The stage has been set for a clash of Alberta rivals in the first round of the 2017 WHL playoffs.
After mathematically clinching the third and final Central Division playoff spot with a huge 5-1 victory over the Calgary Hitmen at the ENMAX Centrium on Wednesday night, the Red Deer Rebels are shifting into playoff mode as they prepare to take on a familiar foe in the Lethbridge Hurricanes as the post-season kicks off next week.
“They’re obviously a great team and they’ve got some high-powered guys of course. They play a very wide open style and they let their skill go to work and they’re a very explosive team. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing what keeps us successful in making sure, positionally, that we’re solid, not giving up the big plays,” said Rebels’ Assistant Coach Jeff Truitt of the Hurricanes, who will finish the season one spot ahead of the Rebels in the Central Division standings.
It won’t be an easy series for the Rebels by any means. In six meetings with the Hurricanes this season, Red Deer holds a 1-4-1-0 record.
“We’ve played them quite a bit this year and they’re kind of one of our rivals, so it’ll be a really good series, I think. We need to gear up for it and come up with a good game plan. We just need to focus in and get ready to go,” said Rebels’ forward Austin Glover.
Before they can turn their attention completely towards their first meeting with the Hurricanes on March 25th though, the Rebs will be looking to put a strong finish on a regular season that has had its share of ups and downs as they take on the Edmonton Oil Kings in a home and home set this weekend.
With a huge 8-3 victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers on Tuesday night and Wednesday’s win over Calgary, Red Deer heads into the final weekend of the regular season riding a four game winning streak.
Truitt said that while the streak is good for momentum, the team is focused on keeping it going leading into playoffs.
“That’s the whole thing is making sure that we’re continuing to get better leading into the playoffs. We treat every game individually and everything that’s happened after last night’s win is great but the mission’s not over yet. We’ve got a long way to go and we want to continue to strive to peak at the right time and continue to get better and that’s what we’re going to use these games for,” he said.
“We’ve just kind of kept things simple, honestly. We haven’t really thought anything we just show up to the rink and go out there and play no matter who the opponent is,” Glover added.
“It almost takes some pressure off to just go out and play.”
The Red Deer Rebels play their final regular season home game this Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Oil Kings pay a visit to the Centrium.
They kick off the post-season on March 25th and 26th when they visit the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the first two games of the first round. Games three and four are set to go in Red Deer on March 29th and 30th.