RDC teams heading into playoffs with high hopes

The Red Deer College Queens hockey team is the poster child for believing in the process. Now each coaching staff has their own ideals of what the process is, but it’s not difficult to see the evolution of the Queens this season. They started out with difficulties against high school academy teams —getting dominated by teams from Warner and EDGE — struggling to score more than a goal a game and floundering in last place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

The Red Deer College Queens hockey team is the poster child for believing in the process.

Now each coaching staff has their own ideals of what the process is, but it’s not difficult to see the evolution of the Queens this season.

They started out with difficulties against high school academy teams —getting dominated by teams from Warner and EDGE — struggling to score more than a goal a game and floundering in last place in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

Over Christmas, something finally clicked with these women. They started finding the back of the net and their confidence has grown with each successive weekend. They finished the second semester as the hottest team in the province, compiling a 10-2-2 record over those 14 games.

Tonight they open the best-of-three ACAC semifinals on home ice against the SAIT Trojans (9-13-2), a team they held a 6-2-0 record against during the regular season.

“I was fortunate enough to win an Allan Cup and work with some great teams, but this has been the most rewarding (coaching) experience to date,” said head coach Bob Rutz. “We’ve taken a bunch of individuals at the start of the year and they’ve all bought in … We just stuck with the process, we stuck with the fact we thought we could take the next step to be a great team. We persevered. I’m so proud of this team.”

The Trojans head into the post season on a down slide, losing six of their last seven contests, allowing the MacEwan University Griffins (8-12-4) to catch them in points.

However, SAIT still earned the third and final playoff spot on the basis of having more wins.

But Rutz is not about to take the Trojans lightly. He has seen what happens when his team is not completely focused on the task at hand.

“All that stuff during the regular season is thrown out the window,” he said. “I like how we match up, but at the same time we’re going to have to earn it … we can’t just walk in and expect to roll over these guys.”

Game 1 goes tonight at the Red Deer Arena at 7 p.m., with Game 2 in Calgary on Saturday at SAIT Arena at 7 p.m. If Game 3 is needed, it will go Sunday at 3:15 p.m. at the Red Deer Arena.

• The RDC Queens volleyball team ran away from their ACAC competition this year as defending Canadian Colleges Atheltic Association champions.

Though they compiled an impressive 22-2 record, there was something lacking in terms of true dominance. On many nights they did look beatable, but relied on veteran savvy to eke out crucial set victories.

But the last couple of weeks, they finally got healthy. They finally had all of their weapons to play with. And they finally looked the part of a team that has gone pole-to-pole with the No. 1 CCAA ranking.

They open up their provincial and national title defence today in Olds at the ACAC Championships today, but they are looking forward, not at what they accomplished last year.

“We talked about how that was last year’s result and what we do for this year is for this year’s team, and we can’t build our goals on what we did last year,” said Queens head coach Talbot Walton. “I’m sure in the back of everybody’s head (it’s there), but I hope we’ve drilled it home that we are a new group.”

For much of the season — especially the second semester — the Queens didn’t know exactly where their offence was going to come from. With second year power Leah Koot sidelined with an injury, they relied more on their defence and emerging middle Alex Donaghy, while power Miranda Dawe showed flashes of elite offence but was not consistent.

When Koot returned to the lineup for the last two weeks, everything fell into place and they dominated both the SAIT Trojans (14-10; 46-42) and the second place Briercrest Clippers (18-6; 61-29).

The Queens open up provincials tonight at 8 p.m. against the NAIT Ooks (15-9; 51-41), the fourth place team out of the North Division. They beat NAIT 2-1 in a pre-season tournament in their only head-to-head meeting.

Regardless, they know there is no room for error at this tournament.

“You’ve got to win Thursday to get to Friday, you’ve got to win Friday to get to the gold medal game,” said Walton. “You’ve got to win three in a row if you want to be a champion, there’s no second chances.”

• The RDC Kings volleyball team (21-3; 66-20) has been a bit of a tease this second semester.

Though they have looked as impressive as any team in the country — their No. 2 CCAA ranking backs that up — they have managed to make things harder on themselves than necessary.

It all comes down to raw talent, a blade that cuts both ways.

The potential is evident with their three Aussie recruits — Luke Brisbane, Adam Turlejski and Regan Fathers — but they are also prone to mistakes and mental errors.

The key will remain their experience as they head into the ACAC Championships at the University of Alberta-Augustana.

They open up today at 3 p.m. against The King’s University College Eagles (13-11; 47-44) who finished fourth in the North Division.

This will be the final run for fifth year all-Canadian power Tim Finnigan and his brother Anthony.

But also playing a critical role will be Nic Dubinsky who joined the team at Christmas after a scandal at Lethbridge College cost the conference all-star a full season of play.

This is clearly not the same team that won a national championship last year, but the potential is there to repeat and then make a run at a third straight title next year.

“We were a little more experienced and had been there and done that and had gone all of the way to the national final the year previous with a very similar group … but with guys like Tim leading the ship I think we’re going to be just fine,” said head coach Aaron Schulha.

• Not every RDC team is in the post-season this weekend. The basketball program wraps up their regular season against the Briercrest Clippers this weekend, hosting on Friday at 6 and 8 p.m. and then on Saturday at 1 and 3 p.m. — the women tipping off in the early games.

Also the Kings hockey team (12-13-0-3) has three games on the schedule against the Portage College Voyageurs (1-26-0-2) this weekend — at Penhold Regional Multiplex on Friday at 7 p.m, and then in Lac La Biche on Saturday and Sunday. They wrap up their regular season on Tuesday in Edmonton with a makeup game against the MacEwan Griffins (20-5-1-3).

jaldrich@bprda.wpengine.com

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