One year after ending decades of Midget hockey heartbreak in Red Deer and winning the city’s first national championship with a comeback for the ages, the Red Deer Chiefs have earned a return trip to the TELUS Cup.
“At the beginning of the season our goal was to return to the TELUS Cup,” head coach Doug Quinn told the Red Deer Advocate after the Chiefs claimed the Pacific Region title. “It’s a very difficult tournament to win, but we’re there.”
At last year’s tournament in Leduc, Alta. – less than 90 minutes up the road from Red Deer – the Chiefs pulled off the unthinkable, erasing a 5-1 third period deficit to beat the Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin 6-5 in double overtime.
It was Red Deer’s first national title after three gold medal game losses, including double-overtime defeats in 1994 and 2007, when the Central Alberta city hosted the tournament.
Only three players returned from the 2012 title team – goaltender Matt Zentner, defenceman Quinn Brown and forward Rory Davidson – but the result was the same; Red Deer won its fourth consecutive Alberta Midget Hockey League championship.
But there were a few more bumps in the road on the way to Sault Ste. Marie. The Chiefs needed the full five games to beat the Calgary Buffaloes in the AMHL semifinal and five more in the league final to knock off the Edmonton SSAC Athletics. In total, Red Deer lost more playoff games (six) than it did during the regular season (four).
Matching up with the Vancouver NW Giants in the Pacific Regional for the fourth year in a row, the Chiefs faced the tough task of going on the road to beat the Giants, who went 34-2-4 in the B.C. Major Midget League, and lost only three times on home ice all year.
An overtime loss in Game 1 of the best-of-three series quickly put Red Deer on the brink of elimination for the fourth time in the postseason.
But as they did against the Buffaloes and Athletics, the Chiefs found a way to win. Despite trailing in both games, Red Deer got a double-overtime goal from Ryker Leer in Game 2 and a late winner from Jordan Steenbergen in Game 3 to book its trip to Sault Ste. Marie.
“The guys played extremely hard … played with a lot of focus and determination … I’m extremely proud of them,” Quinn said to the Advocate. “Northwest was a very good team. They lost only a few games all season and they were tough in their rink.”
After it took 28 years for a team to repeat as national champions, the Chiefs have a chance to become the third team in less than a decade to win back-to-back gold medals – Prince Albert repeated in 2006 and 2007, and Notre Dame did it in 2009 and 2010.
HOW THEY GOT TO SAULT STE. MARIE
Alberta Midget Hockey League
Quarter-final: defeated Strathmore 3-1 (6-1, 1-2 2OT, 7-2, 5-3)
Semifinal: defeated Calgary Buffaloes 3-2 (5-4 OT, 1-5, 2-3, 4-2, 6-1)
AMHL championship: defeated Edmonton SSAC 3-2 (5-0, 2-8, 4-0, 0-1, 1-0)
Championship: defeated Vancouver NW 2-1 (3-4 OT, 4-3 2OT, 3-2)
Record: 23-4-7 (1st in AMHL)
Goals For: 133 (5th in AMHL)
Goals Against: 55 (1st in AMHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 8 (Sept. 30-Oct. 26)
Top 3 Scorers:
Goals For: 59
Goals Against: 41
Top 3 Scorers:
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
2012 – Red Deer Rebels | gold medal | 5-0-2 | 27GF 15GA
2010 – Red Deer Rebels | 5th place | 1-4-0 | 12GF 24GA
2007 – Red Deer Rebels | silver medal | 5-2-0 | 28GF 9GA
2004 – Red Deer Chiefs | bronze medal | 5-2-0 | 26GF 22 GA
2002 – Red Deer Chiefs | 4th place | 4-3-0 | 39GF 31GA
1996 – Red Deer Chiefs | 4th place | 2-4-1 | 20GF 22GA
1995 – Red Deer Chiefs | silver medal | 3-3-1 | 26GF 16GA
1994 – Red Deer Chiefs | silver medal | 5-2-0 | 28GF 20GA
1979 – Red Deer Chiefs | 10th place | 1-4-0 | 20GF 25GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
creates a nightmare for defensive coverage … constant threat to join the offensive rush … generates lethal scoring chances … elite puck mover and carrier … keep the opposition on its heels with offensive abilities
relentless offensive threat … intensity is undeniable … excellent nose for the net … can finish with the best of them … quick, accurate shot … isn’t afraid to play around the crease … relies on agility and quickness
JAYDEN SITTLER & MATT ZENTNER
solid one-two punch … different mentalities and styles … Zentner relies heavily on positional play and covering majority of the net … Sittler focuses on an aggressive approach and quick reactions … key to success
WHL DRAFTED PLAYERS
Jordan Steenbergen – Kootenay 2011 (3rd round, 61st overall)
Logan Hermus – Moose Jaw 2011 (4th round, 80th overall)
Kaleb Denham – Tri-City 2011 (6th round, 126th overall)
Chase Thudium – Red Deer 2011 (8th round, 175th overall)
Matt Zentner – Prince Albert 2010 (10th round, 204th overall)
Colton Bobyk – Spokane 2011 (10th round, 217th overall)