The third time was the charm for the Cochrane Chaos junior female hockey team.
The seven-year-old club made its third appearance in the AJFHL championship series and this time around they drank from the victor's cup.
The Chaos downed the Sherwood Park Steele in back-to-back games, 6-1 and 6-2, in Sherwood Park, Mar. 18-19, after a pair of low-scoring games in Cochrane. The Steele won the opener here 1-0 and the Chaos dug deep to win 3-2 in overtime in game two of the best-of-five series.
Emotions were rising for the team and their fans as the seconds ticked off the clock toward the final buzzer in game four on Mar. 19.
"When we were counting down the final few minutes, and you realize that you're going to win that championship that's been so elusive, there was just so much emotion, because we worked so hard over the years," says head coach Derek Loomer, who played a major role in establishing the team here in 2016.
They made that last shift special for the team's four graduating players, which included team captain Kaley Mueller, alternate captain Nicole Johnson, along with Kelly Stanford, the league's top scorer who missed the first weekend of the finals due to an injury and will be leaving the team next season.
"We got them on the ice for the last minute and a half, so that they could be out there for that final run. The emotions just built and built. It was so great for the team, and almost a relief, but there was so much joy. It was fantastic."
The sense of family that the Chaos organization has created over the years shone at that final game. Some alumni, including those from the very first Chaos team, made the trip to Sherwood Park to cheer on the team and be part of the celebration.
"They've stayed very connected to the team, and to the players that are there now, and they played with some of them as well. It brought everything full cycle having them there from that first year and this championship group from our seventh," says Loomer. "It's indescribable that that connection still exists between all of our players."
Team captain Kaley Mueller says that bond and the friendships created will be among the special memories she'll take with her from her four years as a Chaos.
"It was nice for them to do that, especially because I played with them and we had some heartbreaking moments together," says Mueller.
She shows respect for the Steele as a tough opponent season in, season out, but in the end, believes it came down to who wanted it more.
"Just deep down in our hearts, I think we wanted it so much more than they did. When everybody's on the same page, everybody wants it and puts everything out on the line, it just clicks for you. When everybody's hearts and minds are all in the same place, it just clicks."
She believes the experience of winning a championship will leave the team wanting more.
"I just hope that going forward, they understand what it feels like and what needs to be done because I know for us returning players that have been through it the past few years it was kind of trial and error. So now that the young ones know what it takes to be a championship-winning team, I'm hoping that they know how to carry next year's teams into a similar situation without having to do the trial and error thing."
Once a Chaos, always a Chaos, she says. She'll continue to keep in touch with the team and the friendships it has enabled, but she may be in British Columbia next year. She has applied to attend UBC, and if successful, hopes to try out for the Thunderbirds women's team.
She says beyond the games, it's the off-ice fun she'll remember the most about being a Chaos.
"A lot of the highlights aren't about the hockey. It's the goofy stuff that happens in the dressing room when we're hanging out, or when everybody piles into one room at the hotel. or the huddles when people score. It's just little things that I'm probably going to remember the most."
Unlike Mueller, alternate captain Sarah Nusl has one more season left with the Chaos. This one, though, is something she deeply cherishes. Right now, though, it still feels surreal.
"This is the first team I've ever been on in my 14 years of playing hockey that has won a provincial championship, so it's a really special feeling and I'm so grateful to have been able to share that with this group of girls," she says.
She says the weekend play was the sum of what the team has been building towards all season.
"We just clicked as a team and started utilizing our teammates on the ice way better than we had been in Cochrane. It's not that we played poorly in Cochrane, but we found what worked, especially on our power play. We were able to capitalize on almost every single power play we got, so that was really awesome."
She believes having the experience of being champs will rub off on future teams.
"You know, we've been working our butts off for an entire season for this. Having the mindset that this team is capable of being a championship team will be carried forward, and we'll hold ourselves to that standard. I'm looking forward to the future of this program."
Loomer says a championship celebration in Cochrane hasn't been planned at this point.
"I think we'll find some way to celebrate it, for sure. And you know, of course, the banner will be put up at Totem One at some point, so we have that reminder for everyone to see and maybe have a chance to win another one."
He says the team cherishes the relationships that have been created since choosing Cochrane as their home. You can't help but believe it's gone well beyond their expectations.
"It's been such a great relationship with everybody involved; the arena staff, our ice schedulers, like everybody that does so much and supports us there. The fans and the Junior Chaos have really become part of our family as well."
We haven't seen the last of the Chaos this season. The team and the SLS Centre will be hosting the league's showcase and all-star game on Apr. 2.