When Mickey Girard decided to call it a day from coaching following the 2007-08 season with the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs major midget girls hockey team one had the feeling he would be back one day.
His retirement lasted one year.
Girard couldn’t turn down the chance to get back behind the bench when he received an invitation to handle the newly formed major bantam Sutter Fund Chiefs girls’ team.
“It would have been easy to say enough is enough, but certainly I missed coaching and when they started the new bantam AAA program and it came about I had a chance to come on board, I decided to come back for at least a year and see what happens,” explained Girard, who coaches with son Curtis and Lisa Batchelor.
“It’s a good competitive league and I’m happy with the girls we have and the team and happy to be back.”
Girard, who coached the major midget girls for several years and took them to the provincial title and a silver medal at the Western Canadian finals in his last season, feels he can add “a little direction” to the program.
“In the past it was usually the parents coaching and they wanted to get away from that,” added Girard, who has the Chiefs sitting first in the soputh and overall in the Alberta league with a 17-1-2 record with six games remaining.
“We have a core of eight or nine girls, who are very strong, so the girls’ program in the city will be in good shape for several years to come,” said Girard, who has a roster of 18 players.
“Having been there I believe we have five to seven girls who will step right into the midget AAA team next season and in three years there will be 12-14 girls from this group with that team.”
Girard didn’t know what to expect when he took over the program.
“Just from what I heard from word of mouth,” he said. “Although I knew we had a decent bantam A team last year.”
He also was able to add eight players from outside Red Deer.
“We’re like all the elite teams,” he said. “If girls anywhere in the province wish to get better they can’t be playing by themselves in a smaller program. They need to get a chance to get into a good program.”
The Alberta bantam league has been modelled after the major midget league.
“The ultimate goal was to model us after the midgets and provide a feeder system for that league,” explained Girard. “It’s been good, although some associations still need to recognize what level we’re at when it comes to ice time and practices.”
Girard runs a first-class operation.
“From Day 1 we’ve treated them all like elite hockey players,” he said.
“Our goal is to get them to the next level and that’s the way we coach. From game preparation and everything we want to make sure they’re ready for the midget level.”
The Chiefs have a talented and deep lineup, anchored by goaltenders Megan Kirkland and Jennifer West.
The two are the top two goalies in the league with Kirkland sporting a 0.48 goals-against-average and a .970 save percentage and West a 1.00 GAA and a .950 save percentage.
“We have a luxury with two strong goalies,” said Girard. “When I was in midget we always had one good one, but not a second. These girls both have a lot of skill and we just flip-flop them.”
The Chiefs also have two of the league’s top scorers in Reanna Arnold and Taylor Hall, who are third and fourth in league scoring respectively with 36 and 35 points. Arnold is second in the league goal-scoring with 24, two behind Morgan Sakundiak of the Calgary Outlaws.
The Chiefs won a pair of weekend games, including a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Outlaws Saturday at Kin City Arenas.
They also beat Lethbridge 9-1 Sunday at the Kinex.
Arnold scored her second goal of the game at 10:44 of the third period while on the power play to break a 2-2 tie and pull out the win over the Outlaws. Nicole York had the other Red Deer marker while West finished with 26 saves.
On Sunday, Jessyka Holt scored four times for the Chiefs with Arnold potting a pair and Taylor Heinzlmeir, Caitlin Fyten and Hall adding single markers.
Kirkland made 16 saves.
The Chiefs are off until Feb. 13 when they host Lloydminster at 2:15 p.m. at the Kin City Arenas.