When Red Deer Sutter Fund AAA Chiefs coach Bob Rutz envisioned this season, his top line coming together was at the forefront.
Rutz felt like new recruit Cassidy Maplethrope would fit perfectly between Paige Grenier and Shae Demale, giving the team an offensive dynamic that they lacked last season.
“That line has been outstanding for us and some of the first-year players have fit in well and adjusted to the pace and intensity and physicality. Overall it’s been good. We’re getting better every week, we just want to be playing our best hockey in March,” Sutter Fund Chiefs head coach Bob Rutz said.
Through 20 games this season, Rutz looks like Nostradamus with his preseason vision. The Sutter Fund Chiefs are the top team in the Alberta Female Midget AAA League with a 14-3-3 record and it doesn’t hurt that they have three of the league’s top six scorers.
Maplethrope is first in points with 24 and leads the league with 13 assists. Demale has 10 goals and 10 assists and is tied for second in the AFHL, while Paige Greiner sits sixth with eight goals and seven assists.
The head coach said Maplethrope’s talent has blossomed beyond just the scoresheet and has helped elevate two pretty good players in Demale and Greiner.
“Her poise with the puck and her ability to see the ice. Her ability to think at a level that’s different. Ability to put herself in good spots and get good opportunities. If you do that and you can score, you’re going to put the puck in the net,” Rutz said.
“We envisioned putting the three of them together, but sometimes with chemistry, it doesn’t work out, we’ve been lucky that they play well together and read off each other. They all compliment each other.”
Combine that with the stellar goaltending of Chantelle Sandquist who leads the league with 8 wins and is second in both goals against average (1.44) and shutouts (2), the winning recipe starts to bond together.
“We’ve had good goaltending and we’ve been real solid in our own zone. We spend a lot of time working on d-zone coverage.It’s nice to get that scoring complimented by the fact that we don’t give up a whole lot,” Rutz said.
Things really started to roll after the Mandi Schwartz Tournament in Saskatchewan, where the Chiefs were among the final four teams but ultimately failed to bring home a medal. Rutz said it was a great experience for the team and they’ve built on the momentum after that tournament.
“We had a solid tournament, that’s where we took that next step. Playing fast and hard and the competition was good, so it forced us to play at a pace that we weren’t used to. Four Alberta teams went to the semis,” Rutz said.
“We didn’t play our best hockey in the semis or the bronze, but it helped us take that next step to becoming a real solid team.”
They’ve gone 10-2 in their last 12 league games and are building towards a provincials appearance in March. As the host team, the Chiefs will get an automatic bid into the tournament and also showcase Servus Arena in the process.
Not only has success come on the ice, off the ice the Chiefs have 10 players committed to post-secondary hockey at various institutions across Canada. Rutz said the team’s commitment to moving players beyond midget AAA hockey has been a major focus since he took over last year.
“As a former university athlete myself, it was unbelievable to go to school and play hockey. We try and promote the fact that it’s a real neat thing to be an athlete at a university or college,” Rutz said.
“We encourage them to be real good in the classroom and get better on the ice and if that’s what they want we’ll help them get there.”
Red Deer will host the Rocky Mountain Raiders at 5 p.m. at the Collicutt on Sunday in a battle for first place in the AFHL.