The Midget AA provincial championships are underway at the Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks, as the Wheatland Chiefs vie for their first provincial championship in the franchise’s 25-year history.
“We have come so far, to finish the season off with a provincial title would be huge,” said Chiefs captain Ryan Bell. “This is such a great organization with a lot of great teams that have come before us. It would be nice to be the first team to bring the title back to Strathmore.”
The Chiefs clobbered the competition this season. Finishing the regular season at 31-2-3, with 207 goals for and 66 goals against, they captured the South division title in Medicine Hat and swept the Airdrie Lightning for the South Central Alberta Hockey League crown two weeks ago.
The provincials, featuring the host Okotoks Oilers Black, the Strathcona Warriors from the North Alberta Hockey League, the CBHA Rangers from the Calgary division and St. Albert Crusaders from the Edmonton division, got underway March 30.
“The boys are pretty fired up coming off the big win in Airdrie. Preparing for provincials, we wanted to keep them focused and get them on the ice as much as possible, staying in the flow of things before the tourney starts,” said Chiefs assistant coach Matt Gregory.
The Chiefs took on the Rangers in the first game of the tournament March 30. The Chiefs and Rangers met back on Feb. 17. The Chiefs doubled up the Rangers 6-3 at the Strathmore Family Centre.
Out of the five teams competing this weekend, the Rangers have won the most provincial titles, with three. They captured the prize in 1980, 1992 and 2007.
“We have already been successful against two of the teams in provincials, so that gives us a bit of confidence heading into the tournament,” said Chiefs defenseman Scott Desserre.
March 31 sees the Chiefs play a double header; first, they battle the Crusaders at 12:30 p.m.
The Crusaders are searching for their first provincial title since winning it all back in 2009. They finished second in their division, going 19-11-2 with 116 goals for and 89 goals against in 32 games.
That same evening, the Chiefs tackle the hosts at 9:30 p.m.
“We have a big rivalry with the Okotoks team, so that should be a good game,” said Bell. “We really like the way the schedule has broken down. I think it’s a good thing that we play two games on the second day of the tournament against teams that are also playing two games that day.”
The Oilers lost 4-1 to the Chiefs back on Feb. 26 in Murray Arena.
“We got a pretty good idea about what Okotoks is like,” said Gregory. “They are a big, strong, physical team that should be a great test for us.”
The Chiefs close out round robin play against the Strathcona Warriors April 1.
The Warriors are also searching for their first provincial title and finished second in their division. They went 18-10-4 this season with 117 goals for and 87 goals against in 32 games.
“We don’t really look into other team’s records at this point,” said Gregory. “It’s provincials and everyone is coming from different leagues, so we have to go out there and do what we do best and see what happens at the end of the day.”
With no quarterfinals or semis, the top two teams coming out of the round robin will meet up in the gold medal game April 2 at 3 p.m. The bronze medal game is slated for 11:30 a.m. that same morning.
All games will be played out of the Pason Centennial Arena.
The Chiefs will be looking to keep the strong local hockey vibes going. Players on the Chiefs are well aware of the successful CFR Chemicals Bisons playoff run and the Strathmore Storm’s silver medal.
“We see how other teams are doing in the area and it makes us want to get out there and win just like the other programs,” said Bell. “Hopefully we can bring back a gold medal.”
They also know that they don’t have to deviate from the game plan that made them successful.
“If we play our game, stick to the plan that has been working for us all year, I think we will be fine in the end,” added Desserre.