When Kelly Coulter stepped onto the ice with the RDC Queens hockey team for the first time this season he didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of ability and skills,” he said. “But the first day I watched them play their skating stood out. As a team they could all skate.
“They had great work ethic and came to the rink every day wanting to learn. They were very competitive athletes and a joy to be around. And in the end their skill level was the biggest thing that stood out to me.”
That combination not only led to an outstanding regular season as they ran away with the league title, finishing with an impressive 18-3-3 record, but earned them an ACAC championship for the first time since 2002.
Looking back on the season Coulter, who was in his first year with the program after moving from Grande Prairie, looked back at the very first meeting he had with the team’s leadership group.
“I asked them to define what Queens hockey was all about and they defined it as relentless and with a never give up attitude and work ethic. They showed that from the very first game of the season until that final double overtime goal.”
The Queens won the ACAC title with a 4-3 double overtime victory over the NAIT Ooks, winning the best-of-five championship 3-1.
Winning the title against NAIT made it even sweeter.
“I couldn’t think of a better ending than beating the defending champions. A lot of our team wanted redemption after losing to NAIT the past three years (twice in the final) and so you couldn’t write a better story book ending than defeating them in double overtime in their barn.”
The Queens had a strong team returning this season even before veteran players such as Megan Jones, Casey Nicholson and Nikki Connor on defence and Jade Petrie and Emily Swier up front confirmed they’d return.
“I was preaching to them from the start of the season that defence wins championships and adding players of that calibre made us even stronger. When you have a group like that who skates that well and competes that hard it speaks for itself.
“Those girls returning on the back end did a fantastic job defending … the whole team did. That’s my biggest source of pride in that we allowed the fewest goals.”
The Queens had a veteran defence, but two rookie netminders in Jen West and Alex Frisk. But West led the league during the regular season with a 1.22 goals-against-average and a .940 save percentage while Frisk was fourth with a 1.60 gaa and a .928 save percentage.
In the playoffs Frisk played just one game, which was a 25-save shutout against SAIT in the semifinals. West played five games and was the top netminder with a 1.34 gaa and a .950 save percentage.
“I felt all year that both would give us an opportunity to win,” said Coulter. “I can’t say enough about them. When we needed them to pick us up they did.”
The Queens will lose at least five fifth-year players in rearguards Jones, Nicholson and Connor and forwards Jayna Kitchen and Jena Holden.
“They are all big losses, but we appear to have a great core returning … a great group of kids,” said Coulter. “From what I see we could have almost everyone else, but the graduating players back. Still we could lose a couple more if they move on for their education.”
Coulter already has several commitments for next season, plus winning a championship will only help in recruiting. Also it’s expected to be announced shortly where they will play next season, which will also help recruiting.
“It definitely helps recruiting when you win. Also it was a challenge this year in losing our arena and looking for a new home.”
Coulter also gives a lot of credit for the team’s success to his assistant coaches – Laura Salomons, Wes Makofka and Megan Abt.
“I was lucky to have them … they are all fantastic and all different,” said Coulter. “Laura pushes for excellence, Wes is an excellent teacher and Megan is a great team person who helps keep us focused. We had a great balance. I can’t say enough about them. Our success is owed to them.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.