The St. Albert Slash were one point away from clinching entry into the playoffs at the Mac's tournament at Calgary as round robin action wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.
After tying the Red Deer Chiefs 4-4 in a come-from-behind effort to open the tournament, the Slash rattled off 4-1 and 4-2 wins over the Notre Dame Hounds and Westman Wildcats, respectively.
With the Calgary Chaos losing 3-0 to the Hounds on Tuesday and the Slash scheduled to play the Chaos the next day, all St. Albert needed was a tie to secure a playoff berth. Wednesday’s score between the Slash and Chaos was unavailable at press time.
Heading into Wednesday’s showdown, head coach Terry Sydor's message to the team was simple — keep it cool.
“It's important they don't get too nervous. There's a lot of pressure and expectation, especially from parents. We have to try and make sure we continue doing the simple small things that have been giving us success. If we're prepared, we get good starts,” Sydor said. “You want to have a balance of playing calm and playing intense, not being overwhelmed by the pressure. Going into these types of tournaments are great learning experiences for when you're in tight situations like the playoffs.”
The female division semifinals were played Thursday and the final was Friday. Scores were unavailable at press time.
Sydor was thrilled to see his team do so well leading up to Wednesday‘s tilt.
“When we get the big guns going, it's tough for other teams to defend. Not only do we capitalize, but we generate chances that change momentum for us. Our penalty killing has been really strong too,” he said.
The opening game against Red Deer set the tone for a successful tournament, according to Sydor. The character in the locker room went through a significant confidence boost fighting back from 4-1 deficit, including a two-goal rally with 1:18 left in the game. Karly Heffernan and Melissa Kueber had a goal and an assist each while Angie Mason and Jessica Kampjes had singles. Emily Mitchell earned the victory, stopping 20 shots in net.
“We had a good start and got the lead but a few mistakes in the second cost us,” Sydor said. “They're a good team, so they'll capitalize. Their goalie was solid but we didn't quit. It was awesome.”
Kampjes had a goal and two assists against Notre Dame. Kueber added two goals and an assist while Karly Reithmayer had three assists. Taryn McCormick had the other Slash goal.
It was the second straight year the Slash have beat the Hounds at the Mac's, and the second time Tyler Lisitza stood between the pipes for the victory, stopping 16 shots. Notre Dame is second behind the Prince Albert Bears in the Saskatchewan female midget AAA league, but has played five fewer games than the Bears.
“You can count the amount of goalies on one hand that are 2-0 against Notre Dame,” said Sydor with some pride of Lisitza. “They have a very good team this year so it was a great game for us. Unfortunately they got a late power play goal to break the shutout but that's all right. We handled them. It was a good, solid team effort.”
St. Albert opened the scoring against Westman on Kueber’s tally at 17:01 of the first. Kampjes bridged the gap to two early in the second but the Wildcats fought back with a strange bounce, according to Sydor. Moments later Kampjes restored the two-goal margin. Less than a minute after the Slash gave up a late two-man advantage goal, a shorthanded effort by Tegan Rose restored the two-goal difference. Mitchell stopped 26 shots in net for St. Albert, the majority of them in the third period. She also got some help from her shot-blockers, including four by Sabrina Fleming.
“It was a tight game, although we outshot them quite a bit early on. They were on us pretty good in the third. Mitchell was solid for us. She was named player of the game and kept us in there,” Sydor said.
The Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League schedule resumes Jan. 9 for the Slash (10-7-6) against Chaos (9-11-4) at 4 p.m. at Performance Arena.