The 2010-2011 Western Hockey League season came to a crashing end Saturday night for the Red Deer Rebels.
Trailing the Medicine Hat Tigers three games to one heading into Saturday’s game five at the Enmax Centrium, the Rebels put up their best effort of the post-season in the first two periods, staking themselves to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Another goal in the third period would increase the Rebels lead to 4-1, but the Tigers, as they have done so many times this season against multiple opponents, scored three straight on Red Deer netminder Dawson Guhle to tie the game at 4-4 and send it to overtime for the first time in the series.
After some back and forth play where both teams exchanged chances, Kellan Tochkin sent his club to the Eastern Conference final when he fired a shot past Guhle 9:32 into the extra period, giving the Tigers a 5-4 win and a 4-1 series victory.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s devastating,” said Rebels head coach and vice president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin after Saturday’s season ending loss.
“We had real high hopes for this group and I’m just really disappointed right now. It’s devastating to be done. We didn’t expect it and we believed we could come back (from being down 3-0). I feel really bad for the guys.”
The Rebels appeared to be re-energized by last Wednesday’s game four 1-0 win over the Tigers in Medicine Hat in a game that saw Guhle get the nod in net after Darcy Kuemper took warm-up but couldn’t go because of an ankle injury.
“Our approach was just to take it one game at a time and we felt we won the toughest one in Medicine Hat,” said Wallin.
“Being down 3-0, it really gave us a boost coming home and I thought we played hard.”
The Rebels came out like gang busters in the first period of game five, but it was the visitors getting on the board first when Cole Grbavac beat Guhle at the 13:59 mark.
Rookie rearguard Mathew Dumba made it a 1-1 tie when he blasted a powerplay point shot past Tigers starter Tyler Bunz with 59 seconds left in the first period.
The second period saw Red Deer find another gear, with Byron Froese and Brett Ferguson tallying power play goals to send the two teams to the second intermission with the Rebels leading 3-1, their first two goal lead of the series.
“The guys worked and worked and we took over the game in the second period. I think the shots were 13-2 and we went up 4-1 early in the third and then I really don’t know what happened,” said Wallin.
John Persson gave Red Deer that 4-1 lead with the club’s third power play goal of the game 2:21 into the final period.
But just 23 seconds later, Boston Leier halved the deficit to 4-2 before Linden Vey and Emerson Etem found the back of the net to tie the game at 4-4.
“We’ve got a 4-1 lead and they score a goal off a bad bounce to make it 4-2. They just threw it out of the corner, went off a guys skate, redirected and into the net,” said Wallin.
“We made a couple of mistakes and it ends up in the net. Linden Vey gets open in the slot and he doesn’t miss many of those. That’s why he was the leading scorer in the league. And it was a bad turnover on the game tying goal and all of a sudden you’re tied up 4-4.”
Despite the loss, Wallin knows his charges left it all out on the ice.
“I was proud of the boys,” said an emotional Wallin.
“I thought we worked real hard and like I said, we really believed that we could come back and win this thing.”
Notes: Ferguson, Kuemper and captain Colin Archer, all 20, played their final games for Red Deer on Saturday. Kuemper is expected to sign with the Minnesota Wild sometime in the next two months, while Ferguson and Archer aren’t sure what they’ll be doing next season. Alex Petrovic, drafted by Florida 36th overall at the NHL Entry Draft last summer, signed a three year entry level contract with the Panthers on Monday.