The Red Deer Rebels are gearing up for a tough WHL post-season matchup with the Calgary Hitmen after wrapping up their regular season on Saturday night at home against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Rebels finished off the season with a convincing 7-2 victory over the Oil Kings at the Enmax Centrium on Saturday thanks to contributions from five different Rebels and big two goal performances from Colton Bobyk and Austin Pratt.
“I thought we played pretty well. Our start was really good, our first and second periods were really good and when you get a lead like that, you know, you’re just trying to get through the third period without getting anybody banged up or getting any more injuries,” said Rebels’ Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter after Saturday’s game.
With the win, the team put a bow on an impressive season that saw them post a 45-24-1-2 overall record to finish just a single point out of first place in the WHL’s competitive East Central Division.
“We wanted to finish the regular season off the right way,” Sutter said, adding the team’s focus will now be on preparing for the playoffs and their first round matchup against provincial rivals in Calgary.
“I expect it to be a tough series. I expect Calgary to play the way Calgary plays. They’ve played us hard all year, it’s been some tough games with them.”
The Hitmen have been among Red Deer’s toughest opponents this season. In seven meetings between the two clubs this season, Calgary has won four while the Rebs took three.
Calgary also managed to out score the Rebels 26-18 in those games.
“Every game’s gonna be a battle. We’ll just go one shift, one game at a time and I think we should be able to beat them pretty easy,” said Colton Bobyk about the impending playoff series, which starts on Friday in Red Deer.
The post season, however, didn’t get off to a great start for the Rebels, who learned on Monday that they will be starting the playoffs without top six forward Connor Bleackley, who is out indefinitely with a wrist laceration suffered during Saturday’s game against Edmonton.
Bleackley, who is in his third year with the club, suffered the injury when his wrist was cut by a skate blade in the first period of Saturday’s game. He was taken to hospital and later underwent surgery.
The 19-year-old forward just recently returned from a six week absence due to a cracked knee cap earlier this year.
While Bleackley’s injury is a setback for the club, Sutter said the club’s focus remains intact.
“It’s playoff time. If you play well anybody can beat anybody, so you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to play. It’s going to be a tough series. They’ve got a very good team and we have to make sure that we’re prepared and that we do what we need to do.”
Game one of the East Central Division semi-final series between the Red Deer Rebels and the Calgary Hitmen will take place this Friday at the Enmax Centrium. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.