The Red Deer Rebels’ season is over.
Despite at one point holding a 3-1 lead over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinal play-off series, the Rebels couldn’t come up with the final win that they needed to complete the upset, as they fell 6-2 in Game 7 in Lethbridge Tuesday night.
A rabid crowd and a surging Lethbridge power-play proved to be too much for the young Rebels team in the win-or-go-home showdown.
“I thought some of the inexperience did catch up to us, especially on the back end as the series went on. I thought our young players wore down in the series and that’s why finishing the series when you’re up 3-1 like that was important, to end it as quick as possible in your favour. But the longer it went the more difficult it seemed to be for us,” said Rebels Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter during locker clean-out day at the ENMAX Centrium on Wednesday morning.
The Hurricanes’ offence and special teams put on a show for the sold-out crowd of 5,244 at the ENMAX Centre, converting on four of six power play opportunities on their way to their first play-off series win since 2009.
Lethbridge didn’t waste much time getting on the board as they took advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity seven minutes into the first period to notch two power-play goals just a minute apart to take an early 2-0 lead.
Rebels forward Lane Zablocki gave the visitors a glimmer of hope with a goal late in the first period but any momentum the Rebels gained quickly evaporated when Red Deer Minor Hockey product Ryan Vandervlis notched the eventual game-winning goal just 22 seconds later.
It was Lethbridge’s only even strength goal of the game.
From there it was pretty much all Hurricanes, as the home side added a short-handed goal and two more power-play markers to close out the game.
Sutter said that while the loss is disappointing, it was a good experience for a team that has been in rebuild mode since hosting the Memorial Cup last year.
“When you bring in a lot of young players, you hope they develop, you hope they grow into what they can be now but also where they can be at down the road and I think we took a lot of great strides in that, too.”
Sutter noted that the team is planning to continue that rebuild into next season.
“Next season is going to be pretty well — outside of (Brandon Hagel) and (Grayson Pawlenchuck) — you’re basically starting a whole fresh new group again. We’re definitely going to be bringing in some more kids this coming season. There’s some young kids that we feel really good about that can even push for jobs that some of the older guys have right now,” he said.
Overagers Evan Polei, Colton Bobyk and Austin Glover all graduate from the team this year and they will likely be joined by captain Adam Musil, who is set to join the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
However the team will get a number of key players back next season, including all of their defensemen (sans Bobyk) and goaltenders Riley Lamb and Lasse Petersen.
“It was a year that was about development, it was a year about progression, it was a year about putting these young players through some experience that we thought could really, really help down the road,” Sutter said.