Despite a humbling loss to the red-hot London Knights in the first game of the tournament, the Red Deer Rebels find themselves right in the thick of things at the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The host Rebels find themselves sitting in a three-way tie for second place at the Canadian Hockey League’s annual championship tournament, having posted a 1-1 record in round robin play, falling 6-2 to London in the opening game of the tournament before surging to a 5-2 victory over the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in their second contest.
“I thought our game tonight was the best game we’ve played since round two of the playoffs,” said Rebels’ Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter after his team’s big win on Sunday night, which has been one of the highlights of the tournament so far.
After becoming the first team at the tournament to fall victim to London’s dazzling first line combination of Christian Dvorak, Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuck, Red Deer knew the game against the Huskies would be a very important one. A loss would put the Rebels in tough to qualify for even a tiebreaker game whereas a win would make a statement that they were just as competitive as any team at the tournament.
“You’re either 0-2 or 1-1 and I liked the 1-1 a lot better,” Sutter said.
The game didn’t get off to the best of starts for Red Deer, however, as the Huskies struck for a pair of quick goals early in the first period to take a 2-0 lead.
Sutter didn’t panic, however, and called a timeout after the second goal to calm his players down a little bit.
“I told them I loved them,” Sutter laughed when asked what he told his players during the 30 second break.
“We just had to get back to playing like we can play and don’t let the emotion of what’s going on in the game and allow it to be a negative impact for us.”
“All he said was ‘Hey stick with the program, stick with our game plan that we had coming into the game,’” said Rebels’ forward Jake DeBrusk, who had a goal and two assists in the win while playing alongside fellow trade deadline acquisitions Adam Helewka and Luke Philp.
The timeout clearly worked, though, and Red Deer surged back to score five unanswered goals and win their first Memorial Cup game in front of a raucous home crowd.
One of the big stories so far at this year’s tournament has been the London Knights, specifically their top line of Dvorak, Tkachuck and Marner.
Not including Tuesday night’s game against Rouyn-Noranda, which was not over at press time, the top line has combined for eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points through just two contests at the tournament.
“It’s pretty special. Obviously they’re both very good players and we compliment each other very well. So it’s a good time to play with both of them and hopefully we can keep our success going,” said Dvorak of his linemates.
Dvorak, who shares the captaincy with Marner, had a hat trick and added an assist as his team surged to a 9-1 trouncing of the Brandon Wheat Kings on Monday night.
The matchup, by nearly all accounts, should have been a much closer affair.
On paper, Brandon’s defensive depth, with players like Ivan Provorov and Macoy Erkamps on the blueline, matches perfectly with the offensive dynamos on London’s front-end.
But the on-ice product turned out to have a much different result, with London putting on a dazzling display of passing and offense. It seemed like they were scoring at will as they rolled to their 15th straight victory. The Knights have not lost a game since the first round of the OHL playoffs against Owen Sound.
“London was very good in all of those aspects of the game where you need to be good at this time of the year. They backed us right off in terms of their offensive play. And our team, really, not playing the way that we can. The combination led to a very one-sided game,” said Wheat Kings’ Head Coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon in his post-game press conference, Monday night.
The Wheat Kings are the only team in the tournament who have not won a game yet, which means they will face a do-or-die situation when they take on the Rebels on Wednesday night in a rematch of the WHL Eastern Conference final, which Brandon won in five games.
“They’re just like the other two teams. They’re champions in their league for a reason. I thought there was probably three games in that series that were very close games. They’ve got very good players, very good offensive players, their defense are good. But, that being said, you still have to play to your strengths too,” Sutter said of the upcoming matchup.
A win for Red Deer in that game would eliminate Brandon and guarantee the Rebels a spot in the semi-final game.
Puck drop on that one is at 7 p.m. at the ENMAX Centrium and will be broadcast on Sportsnet.