This Thursday, February 22 the Olds College Broncos will experience their first taste of the sacred elixir of ACAC hockey; the playoffs.
So how do the Broncos feel, finally breaking through to the next level of competition?
“The emotion making it to the playoffs is relief and hope,” says fifth year player Krista Wilson. “It feels like a weight has been lifted knowing we were able to achieve a goal.”
The post-season evaded the Broncos in their inaugural 2015-16 season, as the team dropped all but five games, and again the following year when the team won just four.
But 2017 was a year for change. The Broncos brought in a new head coach from Windsor, Chris Leeming, and a new undisputed number one goaltender from Campbell River, Jaydlin Spooner.
The later of the two claimed athlete of the week honours for the Broncos twice, and once for the entire conference after going 2-0 in her first ever weekend of ACAC action. Through the regular season, no goalie in the ACAC stopped more pucks than Spooner, turning aside 558.
But above all, you can bet the internal leadership group had something to do with the Broncos drawing a post-season date this year. That group consists of the three remaining players from the inaugural 2015 lineup, assistant captains Dana Hauck and Krista Wilson and Captain Cassidy Holt.
“Those three girls are our foundation, they live, bleed, and breath black and gold,” says head coach Leeming. “They’ve been involved in the community since the formation of the team too, they really set the precedent for our athletes.”
Wilson led the team in scoring this past season with 11 points, four of which being goals, while Holt finished third on the team with eight points, five of which being goals. Tori Chenier finished second on the team with nine points. Meanwhile the defenseman Hauck has logged some of the most minutes on the team this year, often being matched up against the ACAC’s best.
Speaking of the ACAC’s best, that’s exactly who the Broncos are going to be up against this Thursday, Saturday, and potentially Sunday in a best-of-three series. The MacEwan Griffins, who finished the season one point up on NAIT with a 18-3-3 record, ready themselves for battle after closing the season with five straight wins.
“An underdog team defines how the power of hard work, heart and unity can go a long way,” says Holt, discussing the tall task of facing off against the best of the best. “The playoffs are a different season, and anything can happen.”
Holt also notes that the team has performed well against the Griffins this season, taking them down 2-1 in double OT in November thanks in large part to a 50 save effort from Spooner.
“All the pressure is on them,” says Leeming. “They’re expecting to win, but if we can go in there and stick to our game plan and apply pressure the whole game, anything can happen.”
The paramount task for the Broncos will be shutting down the ACAC’s leading scoring defenseman, Carley Jewell. Having scored six goals and adding 14 helpers this season, the Broncos can expect Jewell to jump into the play when she finds her opportunities.
The action gets underway this Thursday at Grant MacEwan at 7 P.M. The second game of the series, and the first home playoff game in Broncos history, is set for Saturday at 2:30 P.M. The penultimate game will be played back in Edmonton on Sunday at 1 P.M., if required.
All action can also be live streamed at acactv.ca.
- Brendan Stasiewich, Broncos Sports Information