The Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs U18 AA are making a name for themselves in the early portion of the 2022-23 hockey season.
The Chiefs were impressive finishing second to the Edmonton Pandas in the Richmond tournament, a team they defeated in the round robin.
“We played well as a team … moved the puck and took advantage of good scoring chances,” said Chiefs first-year head coach Cal McConnell, who played goal for the RDC Kings in the 1995-96 season.
“Having a tournament that early was great in that it helped us come together as a team on and off the ice, work on some fine details and get the kids comfortable with each other which makes for better results.”
The Chiefs used the momentum they gained on the B.C., trip to open their regular Alberta Elite Female Hockey League U18AA season with an 8-2 win over the Rocky Mountain Raiders and a 2-1 victory over Airdrie.
“It’s been a very exciting season so far and I think we’ll be right there at the end of the year,” added McConnell, who also spent seven seasons with the Innisfail Eagles in the Chinook Hockey League.
McConnell, who is also an associate and goaltending coach with the Junior B Red Deer Vipers, is no stranger to the coaching ranks. He’s spent several years as an assistant coach at various levels and also coached ringette.
“But this is my first year as head coach and it’s been great … we have an amazing group of kids,” he said.
The Chiefs have a well-balanced lineup with 10 players returning from last season. They have seven 17 year-olds and six in each of the 16 and 15 year-old brackets.
“We have a real solid nucleus and strong leadership who do a good job of keeping the room light and making it a fun place to come to play.”
McConnell looks at a quartet of 17-year-olds — forwards Lauryn McConnell of Red Deer and Karlee Feragen of Ponoka and rearguards Mary Purse and Anna Boyer — both from Red Deer — to be the leaders.
“It’s important to have those experienced players who are able to take the younger kids under their wings and make it a good experience. You do that and you get a lot more out of your players.”
As well forwards Kaisy Huber of Lacombe and Regan Wlad of Red Deer and goaltender Megan Graham of Red Deer County round out the senior members of the roster.
One of the 15-year-old group — Emily Lemke of Red Deer — has got off to a great start to the season with three goals and a helper in the first two league games.
“She’s super fast and very aggressive in creating opportunities for herself and when she gets the chance she buries the puck,” said McConnell. “She’s been a great addition to the club for sure.”
Other first-year forwards include Hunter McKinlay of Lacombe, Alyssa Vollmin of Red Deer and Karly Currie of Rocky Mountain House.
The two 15-year-olds on defence are Joss Forster of Forestburg and Sarah Vandermeer — Dan Vandermeer’s daughter — of Caroline.
There are also two 16-year-olds — Aislin Carrick of Consort and Payton Kletke of Red Deer — on the blueline and Malia Tetreault and Devon McConnell of Red Deer and Blair Morley of Rocky Mountain House up front.
Sixteen-year-old Mackenzie Gould-Sharpe of Red Deer joins Graham, giving the Chiefs a pair of veteran netminders.
“Both are returning and we feel are among the best in the league,” said McConnell, who expects them to share duties this season.
“It depends on who comes to work hardest in practice and has the right attitude but when they’re playing as good as they are it’s easy to roll over each game,” he said.
Cal likes the fact they have a well-balanced team in terms of age and experience.
“We have the leadership and a lot of younger kids stepped up right away, learned our systems and play good positional hockey which makes the game run a lot smoother.”
He also feels he has the offence to compete with any team in the league
“When you have the girls to create and make the plays, and play as a team in moving the puck and creating open ice it makes for a lot of opportunities,” he said.
Eight of the Chiefs are affiliated with the U18AAA program.
Cal feels some of his top players could play with the top team.
“We’re very talented and competitive and I think some of our better players would be close to making their team, but they have a strong program this season. They’re off to a great start at 6-2, so they have a deep team as well.”
The Chiefs return to action Sunday when they host the South Division leading Calgary Fire Red at 5 p.m. at the Collicutt Centre.
“I think we’re situated in a good spot and will challenge to lead our division,:” Calf added “I watched a couple of their games and I think we’re able to matchup with the teams in our league.”
McConnell was asked if there were any surprises in the early going.
“Maybe just how quickly we came together as a team but that has a lot to do with the team leadership and having a good dressing room. You don’t have a good room you don’t have success. I’ve seen that over the years as a player and a coach.”
The Chiefs have one more tournament on their schedule in early January in Prince Albert.
“Yeah PA in January,” Cal said with a laugh.
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