Chiefs 6 CAC 4
After preaching patience and process for the past three months, Red Deer Optimist Chiefs head coach Brandin Cote is finally starting to see it pay off.
The Chiefs (4-7-3) beat the previously undefeated Canadian Athletic Club (13-1-2) out of Edmonton 6-4 in Alberta Midget Hockey League Action at the Red Deer Arena on Sunday.
Tyrees Goodrunning, Ryley Smith, Drew Joslin, Tyler Graber, Brad Makofka and Chase Olsen all scored for Red Deer while Branden Bilodeau made 26 saves in the win.
Andrew Marshall, Troy Dudley, Curtis Peck and Brayden Hyland replied for Edmonton while Eric Szudor allowed five goals on 34 shots in the loss.
“It was a real confidence boost for us, but we always knew we could do it. We’re building something special here again this year,” said Makofka, 17. “We just need to keep moving forward with this and keep pressing teams and stuff is going to start going our way.”
It was the second straight solid performance against one of the league’s top teams, having tied the Calgary Royals (8-5-3) 4-4 on Saturday in Calgary.
“We’ve been waiting for bad things to happen,” said Cote. “Now I see the tide turning a little bit where we are going after teams and we are not allowing that to take hold of us and keep us down, we are responding.”
It hasn’t just been this weekend that they have started to see their season turn around. It all started five games ago with a 1-0 loss to CAC in Edmonton. Since that game, they have looked nothing like the club that started out the campaign in last place in the AMHL.
They had much to overcome this season, a new head coach with new systems, the ghosts of a midget AAA dynasty, and a mostly brand new roster.
But they are starting to figure things out.
“We had to get these guys on the same page and understanding what it takes to win,” said Cote. “We’re a work in progress for sure, but over the last five games, since we played these guys in Edmonton, it’s been night-and-day as far as how we’ve played the game —our physicality, our forecheck, defensively — there’s a lot of good things.”
This game was ripe for a collapse. After the Chiefs built a 3-1 lead 3:15 into the second period on goals by Goodrunning, Smith and Joslin, the CAC came roaring back and took a 4-1 lead with three goals in five minutes.
Cote called a time out, calmed the troops and Graber tied the game at 16:32.
The Chiefs came back out of the second intermission in control and at 9:08 Makofka scored the winner, taking a cross-crease pass from Olsen and burying the one-timer past Szudor.
Olsen then put the game away with an empty-net goal at 19:05.
“The biggest thing is we’ve started believing in each other, we started trusting each other and started getting our systems down,” said Makofka. “We started really believing that we could be one of the top teams in the league. It was hard for everyone to believe that right from the start, but I think we’re starting to show other teams who we are and show how good of a team we are.”
One of their big keys has been their scoring depth, a familiar hallmark of the club. Six different goal-scores contributed to Sunday’s win while Smith (12 goals, three assists), Makofka (7-8-15) and Olsen (7-8-15) are all tied for the team lead with 15 points in 14 games.
“Our forwards are as deep as any team in the league,” said Cote. “We’ve got four lines that can play, we don’t have one superstar, but we’ve got some skilled players up front, but we’ve guys who if they play the right way … we are very capable of playing four lines and wearing teams down.”
The key is to now string multiple wins together. They have secured points in three of their past four games, but their schedule is not about to get any easier with a two-game road trip next weekend, against the Chrysler South Division leading Calgary Buffaloes (10-2-2) on Saturday and the Medicine Hat Tigers (3-10-3), who started off the season with a win in Red Deer, on Sunday.
“We just have to try and build off the momentum we’ve created for ourselves this weekend and continue that upward swing,” said Cote. “Our standings, especially in the South, are very close, and we have a lot of games left before Christmas where we can definitely make some ground.”
NOTES — CAC was 2-for-3 on their power-play opportunities on Sunday, the Chiefs were 0-for-2 on their’s … Makofka, Smith, Olsen and Zane Bennett all scored for Red Deer in Saturday’s tie while Cole Sears made 22 saves.