.
Their biggest issue has been capitalizing on those opportunities, scoring a league-low 14 times, tied with the Griffins.
Generating more offence has been the focal point of their practices since regrouping from the break.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on our D, getting pucks through from the point and spent a lot of time on getting in front of the goalie and taking their eyes away,” said Rutz. “We’re not a team that has two or three players that can go coast-to-coast and bury it top shelf, so we’re going to have to focus on scoring goals the old-fashioned way.”
The Queens also experienced a little roster shuffling over the break. They lost second year forward Hayley Smyl who left the team over the break, but they also saw the return of forward Micaela Smith.
The five-foot-eight left winger did not play in the first semester due to academic eligibility issues, but practiced with the club.
Though she was held off the score sheet in her seven games with the Queens last season, Rutz is hoping she can add a spark to the offence in the second half of the season.
“She adds a little bit of speed, she has good puck skills and a good shot,” he said. “She hasn’t played in a while so it’s going to take her time to get back into it.”
The Queens will open their second half tonight at the Red Deer Arena against the Ooks.
RDC went 1-0-1 against NAIT in the first semester — winning 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 20 in Red Deer and then losing 1-0 in overtime on Nov. 21 in Edmonton — and Rutz says they will have their hands full this week.
“Every time you play NAIT you know you’re going to have to work hard,” he said. “They’re big, they’re physical and they’ve got a couple of players that if you give them the opportunity, they’re pretty significant offensive threats.”
l In volleyball action, RDC hosts the Lethbridge College Kodiaks on Friday and Saturday. Despite being the top ranked men’s team in the country, the Kings (11-1; 34-10) will not be taking the Kodiaks (7-5; 25-21) lightly, as they suffered their only loss of the first half of the season 3-1 (25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 25-19) in Lethbridge on Oct. 18.
The Kings are coming off a rough tournament in Camrose, losing all three of their matches with three of their top players still sidelined with injuries.
The Kings will debut two new players for the second half on Friday: power Nic Dubinsky, who had 27 kills and four blocks against the host Augustana Vikings in his first match on the weekend, and power Regan Fathers, giving them three Aussies on their roster.
The Queens are also ranked first in the Canadian College Athletic Association rankings after an 11-1 (34-6) first semester. However, they are coming off a more successful Christmas tournament, finishing 3-1 at The King’s University College. The Kodiaks come into the weekend with a 3-9 (15-30) record.
Action gets underway with the women at 6 p.m. on Friday with the men at 8 p.m, on Saturday the women go at 1 p.m. and the men at 3 p.m.
l The Kings (6-9-0-1) men’s hockey team opens their post-Christmas schedule on Friday at Penhold at 7 p.m., hosting the Concordia Thunder (3-14-0-1). On Saturday, they play again in Edmonton at 8:15 p.m.