What a journey it was for Broncos assistant coach Brandin Cote, who served in that same role for Team Alberta en route to a bronze in men's hockey at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.
The Swift Current-born Cote and his Team Alberta squad routed a quartet of local talent and Team Saskatchewan 12-0 in the bronze medal game.
That’s the game! #TeamAlberta defeats #TeamSask 12-0 to earn bronze in Men’s Hockey at the @2019CanadaGames! Congratulations to our players, coaches and staff on an incredible week! #AlbertaBuilt #GoTeamAB #CGHockey pic.twitter.com/Q5FbKGTJpl— Team Alberta Hockey (@TeamABHockey) February 23, 2019
The win came after a frustrating 8-4 loss to Team Ontario in their semi Thursday night.
"We actually got off to a bit of a slow start. That was one of our things with our team - for whatever reason we just couldn't put a full 60 minutes together," said Cote. "We started off a little slow, I think it was a little bit of a letdown from last night - obviously takes the wind out of your sails whenever you lose a semi-final and into a bronze medal game."
Alberta held just a 1-0 lead through the first period of play, but the start-studded roster racked up eight goals in the second period to push the game out of reach.
"They found a way to get their legs under them and get their minds in the game," he noted of After the first ten minutes we settled in. We've got a highly offensive team. So, found a few good bounces, then after the first period we kind of just took the game over. Yeah we were proud of the guys' effort tonight for sure - stuck with it, and got the result we wanted at the end."
The host team was about as star-studded as a 16U team can get.
Looking like a who's who of future WHL stars, Team Alberta's roster housed half (11) of the selections from the first round of the 2018 WHL bantam draft.
The rest of the roster include four second-rounders, three third-rounders, a fifth-rounder, and the heavily-favoured first-overall pick in 2019, Matthew Savoie.
"It's been a great experience, obviously learned a lot," said Cote. "It was a bigger challenge than what we actually anticipated."
"A great group of kids, but when you have the skill that we did, it's a lot of these kids' first time experiencing not necessarily playing a certain role, not playing on the power play, so that was an adjustment. I thought we settled into those roles as the tournament wore on. It was really exciting. It was a big challenge for our coaches just to put a game plan together to tailor it to these kids."
Understandably, the goal of a gold medal felt well within reach for Team Alberta heading into the tournament.
Alberta went 2-0-1-0 in Pool Play to clinch first in Pool B.
They won 6-5 over Manitoba and 5-4 over B.C., falling 4-3 in OT to this same Saskatchewan squad.
Alberta then cruised by New Brunswick 8-3 in the quarters, setting up an all-star tilt with Team Ontario in the semis.
The aforementioned 8-4 loss to Ontario didn't come without its positives though.
Ontario jumped out to a 6-0 lead after 40 minutes of play, but Alberta stormed back with four goals in the first half of the third period to make it interesting.
"Ultimately we didn't reach our final goal in winning the gold medal, but we came up against a really highly-potent Ontario team, and they capitalized early," explained the Broncos' assistant coach. "We almost made a miracle comeback there at the end, but it was just a little bit too late."
"Overall it's been a really positive experience for myself, and just a joy working with these kids."
"At the end of the day, these kids are still learning... it's their first real high-performance, elite event of this nature on a national stage, so there were some nerves, especially being in a home province, so we had to weather that a bit," Cote noted. They battled hard, they stayed together, and we wanted to get a medal going out on a good note for our province, and I think everybody's proud of the fact that we were able to accomplish that."
Coming back to young Broncos squad looking to learn to win and find steady improvement, Cote said there's plenty from this experience he's happy to take away and utilize.
"Any time you can experience some sort of success, and just be a part of different staffs, communicate with different people, and get different ideas, I think there's a lot of things I can definitely bring back to our organization and help with our young guys," he said.
"Just getting to really look into the minds of these young guys nowadays and how they tick. That's what we're facing right now in Swift Current. Just to take anything that we can help to motivate and help to develop these guys going forward is definitely going to help myself as a coach, and our program in the future here in Swift."
Team Alberta has now secured a medal at eight-straight Canada Winter Games - a streak that started with silver in 1991 across the country in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.