The St. Albert Saints have a score to settle at the 61st annual Quebec International Peewee Tournament.
Last year’s finalists are returning to Quebec City to finish what they started.
“The goal is definitely to go there and win it,” said head coach Darren McKinnon. “We’ve got the team this year to do it for sure.”
Captain Trennen Redlick, left-winger Alexander Haight and defenceman Connor Schmidt experienced last year’s tournament with the Saints.
“The teams there have a really good sense of the game and read the game well so we’re going to have to get moving the puck and skate fast and if we do that I'm sure we'll do well,” Redlick said.
The Saints finished 5-1 in the peewee AA division with wins of 2-0 against Atlanta Fire, 3-2 overtime shootout against Colorado Avalanche, 2-1 against Lachenaie Chevaliers, 3-2 against North Shore Shamrocks in OT on a penalty shot after tying the game with less than 30 seconds to play on the power play with the goalie pulled as Teo Pisani potted both goals, 3-2 semifinal against the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights with Jake Giacobbo sniping the OT winner and the 4-0 loss in the final to Pointe-Levy Commandeurs.
The Saints also played three exhibitions: 5-3 win against St. Gabriel, a school team in Montreal, 6-6 draw with an all-star team from the Ukraine as the Saints battled back from a 4-0 deficit after two periods and 2-1 win against the Connecticut Rangers.
“There was lots of people and it was lots of pressure, but we worked through it and got to the final,” Redlick said. “It was a great experience for everybody on our team and we’ll remember it for a long time.
“It was really intense. The teams from Colorado and around the States were really tough. The team from the Ukraine were the roughest team we played,” Redlick added. “They were all really good teams and we tried our hardest and we did well against them.”
As for the final at the Videotron Centre, “We didn’t have a great start. We got down early 2-0,” Redlick said. “After the first period they buried another one and after that they buried an empty netter.”
This year’s Saints are representing the Oilers Entertainment Group as the St. Albert Jr. Oilers as the winners of the inaugural Edmonton Oilers Peewee Tournament, presented by Hockey Edmonton.
“It’s kind of a long wait to build up to it and now the excitement is really kicking in,” McKinnon said. “We just got all the Oilers' swag, the Oilers' jerseys and the helmets and gloves, and we got to skate at Rogers Place had some photos taken so that's when it really started to hit home and feel real.”
The Quebec qualifier was staged early in the season and the single elimination knockout format featured the 19 Hockey Edmonton peewee AA teams in the regional and metro conferences.
“It started off really tough because we had to play the other two St. Albert teams (Sabres and Stars in the regional bracket) first so we had to advance out of St. Albert right off the hop,” McKinnon said.
The regional final was 4-2 against Strathcona and the championship match was 5-0 against the SW515 SWZ Oil Kings from the metro bracket.
The result was extra special for assistant coach Ryan Schulha, a tournament participant way back in the day, as well as the team’s veterans.
“Ryan knew it was a huge deal and off course the three kids who were there last year were excited to get back to see their billets again," McKinnon said. "Those players had that taste of it, they just came shy last year, so I’m sure they want to go back this year and win it."
Redlick is pumped to experience the thrill of a lifetime again. “It’s going to be the most exciting thing I've ever done probably in my life,” said the 12-year-old centre.
The Saints have exhibitions on tap against Colorado and the Boston Jr. Bruins next week before the Feb. 16 tournament opener against Equipe Quebec Feminin and the next game is Feb. 20 against Vegas or Evry-Viry Paris.
The winning teams in the first round advance into the single-elimination side of the draw and a loss gives teams a second chance in making the Feb. 23 final.
McKinnon is confident in his team’s skill set to go the distance. “They compete. They don’t like losing. We play as a team fairly well. We’ve got lots of depth. We can roll our three lines and just keep coming at you and that is our biggest strength.”
Redlick’s scouting report on the Saints is as follows: “We’re a very gritty team, we’re a fast team and a hard working team,” said the Grade 7 Lorne Akins student. “We're a pretty clutch team so when we're down we just keep fighting for our lives so we're a really good comeback team.
“We believe in ourselves a lot.”
The Saints, with four first years in the lineup, are 15-6-4 in league play after Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the St. Albert Sabres.
“Right after that high of winning the Edmonton tournament to go to Quebec, we knew there would be that coming down off that high, so that's where we faced our first loss, I think we were 19-0 (overall) to start the season,” McKinnon said.
Today at 11:45 a.m. the Saints are scheduled to play the Beaumont Braves at Grant Fuhr Arena in the last game before heading to Quebec.
The day after returning home, the Saints host the Sherwood Park Steel Kings on Feb. 25 at 6:45 p.m. at Mark Messier Arena before the league playoffs start.