The Red Deer Rebels handily booked their ticket to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, last Saturday, after charging to a 5-3 victory over the Calgary Hitmen in Game 5 of the best of seven series to win the set 4-1.
“It was one of those games that you’re on the edge of your seat all night,” said Rebels’ Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter after his team’s decisive victory at the ENMAX Centrium last Saturday night.
After fighting their way to an early 2-1 lead in the series last week, the Rebels surged to two straight victories on the backs of some key players this past weekend to knock off the Hitmen.
A huge 2-0 victory at the historic Stampede Corral in Calgary during Game 4 on Friday night on the backs of some key players was what allowed the Rebs to take a stranglehold on the series heading back home.
“Obviously winning the two games in Calgary this series was huge,” Sutter said, noting his team responded well after squeaking out a 4-3 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Game 3.
“You go in there and you win a tight one 4-3 and then you go and you play Game 4 in a really neat place and yet totally new for both teams. So I thought we handled that extremely well and to get both wins there was huge.”
Rebels’ goaltender Trevor Martin stopped 30 shots on his way to his first career WHL shutout while Rebels’ captain Luke Philp notched his first post season tally and red hot Rebels’ sniper Jake DeBrusk potted his third of the series on the way to the win.
Despite his team’s impressive showing on the road, though, Sutter wasn’t taking anything for granted heading back to Red Deer for Game 5.
“We didn’t want to go back (to Calgary), you know? You give the other team momentum and all of the sudden, things can change pretty quickly. Then you go back there and something happens and you don’t win game six and now you’re into game seven.”
That didn’t happen, though, as the Rebels came away with the victory in a very physical final game of the series.
Adam Helewka led the charge with a pair of goals and an assist while Jeff de Wit, Adam Musil and Grayson Pawlenchuck contributed markers of their own as the Rebs downed the Hitmen 5-3 to advance to the next round.
“It was probably the hardest series I’ve ever played in in terms of my hockey career. They give their all every game. We didn’t have an easy game, not one, and it was fun,” de Wit said after the contest.
Helewka’s three points in Saturday’s game brought his post season total to seven while DeBrusk and power forward Evan Polei also chalked up assists in the contests to bring their post season tallies to five.
“We got better each and every game as we went along. Our emotion level, our intensity level. Getting through one game and getting on to the next and knowing that your game has to get better, and I thought we did a really good job of that,” Sutter said.
Heading into round two, the Rebels will have to face another difficult challenge as they face off against the Regina Pats.
The wild card team is coming off of a huge series during which they upset the second place Lethbridge Hurricanes in five games.
While Regina probably is a better second round matchup for the Rebels, who won just one of their six meetings with Lethbridge this season, the Pats will be a tough challenge.
The two clubs split the season series this year, each winning two games, with Regina slightly edging Red Deer 13-11 in total goals.
Round two gets underway this Saturday night at the ENMAX Centrium as the Rebels try to take advantage of home ice and pick up an early series lead. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.