Great unknown awaits locals at Mac's tournament
Hockey: Bisons and Raiders pooled with mostly out-of-province teams
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Dec 26, 2012 06:00 am
The Bisons have been slotted into an extremely challenging pool at the Mac’s Midget Tournament in Calgary. The Strathmore-based team, in Pool 5, will square off with the vaunted Saskatoon Contacts and Okanagan Rockets along with a league rival in the Lethbridge Pronghorns and the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, one of two American teams at the competition.
“It’s exciting to have teams like Saskatoon, Carolina and Okanagan in our pool,” Bisons coach Jeremy Friesen said. “Teams from B.C. and Saskatchewan… if you want to go through to a national championship you have to go through the top teams from each of those.
“It’s a good opportunity to see some of those top teams and see how you measure up and prepare for the stretch run.”
The Bisons open their pool play on today (Boxing Day) when they meet the Contacts, 3:30 p.m. at Father David Bauer Arena. The Contacts were Telus Cup champions in 2005 and current owners of the third best record in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League with a record of 16-6-2-1. Saskatoon boasts 13 players who are WHL Bantam draft picks, including Spokane Chiefs first-round pick Evan Fiala.
Friesen said the opening game is always critical at the Mac’s. Last year the Bisons dominated the powerhouse Vancouver NW Giants in their Mac’s opener en route to winning their pool.
“The whole tournament there’s not much margin for error so if you lose a game you’re relying on everyone else to help you out,” he said. “A lot of the guys haven’t played in an atmosphere like this where this is going to be a lot of people in the stands and a lot of scouts. It’s going to be important to get the nerves out early and build some team confidence.”
The Bisons then switch venues to the Max Bell Arena for a Dec. 27 showdown with the Jr. Hurricanes at 3:30 p.m.
Friesen said in preparation for an unknown commodity in Carolina, the Bisons will stress forcing their will and sticking to the aggressive style that makes them successful.
“We’ve told the guys all year round that we don’t have an issue as a coaching staff in losing to a team when we play really well,” Friesen said. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, if we don’t buy in and don’t execute we’re not going to be successful.”
Alberta Midget Hockey League South Division foe Lethbridge then squares off with the Bisons on Dec. 29 at 5:15 p.m. at Max Bell.
The Pronghorns are below the Bisons (11-11-2) in the standings with a mark of 9-11-3, but Lethbridge won the only meeting this season by a 3-2 margin on Oct. 28.
“That was our 10th game in the year and when we were transitioning through our issues we had with our goaltending,” Friesen said. “It’s been a tale of two seasons for both teams. They started out really hot, we started out really slow and since then we’ve turned it around.”
The Bisons switched to Okotoks’ Richard Palmer in goal in mid-November.
The Midget AAA team began the season with a record of 4-8, but have since early November posted a 7-3-2 mark.
The Bisons close out their round-robin play in a meeting with the Okanagan Rockets on Dec. 30 at 11:45 p.m. at Father David Bauer Arena.
Seventh Heaven for Highwood
The Highwood Raiders will be re-introduced to the Mac’s tournament in Pool 7, a grouping that reads like a cross-section of Western Canada.
The Raiders square off with the Prince George Cougars on Boxing Day, 11:30 a.m. at Max Bell 2. The Cougars sit in last place in the B.C. Female Midget AAA ranks.
Highwood then meets the Saskatoon Stars, who are in the middle of the pack with a record of 8-6-1 in Saskatchewan Midget AA, at Max Bell on Dec. 29.
Familiarity then hits the ice for the Raiders as the do battle with the St. Albert Slash, a rival from the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League, on Dec. 29 at 8 a.m.
Highwood got the better of the northern Alberta team in their only meeting this season, a 4-2 road win for the High River-based team.
The Raiders close out pool play on Dec. 30 with what should prove to be their toughest test. Highwood meets the Fraser Valley Phantom, the top dogs in British Columbia who have just three losses on the season. Puck drop for the pool-play finale is 6 p.m. at Max Bell 2.