The Red Deer Rebels have clinched a spot in the WHL playoffs, even though they lost to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, 4-3, during Friday’s last regular-season game at the Centrium.
The Rebels locked into the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot by virtue of the Brandon Wheat Kings’ elimination after losing to the Regina Pats, 5-4, at the same time.
Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter called making the playoffs this way going in the back door.
“We’ll take it but I don’t like having to go in the back door,” he said. “It certainly puts us in the playoffs but, again, I wished we could have helped ourselves by winning our games.”
The Hurricanes started the scoring out early with two goals notched thirty seconds apart, first by Dylan Cozens at 6:01 and then Jake Leschyshyn at 6:31.
The Rebels took over the lively period when Captain Reese Johnson found the back of the net at 9:13.
In the second period, things were looking hopeful early for the Rebels when Johnson scored during the powerplay, with Jeff de Wit and Chris Douglas assisting.
The Hurricanes weren’t giving up and Leschyshyn scored Lethbridge’s third goal at 12:58.
But Johnson fought back.
He scored the Rebels’ third goal as the second period came to a close, making it his third hat trick of the season.
Tied going into the third period, Leschyshyn scored the game-winning goal.
Despite the loss, Johnson said the team played a strong game.
“I thought the boys played well for the most part,” said Johnson, who also took home the Humanitarian Award and Players Award at the end of year award ceremony before the game.
“I think we worked hard but had a couple of plays that can’t be made this time of year. Obviously, too many odd-man rushes.”
Sutter said the team played well and had plenty of chances but made costly mistakes.
“You’ve got to play to the score too. You can’t put pucks in shin pads and give up an odd-man rush like that. That’s tough to lose.
“You look at how we drew the penalty off the faceoff at centre ice. Stuff like that shouldn’t happen but it did but we responded the right way and we got back,” he said.
“You’re even up going into the third. Again you’ve got to find a way to win the game and not find a way to lose it and tonight, again, the mistake cost us the game.”
Red Deer faces the Kootenay Ice in the final regular-season game Sunday.
The playoff series against the Prince Albert Raiders kicks off Friday, March 22nd.