One of the strengths of any Doug Quinn-coached team is a never-say-die attitude.
The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs are a perfect example of that. Last season, they overcame a 5-1 second-period deficit to beat Phénix du College du Esther-Blondin of Quebec in overtime in the Telus Cup final.
So it should come as no surprise to see the Chiefs shake off last Friday’s opening-game overtime loss to the host Vancouver Northwest Giants in the best-of-three Pacific Region midget AAA championship and storm back to win 4-3 in double overtime Saturday and 3-2 Sunday to advance to the Telus Cup.
“The guys played extremely hard … played with a lot of focus and determination,” said Quinn, whose roster includes rookie defenceman Logan Hermus of Big Valley and second-year centre Rory Davidson of Delburne. “I’m extremely proud of them.
“Northwest was a very good team. They lost only a few games all season and they were tough in their rink.”
“It was a smaller ice surface and they had a very big, strong team, which was built for that rink. But our guys came in and competed. They sacrificed and gave everything they had.”
Jordan Steenbergen scored the winning goal late in the third period, on a screened shot from the point. Jody Sick and Chase Olsen scored the other Red Deer goals, as each team finished with 31 shots.
After the Chiefs got the lead, goaltender Matt Zentner shut the door. He was especially strong in the final minute, making two outstanding saves with the Giants’ netminder on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
“Matt was outstanding the last two games,” Quinn said. “He was a big reason we won. He made the big save at the right time and did an outstanding job handling the puck and moving it out of our zone.”
Quinn also gave credit to a Red Deer defence that was playing without Colton Bobyk (appendix) and included forward Jack Goranson on the back end.
“My defence really stepped up, especially Quinn Brown and Steenbergen,” he said. “We tried to match them against their top line and they were warriors. As well, Jack stepped in and played well and Gabe (Bast) came back from an injury (hip flexor) and wasn’t 100 per cent, but gave us some good minutes, as did Kaleb Denham.
“It’s never easy, and to have success, you need commitment from the entire team. You put your ego aside and that’s what this group of players did. They played as a team.”
But that’s what’s needed to win championships.
“That’s how we have to play,” Quinn said. “We don’t have the one big-time star player, and when we play teams with an elite player, we need that team attitude.”
Ryker Leer played the role of hero Saturday, tipping in the winning goal in the second overtime. Chase Thudium scored twice and Jordie Lawson once.
It was a game that Quinn believed they deserved.
“We outshot them 47-20, and if we wouldn’t have won, it would have been an injustice,” he said.
The Chiefs have won the past four Alberta Midget Hockey League championships. They’re bound for the Telus Cup, set for April 22-28 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“At the beginning of the season, our goal was to return to the Telus Cup,” Quinn said. “It’s a very difficult tournament to win, but we’re there. But first we’ll enjoy this. Take a day or two off, then start to prepare.”
The Saskatoon Contacts are also headed back to the Telus Cup. The Saskatchewan champions won the Central region title Sunday at Kenora, Ont.