St. Albert’s midget AAA female hockey team is looking ahead while the past is still present as the Esso Cup national champion.
“We still have that great memory for sure but we’re moving forward,” said right-winger Makenna Schuttler of the Ron Hodgson Slash. “We’re a new team and it’s a new season.”
The 13-6 midget AAA Slash have lost more games this season after going 27-2-1 in the Alberta Female Hockey League, 2-2 at provincials, 2-0 in the Pacific Region national qualifier against the Greater Vancouver Comets and 7-0 at the Esso Cup in Morden, Man.
“It’s definitely been hard. Last year we did so well and now it’s like we’re facing different challenges but overall it’s been good for us,” said Schuttler, one of 10 returnees from the first Alberta team to win the Esso Cup. “Everybody is out to get us but we’re taking that challenge on pretty well. Every game is a new game so we’re just playing as well as we can.”
Last season the Slash were 15-0-1 at the Christmas break.
“We definitely knew coming into the season that we did have a target on our back and everybody would come out to play their best game against us so they could say they could beat the national champions,” said left-winger Isabelle Lajoie. “We just try and play our best every game and not focus on anybody trying to beat us. We use that as motivation to kind of play every game to our greatest potential.”
The Slash sits third in the six-team AFHL with one less point than the Red Deer Chiefs and Rocky Mountain Raiders as the division’s co-leaders.
“The competition is definitely better and stronger than it was last year,” Lajoie said of the second-year AFHL. “We’re a totally different team and so are all the other teams in the league. They’ve got stronger and faster and we’ve had to adapt to not being as dominant as we were last year.
“It’s definitely different. It’s not as easy as it was last year. Everything just clicked for us last year where this year we’re kind of a younger squad,” Lajoie added. “It’s a change from last year’s team having to add in 10 new players but we’re finding what works best for us.
“We’re just trying to get them used to this new league but for the most part we’re just trying to find our way to get back to doing it how we did it last year like focus on our strengths. This year it’s definitely our speed and we’re trying to use that speed in the offensive zone.”
The Slash have 11 games remaining leading up to provincials and Schuttler is confident the team is up to the challenge for a repeat performance at 2018 Esso Cup in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.
“With the group of girls we have we can do it. It’s a great group of girls and we’re willing to work for it,” said the Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student. “We need everyone involved to win this year. It’s going to take a whole team effort for sure.”
The difference between a berth in the final or the third-place game at provincials for the Slash was Calgary Fire upsetting Red Deer in a four-round shootout to end the round robin in a three-way tiebreaker that was decided on the goals for/against formula. In the final, the Slash posted a 2-0 decision against the Raiders, the 2016 Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League champions and Esso Cup bronze medallists.
“I would tell the new girls to believe that we can do it because in provincials in Calgary last year we thought we were out but we kept going and we didn’t give up hope and we ended up in the final and then we were Esso Cup champions,” said Schuttler, 16.
The Esso Cup appearance was the second for the Slash but the first as the Pacific Region champions. The St. Albert Raiders Hockey Club team made its debut in the 2004/05 season and in 2011 hosted nationals and placed fifth overall.
“For the most part it still feels kind of surreal that we won but we’re using it like we’ve been there before, we know what it takes to get there and we want try and recreate it. It was a great experience we had last year at nationals and we want to try to get this team back to nationals and see what we can do,” said Lajoie, 16, a Grade 11 Bellerose student.
The last game before the Christmas break for the Slash was the 2-0 loss to Red Deer (13-3-3) Dec. 22 in St. Albert.
Cassidy Maplethorpe, a Slash player last season, scored both Red Deer goals and shots were 28 apiece.
The Slash are 1-3 against the Red Deer with two shutout losses
“It’s always a good game between us. We had a little bit of trouble with them last year,” said Schuttler of the Red Deer squad that beat the Slash twice in January in league play and once at provincials in March. “We played well but we know if we even play that much more better we can beat them and get these wins that we need, so as much as it sucks the loss was good because we’ll build off of it.”
Next weekend the Slash are competing at a tournament in Scarborough, Ont.
The winners of the Calgary Fire Starter in September, 5-1 over the Regina Rebels in the final, finished third at the Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament, hosted by Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., earlier this month and defeated Red Deer 5-3 in the playoff game.
League play resumes Jan. 13 against the Raiders (13-4-2) at 7:45 p.m. at Go Auto Arena.