Rebels can’t afford to carry any passengers in Game 7
It goes without saying that the Red Deer Rebels will require all hands on deck Tuesday in Game 7 of their WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series with the host Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“We just have to play hard, but we need to have everyone going, we need to get that full load,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Monday. “It’s been sporadic in the last two games . . . it’s been a period here, a period there.”
Red Deer is coming off Sunday’s 4-1 loss at the Centrium, a setback that allowed the ‘Canes to force a winner-take-all contest after being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven affair.
The Rebels appeared to be in control of the contest with a 1-0 lead into the second half of the middle frame. But the ‘Canes pulled even and then scored the go-ahead goal before the end of the period.
Captain Tyler Wong then added a power-play marker in the first minute of the third period and the Rebels — hampered as well by a five-minute major assessed to overage forward Evan Polei — never really threatened again.
“Last night for half the game we were as solid as we’ve been the whole series,” said Sutter. “But after they got that third goal we just didn’t seem to have a pushback. After that nothing happened for us. We had one quality scoring chance n the last 18 minutes.”
But earlier, the Rebels created a multitude of scoring opportunities, only to be denied by ‘Canes netminder Stuart Skinner or by an outright lack of puck luck.
In many ways, it’s been a series of bounces.
“We’re up 1-0 last night and (Michael Spacek) has a breakaway from the top of the circle in and it could have been 2-0,” said Sutter.
Late in the second period, with the ‘Canes up 2-1 and on the power play, Rebels forward Brandon Hagel narrowly missed depositing the puck into a gaping net.
“Those are game-changers, the elements that could be the difference in the game when you’re in a tight series,” said Sutter. “The last two games we’ve had them go against us. In three of the first four games we had them go for us. It’s been one of those things.”
As Sutter noted following Sunday’s loss, the Rebels have already exceeded a vast majority of outsider expectations.
“It’s been a hard-fought, real tough series and everyone knows that Lethbridge didn’t expect this at all,” he said. “They can deny it all they want, but it’s facts. We’ve given them everything they can handle, and more.
“At times our inexperience has shown, especially on the back end. But that being said, it’s also a tremendously positive thing too with the experience these kids are going through. Everything they get is a tremendous bonus for them to grow where we expect them to grow and for our team to grow.”
The Rebels could clearly use more offence from their third and fourth lines, but the Rebels boss stopped short of calling the players out.
“It’s a young group. They’re playing against a team . . . a group of guys who are older than them,” said Sutter. “It’s a whole new challenge for them too, they’re learning for the first time.
“Certainly our players who have been through the playoffs and Memorial Cup experience last year have done a real admirable job for the most part with the way they’ve played this series.”
And so it comes down to a single solitary contest. The winner moves on. The season ends for the loser.
“I don’t think anyone at the start of the series would have said we’d be able to play a Game 7 in Lethbridge,” said Sutter. “It’s a credit to the kids. They’ve battled and played hard. It’s just been a bounce or two in the last two games just like they were in our favour (earlier in the series).”
The Rebels will be minus the services of Polei in Game 7. The 21-year-old winger was dealt an indefinite suspension for the checking-to-the-head major — and ensuing game misconduct — he was assessed Sunday.