The Red Deer Optimist Chiefs and two more wins—that’s what stands between the Okanagan Rockets and their first ever berth in the Telus Cup.
The Rockets and defending Canadian-champion Chiefs will face off this weekend in Red Deer in the best-of-three Pacific regional final.
The winner earns a trip to Moose Jaw, Sask., April 21 to 27 for the national midget hockey championship.
The Rockets and Chiefs met once earlier this season at the Mac’s Tournament in Calgary and played to a 3-3 tie. Despite employing different styles of play, Rockets’ GM David Michaud expects his club and the Chiefs to once again be well matched.
“It’s a kind of a contrast in teams, the (Chiefs) are very steady and disciplined, they like to play four lines and roll six D,” Michaud said. “I think we tend to take a few more chances than they do and I think we can win those 7-6 shootouts that don’t make me feel very good, and against the Giants we proved we could also play that 2-1 style as well.
“I’d be surprised if it was easy for either team,” he added, “you get to this level and two wins away from a national championship nobody is going to be giving anything away. I think it’ll be a great series.”
Okanagan won its second ever B.C. Major Midget title last month in Burnaby, sweeping the five-time champion Vancouver Northwest Giants. Red Deer brushed aside Lloydminster last weekend to win its fifth straight Alberta crown.
Playing on the road and against the two-time defending champs comes with an underdog role for the Rockets, but Michaud said his club has thrived on challenges all season long.
“The thing I like about our group when we were in the dressing room celebrating in Burnaby, they wanted Red Deer, taking nothing away from Lloydminster,” he said. “Our guys seem to get excited at the prospect of playing the best team.. whether it’s the Giants, Red Deer or Finland at the Mac’s…they don’t ever seem to want to do it the easy way. It’s exciting as a staff to know that you’ve picked a group of competitors. We have 20 guys we know want to go to battle and work for each other.”
As for playing on the road for the second straight series:
“It’s good, a great set up, the hotel across is the street from the rink, so we’ll get a bit of a skate in Friday morning to shake off the cobwebs,” Michaud said. “All rinks look the same once the puck drops. I know we’ll have a strong contingent of family and friends. I’m sure it’ll be nice and loud for the Rockets.”
Games 1 and 2 of the Pacific regional final go Friday and Saturday and Saturday evenings in Red Deer. A third game, if necessary, would be played Sunday at 2 p.m. Mountain time.