The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs begin their Alberta U18 AAA Elite Hockey League season this weekend at home and are confident heading into the 2022 campaign.
Head coach Tyler Lightbown said the Chiefs should have a strong team and are expecting to have a good start to the season.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Lightbown said. “Last year was a bit of a struggle so we don’t want to get too excited until we get into the season but I do believe we’re going to have a much stronger team than last year. We should be a contender this year, that’s our outlook going into the season.”
Red Deer only has three returning players from last year’s team and will play as a fairly young squad of 17, 16, and 15 years olds. The Chiefs have seven 17-year-old players, 10 16-year-olds, and three 15-year-olds.
He described his team as a more smaller and skilled team as opposed to big and physical, which they hope to use to their advantage. The Chiefs have a lot of players with high skill sets but are also smart on the ice which will take over as the makeup of the team.
“I think we’re going to be exciting to watch with all of the high-end young talent that we have and we’ve got a couple of really good goaltenders,” he said. “Our plan is to play a high-paced, very fast, and highly skilled game. Puck possession will be key and we’ll see how quickly the boys can adapt to that style and that will kind of dictate our early success.”
The forward group is expected to be deep this season as the coaching staff had a difficult time during training camp selecting them based on the amount of skill on display. Lightbown anticipates they won’t have a top line but rather four lines of talented players.
“We’re hopefully going to be able to just come at teams in waves one after another and I hope we’re going to be very difficult to play against,” he added.
They also have their two top-scoring forwards Owen Callow and Chase Christensen return to the Chiefs from last season.
In net, the Chiefs will have two goaltenders Connor Baumbach and Brock Lott who are new to the team this season. They impressed during training camp which led the team to release a returning goalie from last season. The head coach said it was a tough decision but he feels confident in the duo to lead the way this season.
The Optimist Chiefs begin their season on Saturday, Oct. 1 against the Calgary Royals at 4:45 p.m. at Servus Arena followed by a matchup on Sunday, Oct. 2 against the Okotoks Bow Mark Oilers at 4 p.m. at Servus Arena.
“Really for us, it’s just going to be about knocking the rust off and learning to play together with all the new players coming in and the moving parts it’s going to be a big learning curve this weekend for the whole team,” he said.