The Midget AAA Sutter Fund Chiefs were reeling when they started the season 1-9 this year, but the ship turned around in a big way during the second half.
The Chiefs finished the Alberta Female Hockey League season with an 11-15-4 record and will take on the Lloydminster PWM Steelers in the first round of the playoffs Saturday.
Head coach Bob Rutz said the reason for the reversal of fortunes had nothing to do with any magic formula or big change, but said once the bounces started turning for his team, they were hard to stop.
“It was a tough go but we just came with the mindset everyday that we come to work trying to focus on getting better,” he said.
“It’s not like we were a bad team… we had to clean up a lot of things in our game. We were giving away points and as the year progressed we started to get a few more bounces. When you’re 1-9 it’s easy to pack it in and say that’s it. We kept hammering home the same message.”
Rutz said offensively the team was okay, but struggled defensively in the first part of the year. They finished the 30-game season with 40 goals for and 51 against.
“I think the biggest thing was we didn’t quit,” he said. “We started playing with a little more structure in our game and that helped. Our biggest issue was our own zone. We were giving up way too many chances and way too many goals. We always had great goaltending.”
While winning brought success in the standings over the second half of the year, it also played a part in the team having eight players committed to playing hockey at the post-secondary level in some capacity, with three other forwards expected finalize commitments soon.
“It just speaks the program in its entirety. We run it professionally. It’s one of the best coaching staffs I’ve ever worked with,” Rutz said.
“Our goal is not only to take these girls and make them better but we’re going to advocate for them to play post-secondary for sure.”
The list includes Beth Taylor (Grant MacEwan University), Camille Scherger (University of Prince Edward Island), Tyra Coutts (NAIT), Camryn Wallan (Red Deer College), Caleigh Meraw (Saint Mary’s University 2018), Bryn O’Dwyer (Laurentian University), Carley Wlad (University of Calgary and Emma Thomas (St. Francis Xavier University 2018).
Meraw, one of the teams tallest defenders and one of the most recent commits said that the Chiefs really became close knit after their struggles early on this season.
“I think the adversity at the start of the season really helped us grow as a group together,” she said.
”Starting off rough was really a reality check for us. We came in thinking we were pretty high. We saw how good the league was and how fast it could be and then we saw our potential too, so that really helped.”
As for their series with Lloydminster with two games back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, Rutz expects it to be a close one.
“They got three wins off us in that 1-9 stretch, but we’re a totally different team now,” Rutz said. “They’re a hard team to play against but I think five-on-five we’re the better team but we’re going to have to go out and earn it.”