With an automatic berth into the 2010 Esso Cup, the coaches and players of the Regina Rebels know they’ll have a lot to prove on the ice.
But the host team says they’re more than up for the challenge, pointing out that one of the Midget AAA’s team strengths will be that four of its players have already competed at the national level during the 2009-10 season.
Goalies Samantha Langford and Krista Funke, along with forwards Jenny MacKnight and Patricia MacGauley, represented Saskatchewan at the 2009 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Surrey, B.C.
“I think it’ll help us learn more about what’s going to be coming up (at the Esso Cup),” Langford, 16, said of the national championship. “We can help the rest of our team (by getting them) prepared mentally and physically for the competition.”
“It’s definitely going to make us a better team this year,” agreed fellow netminder Funke, also 16, of how the national tournament will work to the advantage of the Rebels when the Esso Cup comes to Regina. “We want to represent and we want to win it.”
Doug Folk, who served as Saskatchewan’s video coach at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship and also guides the girls as head coach of the Rebels, said the five regional champions who win their way to the 2010 Esso Cup in April should know that his team deserves to be there, too.
“We’re not a team here just for the free ride,” he said. “We’re a team that earned our way here, based on past performances and that’s why we were given an opportunity to host.”
Indeed, he said, the Regina Rebels are one of eight teams in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, an organization “second to none across the country.”
“I think it’s a prototype league for other provinces to aspire to,” he said. “That’s just a testament to the development of female hockey throughout the province.”
Folk said it’s a great honour for his team to host a prestigious national event such as the Esso Cup, adding the Rebels are excited to show off Regina’s new six-pad facility – the Co-operators Centre – in addition to their hockey abilities.
“We’re going to do a great job of not only hosting the other teams, but in performing on the ice too,” he said.
Nevertheless, coaches and players alike agreed that from the national championship to the regular season to the Esso Cup, it’s important to take one game at a time.
“We’re going to have to be the underdogs and prove that we should be there,” Langford said. “(But) I think we’ll have a good chance of going far.”
Funke added that the elite hockey experience she and her three teammates gained while at the 2009 National Women’s Under-18 Championship serves as an important part of Regina’s preparation for the Esso Cup.
“We’ve got to realize that this is it,” Funke said of how hard the Rebels will continue working to ensure they shine in front of a hometown crowd. “(We have to) get ready the whole season (and) not take it for granted.”