The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs have a chance to make history on Dec. 26.
It was announced Wednesday the Chiefs are once again invited to the Annual Mac’s Midget AAA Hockey Tournament in Calgary, a Christmas hockey tradition that is in its 39th year.
The Chiefs will battle some of the 25 teams for the right to be named a Mac’s champion, something they haven’t done since 1978.
Head coach Doug Quinn, in his return to the bench this season after winning national championships in 2012 and 2013, said the opportunity to play in the Mac’s is one that isn’t lost on his squad.
“It’s always exciting. It’s certainly one of our goals every year,” Quinn said.
“It’s an opportunity to play against some of the top midget teams not only in Canada, but they always have some good teams coming across from overseas. We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge.”
While ultimate goal from day one has been to play on April 30, the day of the gold medal game for the 2017 Telus Cup, Quinn said competing at the Mac’s represents a once in a lifetime chance.
“We’re building our team to be one of the best at the end of the year. So it’s kind of a process that you go through. This is definitely another opportunity to challenge ourselves to be better and I’m looking forward to it,” Quinn said.
That challenge includes a preseason game against the U18 Austrian National team on Dec. 23.
“Gives us an opportunity to play against teams that play a different style than we’re used to,” Quinn said. “It’s an opportunity to learn and see a team that is probably going to be faster than what we’re used to. The challenge is at the end of the day, we are trying to get better and stronger so playing good competition can only help that.”
While the season is a series of progressive steps, through 20 games this year the Chiefs are 10-3-7 in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. It’s teaching the team how to win, and evidently how to break ties with clutch goals that has been the biggest challenge so far.
“We’ve definitely improved from the start of the year. There’s a lot of parts of our game I’m happy with,” Quinn said. “I do want a little bit more consistency. Sometimes it takes a while for kids to adapt to this level. A lot of these kids in previous years haven’t been on winning teams. It takes a while to identify and understand the commitment that goes with being a top team.”
The goals in part haven’t come because the Chiefs are missing two of their top scorers, still Quinn said it is the goals that get scored in the dirty areas around the crease that he hopes his team can increase the frequency of.
“It takes a while to develop that killer instinct,” Quinn said.
“A lot of our game is really strong… we’re doing a lot of really good things, we’re just not getting that goal at critical times… there’s things that you can do, most of the goals that are scored are within 10 feet of the net… you need a little bit more traffic in front of the net, more rebounds and more collections. You just aren’t always going to be able to make a perfect play”
The Chiefs are off this weekend, but return to Red Deer on Dec. 17 to take on the Knights of Columbus Pats at 4:30 p.m. at the Kinex.