Winning a provincial championship brings a lot of recognition, and added pressure for that matter, to a program.
The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs U18AA squad finds themselves in such a position this season and they’re handling it well.
The Chiefs continued from where they left off last season and lead the league’s South Division with an 8-2-1-1 record.
“We have a very solid team, a very talented team on and off the ice,” said first-year head coach Clint Greiner. “We feel what you have off the ice is as important as on. We have a good group and talk all the time about life lessons, working hard, team work, dedication, sacrifice and playing as a team.
“We feel we have all those ingredients and by the end of the year can be playing for the championship. We have some very talented players but we also need to play as a team.”
The fact the Chiefs have seven players back from last year and two others — Sarah Hoppins and Ava Greiner — from the U18AAA championship team plus six others who were with the bronze medal winning U15AA program is a benefit.
“They all know what it takes to win and the work ethic needed to be there,” Greiner said.
Both Greiner and Hoppins are listed on defence after playing forward last year.
“My daughter (Ava) played two years with the AAA program as a forward, although she did move back to defence when needed as she played there before,” Clint explained.
This year Ava decided to play AA to not only play for her dad, but with her sister, 15-year-old Summer.
“The main thing was Ava has a scholarship offer to play softball in the States next year and she didn’t want to pursue hockey at that level this year,” said Clint. “Plus this is the only time she has had a chance to play with her sister.”
Ava and Hoppins join veterans Sarah Vandermeer and Payton Kletke on defence along with Sadee Howell and Brooke Buelow, both of whom played with the U15AA Chiefs, coached by Clint.
The team’s defence is something the coaching staff has been working on lately.
“We have a deep team with a lot of offensive talent and at times you get away with being able to score with a hot goaltender, but we’ve been working hard on our defensive play … being a well-rounded team.”
Summer Greiner, who played U15AA last season, leads the Chiefs in scoring with 15 points on four goals and 11 assists in 12 games, which sees her tied for second in league scoring.
Ava is tied for first in scoring among defencemen with 11 points on four goals and seven helpers.
High-scoring Devon McConnell, who leads the team with seven goals, returns from last season up front along with Malia Tetreault, Emily Lemke, Blair Morley and Karly Currie, who has sniped six goals.
Irelyn Hutchison, Bailey Rogers, Ashlyn Jerdan and Bria Hull all played U15AA last season while Emma Jack moved over from Stettler where she played U18A.
The Chiefs are solid in goal with a pair of 15-year-olds in Brylee Hull and Cheyanne Douglas of Delburne. Hull played with the U15AA program and was the goalie of the year the last two seasons. Douglas played with the U15A squad.
Hull has a 5-2-0 record this year with a 2.11 goals-against-average and .915 save percentage while Douglas is 3-1-0, a 2.21 gaa, and .902 save percentage.
Clint, who lives on a farm west of Stettler, was with the U15AA program for the last four years — two as an assistant coach and two as head coach.
He got involved in coaching in Stettler at the U7 level and progressed from there coaching boys and eventually girls.
“I didn’t plan on coaching, but once I got involved I loved it,” he said.
Both Ava and Summer played boys hockey until the U15 level when they moved to Red Deer.
When Ava moved over that’s when Clint made the jump as well.
Not only does he coach hockey, but baseball in the summer. In fact he coached the provincial women’s baseball team at the nationals last summer.
“This could be my last year coaching here, although you never know,” he said.
The Chiefs are on the road this weekend as they compete in the highly prestigious CCM 2023 Windy City Elite Girls Tournament in Chicago.
They face Culver Academy and the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals on Friday and the San Jose Jr. Sharks on Saturday. Other games depend on where they sit after preliminary play.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to face some high calibre competition, and hopefully we can be competitive,” said Greiner.
The Chiefs return to compete in league action Dec. 9 at Airdrie before competing in the U18AA Showcase tournament Dec. 15-17 at the RDP Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre and the Collicutt Centre.
“There are six teams and we all play three games each,” said Greiner. “There are usually more scouts and fans there and it’s a chance for them to see several teams over a short period of time.”
Greiner feels there are a number of players in the AA league who will go on to play college hockey.
“I believe several of the top end AA players could play AAA,” he said.
Summer Greiner is one such player.
“Being only 15 it’s good for her to play a year at AA,” Clint said. “Unlike Ava who is interested in ‘ball, Summer’s big sport is hockey and she wants to play at the post-secondary level.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org