It was only the first step in what the Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs hope is a long and successful road, and head coach Doug Quinn wants everyone to realize that.
“The first game is always important and we wanted to come out, play well and start with a win, but the one thing we talked about after was that it’s only one game. We don’t want the kids to get to high. It was a good win, but we have to be ready to play Friday,” said Quinn after the Rebels downed the UFA Bisons 6-1 in the opening game of their best-of-five Alberta Midget Hockey League South Division semifinal at the Arena Tuesday.
The Rebels looked a bit tight early in the first period, giving the Bisons the first two or three good scoring opportunities.
“We were a bit tight for the first 10 minutes,” said Quinn. “We haven’t played in close to a week and a half and they came out with some intensity and had a couple good opportunities to score on their first couple of shifts. But (Matt) Zentner made the saves and once we settled in we were pretty good the rest of the way.”
Connor Gorgi gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead at 4:55 of the first period when Rory Davidson’s pass went in off his skate while on the power play. Bisons goaltender Richard Palmer kept the game close for the rest of the period and early in the second until Tristan Thompson evened the score with a power play marker at 7:39. However, Davidson converted a pass while alone in front just 16 seconds after the Bisons goal and for all intents and purposes the game was in Red Deer’s control.
“We needed that goal by Rory to get us going,” said Rebels captain Quinn Brown.
“That did take away any momentum they could have generated,” added Quinn.
By the end of the period Logan Hermus and Ryker Leer added goals as the Rebels outshot the Bisons 14-2 in the period.
Hermus’ marker may have been the goal of the game as he burst down the right side, took a perfect headman pass, broke past the defence and rifled a perfect shot high to Palmer’s glove side.
“Hermus is really stepping up for us offensively,” said Brown with a smile.
But overall the Red Deer defence does what they’re supposed to do, shut down the other team’s offence.
“We have been scoring more of late, but we know if we play good defence we’ll be hard to play against,” said Quinn.
Brown, who considers himself a defensive-defenceman, adds the forwards also play a big role in the defensive end.
“It’s a team game and we work well in our zone as a unit,” he said. “Everyone is working together.”
Gorgi and Colton Bobyk added power play goals in the third period as the Rebels held a 49-15 edge in shots on goal.
Quinn added 14-year-old forward Tyler Steenbergen from the Red Deer Rebels White bantam team, to replace injured forward Jordie Lawson And Steenbergen didn’t look out of place.
“He’s been skating with us at practice and hasn’t looked out of place,” said Quinn. “We felt this was a good opportunity to get him in there and he was a little nervous early on, but once he adjusted to the speed he was fine. He’s a highly skilled offensive player.”
Brown is one of a handful of players returning from the Telus Cup championship team of a year ago.
“We’re much like last year, a skilled team that wears teams down,” he said. “But we’re also a completely different team and we can’t assume because we won last year we will this year. This year will be a battle once again.”
It was up to the veterans to make sure the team was ready for what is ahead.
“It was important to keep everyone’s emotions in check and keep it at a good level,” he said. “I think everyone had some nerves tonight, but it’s good to get this one under our belts.”
• Bisons got a little chippy towards the end and took 12 of 19 minor penalties . . . Tthe second game is Friday in Strathmore with the third game Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Arena.