After nearly a month of preparation, the Assiniboine Community College Cougars are finally set to challenge for a Western Canadian women’s Senior B hockey championship.
The Cougars, who won the provincial Senior B championship on March 16 at Kinsmen Arena, head off to Red Deer, Alta., on Wednesday to compete in the Western Shield tournament. It will be a long trip, the team is going halfway on Wednesday night and finishing the trip on Thursday, and the Cougars aren’t expecting things to be easy once they arrive to the tournament, but they’re hoping to end their season on a high note.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get to go to Westerns. We’re pretty excited,” said Cougars forward Erin Hoffman. “It’s pretty important, I think, to show the community and get our team out there and make a statement that our team is that strong to go to Westerns.”
The Manitobans come into the event at a slight disadvantage in that they haven’t seen any of the other teams. This year’s Western Shield has two squads from Alberta — the provincial champion Grande Prairie Panthers as well as the Edmonton Rush, who will fill in as the host team — and a pair from British Columbia — the Kamloops Vibe are the provincial champs and runner-up South Fraser TNT earned a wildcard spot after Saskatchewan couldn’t field a team.
While the Cougars may be disadvantaged that way, ACC head coach Terry Arksey feels the schedule works to his team’s advantage.
The Cougars play the two Alberta teams on Friday and both squads from B.C. on Saturday, which allows him to scout all four on Thursday evening when they play but ACC has a bye.
“I think that’s probably an advantage to us,” he said. “In essence, we have a pretty good draw to play two games on Friday and two games on Saturday and they’re fairly well spread apart. It shouldn’t be any problem playing the second game on the second day.”
The first and second place teams after the round robin will meet for the championship on Sunday, while the third and fourth place teams will play for bronze.
Although ACC is excited for the trip, it comes at a bad time in the year as players are trying to balance school work and final exams with the Western Shield. Conflicts with exams has caused four players — Ellyn Polk, Chantal Julseth, Kasie McLaughlin and Chantelle Crepeele — to miss the trip.
The Cougars, however, have been allowed to pick up three extra players for the event. They selected Winnipeg forward Katie Zacharias, Winnipeg defenceman Simone Turner-Cummer and Winkler defenceman Jen Derksen, all of who play in the Manitoba Junior Women’s Hockey League. ACC played exhibition games against teams in that league this season.
Arksey thinks his team can be successful if his players use their speed to their advantage and continue the strong play in their own end that helped them win the provincial title. While he wants to compete for a medal in Red Deer, Arksey hopes his players enjoy being at the Western Shield as well.
“The team’s anxious to get there and we want to do as well as we can and enjoy the experience,” he said. “It will be an experience a lot of the girls might never get the opportunity to have again.”