Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fab Four For Optimist Chiefs

2013 AMHL Champions - Red Deer Optimist Chiefs
The Doug Dynasty continues...

At least that's how the players, past and present, refer to the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs streak of four straight Alberta Midget AAA provincial championships.

It's their tribute to the man in charge, Doug Quinn, who has been behind the Chiefs bench for all four title wins (as well as their Telus Cup championship win last April.)

He's a coach these players absolutely love playing for.  And on Saturday, they rewarded him with another solid 60 minute effort leading to another provincial title.

"They're all exciting but I think one is probably a bit extra special," Quinn said following the Chiefs 1-0 won over Edmonton Southside Athletic Club in the fifth and deciding game of the Alberta Midget Hockey League final.

"We've never had the injuries like we've had this year.  For the kids to battle through some of the adversity and just kinda rally around each other is really special."

The hallmark of the Optimist Chiefs during the regular season was their outstanding defensive play.  The AMHL final was no different as all three of Red Deer's victories were of the shutout variety (they allowed a total of 9 goals in their two losses... an uncharacteristic 8 in game two and 1 in game 4).

"It says a lot for how Matt [goaltender Zentner] played and for how well our defence kinda rallied around each other.  Just a total team effort.  For us to shut down the best offensive team in the league says a lot for us as a team."

Game five had everything you'd want in a series deciding match... determination from both teams, great scoring chances at both ends, big hits, solid goaltending, and a great crowd (somewhere between 1100-1200 at the Red Deer Arena).  Red Deer controlled the game for the most part but it remained scoreless until the very late stages meaning Edmonton had a very distinct chance to reach up and snatch the game and the series from the Chiefs.  But Red Deer rallied for the huge home ice win.

"That's usually how these games go," noted Quinn.  "I thought that we were playing really well and that we were working really hard.  But they have some really skilled offensive guys and sometimes all it takes is a bounce here or a bad break and you could be down by a goal.  That's kinda what happened last game, three minutes to go and it goes in off a skate and you lose.  Today we scored that goal."

In typical, hard-working Chiefs fashion it was Rory Davidson who scored the series winning goal by finding the loose puck in a goalmouth scramble and tucking it past SSAC goalie Jordan Papirny, who had done a masterful job of keeping his team alive in this one.

"It took long enough," Davidson joked after the game.  "Just kept pushing and finally got one by him.  We talked about it before the game, we just needed to shoot puck low and hit the net and keep banging away.  Eventually it would go in for us and it finally happened."

The man at the other end was superb in his own right.  Matt Zentner, who served as backup goalie for Dasan Sydora on last year's national championship winning team, made 20 saves to post his third shutout of the series for Red Deer.  Though, as you might expect, he was quick to deflect any personal accolades by talking about the team's overall success.

"I just feel like in the last couple of games I've kind of been in a groove... but you can't get a shutout without your defence playing well.  We're short a couple of bodies, a couple of important players, but everybody stepped up.  It's not one person, not just the goaltender, everyone stepped up."

And now "The Mission" (aka the Optimist Chiefs quest to win a second straight Telus Cup) continues against a familiar foe.  They will pack up later this week and head west to Vancouver where they will battle the Northwest Giants for the pacific region title for the fourth straight year.  The series starts Friday in Vancouver.

Says Quinn... "We're excited to see them again and I'm sure they're excited to see us too."


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