Rebels close out regular season with convincing win over Hurricanes
Rebels 5 Hurricanes 1
The WHL Playoffs don’t start until next weekend but the Red Deer Rebels, who will take on the Calgary Hitmen in the first round, were in post-season mode Saturday.
The Rebels ended their regular season with an exclamation point, dumping the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes 5-1 before a jacked crowd of 5,675 at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
“It was good, the first period our guys were ready to go just like you’d like,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk, whose squad outshot the visitors 19-1 in the opening period but couldn’t beat ‘Canes affiliate netminder Koen Cleaver, who was making his first ever WHL start.
“Then as the game was winding down we were able to get a lot of ice time for guys. I like to get everybody involved and it’s nice now to be able to say we can get ready for playoffs.”
The Rebels finally got to Cleaver 2:41 into the second period when Talon Brigley, with Red Deer on the penalty kill, broke down the right side and ripped a shot to the far top corner.
The short-handed marker was his second goal in as many nights.
“Brigley’s been getting better and better with the puck,” said Konowalchuk. “He’s always been reliable, he’s always been a good player for us. But the last 10 games, I’d say, he’s carrying the puck more, skating, getting a little more jump in his step. It’s good to see him get a goal here and a goal the other night (in Friday’s 6-4 loss at Lethbridge).
“In playoff hockey it takes everybody and that’s what’s exciting. Your big guys need to be your big guys, but there’s always going to be certain guys that come up and make big plays and be heroes, and maybe he’s one of them. We have guys here who are capable of stepping up.”
The Rebels blew the game open with another three unanswered goals in the middle frame.
Christoffer Sedoff collected a rink-wide feed from Kalan Lind and roofed a shot from low in the left circle, Hunter Mayo jumped on a turnover at the Rebels blueline and fired the puck over Cleaver’s glove and Frantisek Formanek, on the power play, followed with another high shot.
Tyson Zimmer ruined Red Deer netminder Kyle Kelsey’s bid for a third consecutive shutout when he scored at 5:27 of the third period. Zimmer, alone at the side of the net, converted a backhand feed from Tristan Zandee.
Lind closed out the scoring just under three minutes later, notching his 16th of the season with an off-speed shot that found the far side of the net.
Cleaver finished with 34 saves while Kelsey faced only 12 shots.
“He’s back to where I’d say he was most of the season,” Konowalchuk said of his netminder. “We have two goalies we believe in, two goalies who give us a chance to win every night. Again, we’re excited to get going here.”
The Hurricanes sat five of their regular forwards — including three 20-goal scorers — just as the Rebels were in the same situation the night before with four regulars out of their lineup.
“I think we wanted a big bounce back after yesterday obviously, not having a couple of guys in the lineup,” said Brigley. “We really wanted to focus on our start tonight and I think we did that. It’s a good way to end the season going into playoffs.”
The second-year forward, as Konowalchuk noted, has taken his game to another level in recent games.
“Just getting more comfortable, getting a little more confidence,” said Brigley. “With the penalty kill too, getting a little more ice time with that. I think it’s just gelling together five-on-five. Just confidence is the biggest thing.”
The Rebels and Hitmen will open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final next Friday at the Peavey Mart Centrium, where Game 2 will go 24 hours later.
“It kinds of seems like the last seven to 10 games we’ve been getting pretty excited for playoffs,” said Konowalchuk. “I’m real proud of the guys for their regular season. Now it’s playoff hockey, that’s what it’s all about.”
Notable: The Rebels were one-for-five on the power play, the Hurricanes zero-for-four . . . In keeping with tradition, Red Deer overagers Ben King, who sat out with an injury, Sedoff and Jace Isley were feted as the game’s three stars . . . Prior to the contest, the team’s individual awards were presented with Uchacz picking up four— the Three-Star Award, Hampton Inn and Suites Top Scorer, Bearcom Most Valuable Player and ATB Humanitarian of the Year. Sedoff was honoured as the Top Defenceman, the Players Award was presented to captain Jayden Grubbe, Isley was honoured as the Darcy Robinson Most Underrated Player, Ollie Josephson picked up the Pattison Media Rookie of the Year award and Carson Birnie was the recipient of the Telus Scholastic Player of the Year award . . . After posting clean sheets in each of his previous two starts, Kelsey’s shutout streak came to an end after 165 minutes and 27 seconds.