The Olds Midget Renegades girls' hockey team became the latest squad in black and gold to book passage to a provincial championship tournament thanks to a 4-3 victory last week over the Strathmore Storm.
By securing their spot as the Zone 6 representative in the Midget B Female Provincials March 24-27 in Barrhead, the Renegades became the fifth Olds Minor Hockey Association team to earn a shot at a provincial championship banner with potential for that number to grow even larger.
The Renegades join the Olds Peewee Thunder and Olds Atom Thunder from the association's female hockey division in provincial play, along with the Olds Midget Mustangs and the Olds Bantam Chiefs from the boys side of the ledger.
According to Renegades coach Chris Heck qualifying for the provincial tournament is something the team set its collective eyes on from the beginning of the season.
ìOur goals at the start of the year were to, obviously, qualify for provincials and to get into the finals of the league play,î he explained. ìAs for how we do (at provincials), quite honestly it's in the girls' hands. They can play with any team they want Ö and like anyone else we do want to get there and win it all. Hopefully once we get to provincials, the girls will play at the next level.î
Coming into the second game of a two-game, total-goals series, the Renegades held a solid 3-1 lead with last week's series decider on their home ice. Any doubt they would relinquish the lead was extinguished early thanks to a three-goal outburst in the first period keyed by Michelle Pochapsky's two goals and a single from T.J. Trottier.
Pochapsky completed her hat trick in the second period as the Renegades skated to an aggregate 7-4 victory and the late March trip to Barrhead.
Even though Pochapsky continues to be the offensive catalyst for the team, Heck believes it's their depth that makes them a tough proposition for any team to deal with and why they qualified for provincials.
ìWe don't have what we call a real superstar line,î he emphasized. ìWe feel we have three equal lines and everyone contributes on any one given day.î
That depth will be key as the team wraps up their North Central Minor Hockey Association schedule tonight against Stettler on home ice. This weekend they'll be off to Vermilion for one final tournament before beginning league playoffs ahead of their trip to provincials.
The Renegades will likely finish third in the division unless Red Deer slips up in their final few league games. To make it to the league finals and fulfil their other planned goal for the year, the Renegades will likely have to get past the Chiefs to meet up with runaway league leaders and fierce rivals Wetaskiwin.
ìThose are the two teams that we want to beat,î Heck said. ìThere's a lot of history between Wetaskiwin and Olds in provincial play and league play Ö and Red Deer's just had our number this year for some reason.î
Making their success even more impressive for the Renegades is the fact they've been carrying a large roster of 18 players, putting pressure on the coaching staff to make sure they try and dole out ice time as best they can based on the circumstance.
However, even with the heavy roster the coaches have been pleased with the girls' outlook, particularly the 13 first and second year players.
ìThe second years and the first years have been stepping up,î Heck suggested. ìI'm most impressed with the first years and the level of commitment they have demonstrated and brought to the game. It's remarkable how far they've come along.î
With most of the team healthy for the playoff run ñ including goaltender Amy Leonard who's missed eight league games through injury ñ Heck believes they have the ability to reach their stated objectives.
Final dates for league playoffs have yet to be set but the first series has to be completed by March 6, according to the NCMHA's website. If the Renegades finish second in the league, they'll play local rivals Innisfail and if they finish third a matchup with Sylvan Lake is the most likely scenario.