Provincial qualification for the top minor midget teams is up for grabs this week in Okotoks.
The top seed and host Rockyview Raiders welcome the 12 teams comprising the Alberta Minor Midget Hockey League’s South Division in the Sutter Cup South playoff tournament, March 8-11 at the Pason Centennial arenas.
“It will be big to have that home-ice advantage and all those fans out here,” said Raiders defenceman Lucas Watkins. “It makes us want to win as much as we already did.
“Everyone is going to be wanting to knock us out early because we’re the number-one team. We just have to manage that.”
It’s a homecoming of sorts with 12 players on Rockyview from the Okotoks area.
“It means a lot,” said Raiders centre Nathan Fox. “We play in Chestermere pretty much the whole year so it’s sometimes hard for family and friends to get out and watch the Okotoks guys play. I’m sure all those family and friends will be out watching us play and it should be a good series.”
Spectators will get treated to a tremendously well-rounded team, boasting a 29-4-3 record in the regular season.
Defence and goaltending are the foundation of Raiders hockey.
The team allowed just 59 goals against in 36 regular season games, the second best goals against numbers in the 25-team league.
“We all take it personally when we get scored on, we take it the hardest, it’s on us to keep the puck out of the net,” said Watkins of the defence. “We all take big pride in that (goals against) number.
“We’ve all played together for a bunch of years in a row here, have chemistry together and know how each other plays.”
The tandem of Okotokian Gage Alexander, the league leader with a sparkling .945 save percentage, and Logan Grant has proven to be the best in the province behind a well-rounded group of blueliners.
“The coaching staff has preached that defence wins championships,” Alexander said. “And I’ve got a goalie partner that holds the net when I’m not in there.”
Up-front the Raiders are the prime example of the sum of its parts being greater than the parts of its sum.
Despite having no players in the top 10 in league scoring and just three in the top-50, Rockyview is the third highest scoring team in the AMMHL.
Seven players eclipsed the 20-point plateau while all 17 skaters contributed at least 11 points on the campaign.
“We’re really balanced and really deep and can roll four lines that are just as deadly as the last and that helps,” Fox added. “We like to get everybody rolling as much as we can. We don’t have anybody in the top 10 scoring in the league, everybody gets in on the scoring, it’s not always just one line. All four contribute equally most nights and that really helps us win.”
Rockyview enters the competition in impressive form.
The Raiders have points in 11 of 12 games in the final stretch of the season.
“We’re rolling right now and want to keep it that way heading into the Sutter Cup,” Fox said. “Hopefully we’re peaking here at the right time and have a successful playoffs.”
The round-robin format sees the top-seed Raiders pooled alongside Calgary SE Rangers, Calgary SW Gold and Calgary NW Stampeders – the fourth, sixth and eighth seed teams, respectively.
Lethbridge, the provincial hosts, has one of the three qualification spots locked down. The other two go to the top finishers in the Sutter Cup South.
“We can’t underestimate any of the teams that we play that come into those last few spots at the Sutter Cup,” Fox said. “You don’t want to get upset like that and those are the teams that will take advantage of you. We’ve got to play every game like it’s a championship game.”
For more information on the tournament go to ammhl.ab.ca