Just as the leaves changing colour signals fall's arrival, so does the start of the local minor hockey season.
This season's road to glory for St. Albert's high-level minor hockey teams appears to be well-paved thus far as the wins have been plenty and the losses few through the first handful of regular season contests.
Playing with a vengeance this year are the U18 AAA Slash after a tough loss in last year's provincial final.
Through the first four games of the year, the Slash have only given up five goals against and currently sit atop the league's standings with three wins and a loss.
The Slash opened the season with a 2-0 victory over the Lloydminster Steelers on Oct. 1. First year defenseman Kennedy McQuade made her presence known by registering a goal and an assist while goaltender Kate Holan made 23 saves to earn her first shutout of the year.
In a re-match of last year's provincial final on Oct. 2, the Slash pummelled the Edmonton Jr. Oilers 8-1. Five separate players registered two points in the game, including McQuade. Goalie Olivia Davidson only needed to make 10 saves to earn the win.
On Oct. 8 the Slash kept the hot start going by defeating the Calgary Fire 3-2. Slash forward Lyvia Butz had a goal and an assist to lead the team offensively. The Slash lost their first game of the year on Oct. 9 against the Rocky Mountain Raiders 2-1. Rylee Mepham scored an unassisted goal in the first period for the Slash, but the offense was stymied by Rocky Mountain's goalie Erika Finney, who made 37 saves to shut the door.
Slash head coach Dan Auchenberg told The Gazette in an interview that the coaching staff has high expectations for the team this year.
"Losing last year in the provincial finals kind of gave them more of an urgency to come out and have a good season and prepare for, hopefully, the provincials," Auchenberg said.
“When something is taken away that you believe that you could have won, you have a mission to get back there and give yourself that opportunity again, and hopefully we do that.”
Despite the team having some big names on the roster, such as Haley Trudeau who was invited to partake in a Team Canada camp over the summer, Auchenberg said he's a firm believer that "it takes 20 players going in the right direction to win."
"Our standards are pretty high so we’re expecting great things from these kids and I believe they have it in them to do that.”
The Slash look to continue their winning ways on Saturday, Oct. 15, when they play the Calgary Fire at Go Auto Arena in St. Albert at 7:45 p.m.
On the boy's side of U18 AAA action, the Nektar Raiders find themselves tied for second in their division through the first four games of the year.
The Raiders opened the season on Oct. 1 with a 3-2 overtime win over the Calgary Buffaloes. Bradley Gallo led the Raiders with two goals while Tyden Redlick had a goal and an assist.
The strong start didn't carry over to Oct. 2 however, as the Raiders suffered a 4-0 loss to the Airdrie Bisons. First year Raiders forward Trennan Redlick got called for a major penalty and game misconduct for checking from behind in the first period.
The Raiders were able to regroup for their next game as they beat the Okotoks Oilers 6-2 on Oct. 8. Bradley Gallo had a big offensive showing as he had two goals and two assists, and Ashton Hutchinson had a hat-trick.
A competitive game against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 9 ended in a frustrating result for both teams as overtime didn't solve anything, and a 4-4 tie was declared. Raiders forwards Tanner Churchill and Jake Giacobbo were able to show their play-making ability as both registered two assists.
Raiders coach Jack Redlick, brother of Ottawa Senators defenseman Nick Holden, told the The Gazette the team's "enthusiasm this year is contagious."
"It looks like it will be a really fun group to coach this season," Redlick said. "Our leadership group ... have done a tremendous job thus far and we are really pleased with how they have stepped up and taken ownership and accountability of the team both on the ice and off it."
"We may have veterans on our team but there are no rookies. They are a collective group, a 20-man unit."
The Raiders will take on the Edmonton Jr. Oilers on Oct. 15 at Jarome Iginla Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m.