Canadian National Women 4 Optimist Rebels 2
The Red Deer Optimist Rebels weren’t sure what they were getting into as they prepared to meet the Canadian national women’s hockey team on Friday at the Arena.
They do now.
After matching the national squad’s intensity level through most of the first two periods, the Rebels watched their opponents pick up the pace in the final frame en route to a 4-2 victory before 650 fans.
“I don’t think that our guys have seen a team that plays with that degree of intensity,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn. “The girls were relentless in their pressure. They’re very structured and they work very hard.”
National team captain Hayley Wickenheiser agreed that her squad saved its best for last.
“Red Deer has a nice team with a pretty quick transitional game,” she said. “Playing on the smaller ice surface was a little different for us and the size difference between our players and theirs certainly showed at times. But I think we just played with more composure at the end. We were a little more organized and scored when we had to.”
As a means of preparing for world championships, international tournaments and — every four years — the Olympic Games, the national women’s team has been playing midget AAA clubs since 2001.
“It started right here in Red Deer when Dan MacDonald was coaching the midgets,” said national team head coach Melody Davidson. “It’s been a great partnership for us and we can’t thank the teams and the coaches and the (Alberta Midget) league enough for keeping it going.”
The women will meet Alberta Midget Hockey League clubs on 27 occasions this season, and for the first time ever, the initial game between the national squad and each midget team will count in the league standings.
“Playing these teams gives us a season, a journey and a year. It’s not just about practising and playing a few games, it’s about practising and playing game after game after game,” said Davidson.
“I think it just brings up the tempo of our game and it’s really the closest thing we can find to what it’s like playing the top women’s teams,” added Wickenheiser. “It’s not the same kind of hockey, but it’s pretty close. These (midget) teams pressure us in all zones and move the puck pretty well.”
Clayton Petrie notched a first-period goal for the Rebels before Jayna Hefford replied for the Canadian women in the middle stanza.
In the third period, Jennifer Botterill scored on a backhand from the high slot at 6:39 and Meghan Agosta connected on a power play 38 seconds later. Caroline Ouellette converted a two-on-one pass from Agosta on another Team Canada power play with five minutes remaining, and Rebels forward Kolton Gillett closed out the scoring with an unassisted breakaway goal.
Travis Weber finished with 18 saves for Red Deer, while Shannon Szabados turned aside 24 shots for the national team.
The Optimist Rebels-Team Canada game was the first on the 2009-10 Alberta Midget Hockey League regular-season schedule.
“Unfortunately, we happened to be the first one out of the gate,” said Quinn. “We’ve really only been practising for a week. We haven’t touched on any of our systems and have worked just briefly on our defensive zone play. We haven’t practised our power play or penalty kill. They scored two power-play goals tonight and we didn’t score on our (man advantage) chances (zero-for-four).”
The Optimist Rebels’ next home game is Oct. 16 versus the UFA Bisons.