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Cochrane Chaos win AJFHL championship for first time in team history

While the Chaos had thrice previously qualified for the AJFHL finals, this year marks the first time the Cochranites were able to hoist the junior league's trophy.
The Cochrane Chaos hoisted the AJFHL banner on Sunday, after beating the Sherwood Park Steele 6-2 in game four of their league championship series.

The 2022-23 season ended in perfect fashion for the Cochrane Chaos, as the junior women's hockey team secured their first-ever Alberta Junior Female Hockey League (AJFHL) championship on March 19. 

Seven years after first forming a team to compete in Alberta's U21 women's hockey league, the Chaos players ended their campaign with gold medals around their necks, after overcoming the Sherwood Park Steele three games to one in their best-of-five AJFHL championship series.

"I couldn't be happier for the group – they worked really hard all year and I think it was a well deserved ending for their season," said Derek Loomer, the Chaos' head coach. 

The Steele had struck first in the series, beating the Cochrane squad 1-0 on March 11. The Chaos rallied back the next day to win 3-2 in overtime to tie the series 1-1.

Perhaps ironically, games three and four produced two fairly comfortable victories for the Chaos as they secured the provincial banner away from home. Competing in the hamlet of Ardrossan on March 18, the Chaos triumphed 6-1. They then followed up with a 6-2 victory the following day. 

Goal-scorers in the title-winning game included senior Chaos players Sarah Nusl and captain Kaylee Mueller. Cochrane's other goals came off the sticks of Kristen Gawley, Brooklyn Carels, Zoe Walker, and Quinlan Lavardiere.

Loomer said toward the end of the Saturday game, it was apparent the Steele's players seemed pretty tired, which bode well for the Chaos the next day. After Cochrane jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first period on Sunday, he said it was a matter of just staying disciplined defensively in order to see out the result. 

"You don't really know until you start the game, but the night before when we played them, I thought we'd really wore them down," Loomer said. "Our four lines and six D were all going really strong, [whereas Sherwood Park] relied more on one particular line and a couple others who would hit the ice to relieve them a little bit – they were looking really tired.

"After the first game, we really started to think...we could really take this. Right after the first period, it was like, OK, our girls are really determined and focused. They just need to finish this out. It looked like it was really going to go in our favour."

While the Chaos had thrice previously qualified for the AJFHL finals, this year marked the first time the Cochranites were able to hoist the junior league's trophy. The last time the team qualified for the league finals was in 2020, but the playoffs were called off that March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In finally winning a provincial championship, Loomer said he was particularly thrilled for the Chaos' four graduating players who will be aging out of the U21 league.

"The players who are graduating and moving onto other parts of their lives and won't be back next year, that group was really determined to finish junior with a championship," he said. "I think they brought that focus and leadership to the rink every day. The girls all had fun. They really enjoyed being together and being at the rink, but there was always that underlying competitiveness and determination those girls brought. There was a true focus we had with this group all year."

Highlighting the Chaos' sense of camaraderie and team pride, Loomer noted, was the fact four members of the Chaos' original roster from the 2016-17 season made the four-hour drive to Ardrossan on Sunday to watch the team win the organization's first championship.

"We have a tremendously tight group that has stuck together and supported each other all season," he said. "I think that connection was started by our alumni group. They're still a part of it. They have that legacy for starting this team, and I think everyone should be thankful to that group who had a belief in this and helped establish the culture of how we wanted this organization to run."