Fifth-year RDC Queens forward Rachael Hoppins knows what she’s talking about when it comes to discussing this year’s edition of the Alberta Colleges Women’s Hockey League squad.
“We don’t have the finesse and skill we had last year . . . we’re more of a grind-it-out team,” she said. “We don’t get the fancy goals, but we have some girls who aren’t afraid of the physical game and we work hard as a team.”
It was the physical play, especially in the one-on-one battles, that played a major role in the Queens coming from behind to pull out a 2-2 tie with the Edge Hockey Academy of Calgary in exhibition play at the Arena Thursday.
“We’ve been slow out of the gate at times, but today I thought we were strong from start to finish,” she added. “And finishing strong like that will definitely help us as a team. We could have been nervous being down 2-0 but there were no doubts in the room after the second period and it showed.”
The Queens gave up power play goals in each of the first two periods, but got goals from Kailey Butz and Hoppins at 6:02 and 8:41 of the final frame to tie the game.
Butz slap shot from the edge of the left circle found the top on the glove side of Edge goaltender Kristen Chamberlin while Hoppins lifted a nifty backhand over the netminder from in close.
Both goals came after some solid work along the boards to keep the puck in the Calgary zone.
“I’m really excited about how hard we work,” said Queens head coach Bob Rutz. “I’m extremely excited about the potential of this team, how hard we work and how everyone has bought in. Take nothing away from last year’s team but we’ve grown so much from the start of the season to now, compared to last year. I’m excited where we can go.”
Rutz uses four lines and six defencemen, something he believes will be an advantage against most teams in the ACAC.
“We want to roll four lines and wear the other teams down,” he said. “We’ve worked hard on playing a tough physical game from day one and it’s beginning to show on a consistent basis.
“I don’t even know what our record is so far and I don’t care, I’m just excited about the fact we’re getting better every time we play.”
The Queens don’t open their ACAC season until Oct. 23, but have at least one more exhibition game on tap when they host the Banff Hockey Academy Oct. 16.
“It’s been a long exhibition season, but (Rutz) has done a good job of scheduling tough teams, like this team. They’re young, quick and force us to be better,” said Hoppins. “They could easily play in our league.”
Besides the strong finish Hoppins also liked what she saw from the defence.
“We’ve been working on moving the puck in practice and I though the defence was awesome. They moved the puck and made smart plays which made it easier on the forwards.”
The Edge opened the scoring at 12:15 of the first period on a flip shot by Katie Duncan that RDC netminder Moriah Andrews had go in off the top of her glove.
The Calgary squad made it 2-0 at 18:47 of the second period on a tip in by Kate Hufnagel that snuck between Andrews’ pads.
“Moriah talked to me and she wanted both those goals back,” said Rutz. “She knows she can be better but I also thought we had chances to clear the puck before they scored. We’re confident in both our goaltenders (Andrews and SummerRoberts).”
Andrews also made a number of solid stops and finished with 29 saves while the Queens had 29 shots on Chamberlin, including 16 in the third period.