New year, new team.
If the U18 AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs’ start to the second half of the season is any indication of how the rest of the year will go, they’ll be a well-oiled machine come playoff time.
Since returning from holiday break, they’re 2-0 following a pair of games on the weekend in the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL).
The first game was against the south division’s second-best squad the Calgary Flames who lost to the Optimist Chiefs 7-4 in Red Deer in an offensive thriller.
On Saturday, Red Deer kept their foot on the gas pedal blowing out the Airdrie CFR Bisons 6-1 at Servus Arena. With the wins, the Chiefs moved into a playoff spot in sixth place in the division.
“We had a great weekend,” said Optimist Chiefs head coach Tyler Lightbown. “Big win [Friday] and another big win [Saturday] so we’re pretty happy with how it went.”
“It was a good effort … We had a big win last night and we were a little concerned that there might be a little bit of a drop-off, lack of focus when you come off a win like that.
“But the boys were good. They didn’t slip on too many banana peels out there they were dialed in from the start and the attention to detail is what really pushed us through.”
On Saturday against Airdrie the Bisons got on the board in the first five minutes into the opening period but it did not take the home team long to find the equalizer.
Two minutes later Chiefs’ Rhett Miller tied the game n the powerplay to head into intermission 1-1. From that point on Red Deer controlled the game scoring six unanswered goals by Miller, Owen Callow, Tristen Buckley, Carver Shingoose, and Spencer Claerhout.
Chiefs goaltender Brock Lott had a strong performance, making 39 saves in the outing.
The Chiefs finished the first half with a record of 8-13-2-1 and were on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Lightbown explained his team saw a lot of ups and downs including injuries to key players.
“I think we had as many as eight affiliates in the lineup some nights which is a lot in our league,” he said. “We battled through that and I think after this weekend we’re sitting in a playoff spot.
“We’ve put a lot of work in and the boys are starting to respond. It’s starting to pay off.”
In order to sustain this success, Lightbown said it will be important for all the players to take care of themselves and stay healthy. Consistency will be the most important factor from here on out.
“We’ve got enough talent and we know what to do. Now it’s just a matter of showing up every day, doing your job, and trusting each other,” he said.
Forward depth is a strong suit for the Chiefs, who struggled early on to score, but Lightbown said the AEHL is very good this year. However, in the last four or five games the coaching staff has noticed a jump in offensive production.
The reasoning behind that? Lightbown said they have a lot more players healthy again and with more skaters on the ice it was bound to pay off.
“We had a handful of returning guys this season and it’s kind of been leadership by committee. Guys have been doing a good job and hopefully, they can keep the ship pointed in the right direction in the second half,” Lightbown said.