Chiefs 3 Rangers 2
The Red Deer North Star Chiefs had more on their minds Thursday than a hockey game.
“It was a long day. We had some adversity with some good friends who are hurting with some bad news,” said Chiefs coach Jeff Denham, following his team’s 3-2 win over the Calgary Blazers in their first game of the Sutter Cup tournament, the Alberta Minor Midget AAA Hockey League South Division playoffs.
The death of Sylvan Lake minor hockey player Chase Cornford, who succumbed to cancer earlier in the day, was a devastating blow to the Chiefs, who pulled out the victory despite being assessed 10 of 12 minor penalties at the Arena.
“A lot of our kids played through a difficult situation today,” said Denham. “It’s such an emotional tournament, such a short tournament, and our young men had the challenge of learning the difference between emotional and intense.
“Yeah, we took a few penalties today and we have to tighten up there sure. I liked our penalty kill and I liked our effort. Our effort level was great, we didn’t give them a lot of opportunities. But obviously people and families come first and we feel for the Cornford family and what they’re going through.”
Mathew Thiessen scored the winner for the Chiefs with 2:39 remaining in the third period, taking a drop pass from James Gaume and wiring a wrist shot past Rangers netminder Adin Hill.
The clubs were tied 2-2 after 40 minutes on North Star goals from Ryan Swier and Logan Hermus and Ranger tallies by Zach Befus and Sam Birkett.
Hill made 30 saves for Calgary, while Chiefs netminder Rylan Bardick turned aside 23 shots.
“Their goalie was great. He did everything he could to hold them in there,” said Denham. “But we need to tighten up on our discipline if we’re going to have success this week.
“Our team has had a lot of adversity this season. We’ve had injuries all year and our boys have learned how to battle it. Good teams find a way to win ugly games even when people are intense and uptight.”
North Star finished first during Division A regular-season play in the AMMAAAHL South and will play the fourth- to sixth-seeded teams in their six-team group in the 12-team Sutter Cup, from which two clubs will advance to the provincials March 22-25 in Calgary.
“Our boys have played really well this season,” said Denham. “This is a wonderful group of young men and it’s a privilege to coach them. They’ve learned how to battle through a lot of adversity and hopefully we can continue to find ways to win.”
The Rangers finished sixth in Division B of the South during the regular season but gave the Chiefs all they could handle Thursday.
“As you can see this is a tight league and all of these teams have come a long way,” said Denham “Even a sixth-place team can have a great day and it took all we had to get through it.”
In Thursday’s other games in North Star’s Sutter Cup grouping, the Calgary Gold and Airdrie/Cochrane Avalanche battled to a 3-3 draw and the Calgary Blackhawks and the Raiders settled for a 2-2 tie.
The North Star Chiefs face Airdrie/Cochrane today at 1 p.m. at the Kinex and play their final divisional game Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Arena versus the Raiders.
The playoff games are scheduled for Sunday with the final to go at 5:30 p.m. at the Arena.