The way the Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs opened their Alberta Midget Hockey League playoff series against the Calgary Buffaloes at the Arena Sunday afternoon it made you wonder which team was the regular season champions.
The Buffaloes, who needed five games to get past the Calgary Royals in their last playoff series, stormed out of the gate and grabbed a 2-0 lead before the game was six minutes old.
However, that seemed to wake the defending national champion Rebels up and while they eventually needed an overtime goal by Jordie Lawson to pull out a 5-4 victory, they slowly took control of the period and the game.
“I certainly didn’t like the start,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn. “I thought the Buffaloes came out with a lot of intensity and a lot of work ethic while our guys were tentative and didn’t play well. But once we settled into the game we kept getting stronger and stronger.”
“It was pretty scary early on, but we worked hard and came together at the end,” said Lawson, who tied the game on a scramble at 9:46 of the third period and notched the winner on the power play at 3:50 of the 10-minute first overtime period, once again on a scramble.
“The big thing was I kept working and kept getting the pucks to the net,” he explained. “But I certainly wasn’t good in the first period, I was pretty bad. Doug told me and I was able to turn it around.”
While Lawson, a native of Rimbey, who played on the provincial 15-year-old champion IROC Chiefs last season, scored two important goals, the biggest may have Jacob Schofield’s marker with 2.1 seconds remaining in the second period.
“That was a game-changer,” said Lawson. “Without it we were down two and it would have been hard to come back.”
“Jake’s goal was huge,” agreed Quinn. “We played well in the second period, but it’s playoff hockey and they got a little break and scored a couple and for us to come back and score just before the end of the period was big.”
The goal also seemed to deflate the Buffaloes, who left the ice with their heads down.
“We seen that and took advantage of it,” added Lawson, who felt the team took 10 minutes in the first period to get back into the swing of things after a week off.
“This is another step up from our first series and I thought we had to adjust to the level of speed.”
Goaltender Matt Zentner also seemed to be surprised at the level of intensity. He would have liked both the Buffaloes first two goals back and possibly their fourth marker that beat him high to the glove side from outside the circle.
“There were a couple he would have liked back, but you talk about the saves goalies make and when they make them and when it was 4-4 Matt made a couple key saves,” said Quinn.
Nicholas Herman and Alex Wilkinson made it 2-0 for Calgary before Sick scored in the first period and Dustin Gorgi evened the count on the power play at 6:50 of the middle stanza. However, Wilkinson put the Buffaloes ahead at 10:13 when Red Deer was caught on a line change and Calgary enjoyed a two-man breakaway. Braylon Shmyr made it 4-2 before Schofield’s marker.
Then Lawson took over.
“Jordie is one of those players who really developed throughout the year,” said Quinn. “He got bigger and stronger and while he didn’t score much the first half of the year he definitely has been (scoring) in the second half and those where two big goals.”
Lawson felt it took him half a season to adapt to the league.
“The first half I was on the fourth line in a checking role a lot and at the Mac’s tournament Doug moved me up, took a chance, and it seemed to work.”
“He has been strong on the power play for sure,” added Quinn.
“I just park my butt in front and try to tip the shots and get rebounds,” said Lawson with a smile. “You need that against their goalie. He’s big and we have to get traffic in there and make it hard for him to see.”
The Rebels scored three times on the power play, something Quinn knows could be key in the series.
“They’re a physical, aggressive team and if they take penalties it’s nice to capitalize on them,” he said.
l Zentner finished with 19 saves while his mates had 54 on Keelan Williams . . . The second game of the series goes Wednesday in Calgary with the third game Friday at 8 p.m. at the Arena . . . If a fourth game is necessary it’s Sunday in Calgary with a fifth, if needed, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Arena . . . The Edmonton Southside Boston Pizza Athletics won the opening game of the north final, 2-1 in double overtime against Lloydminster.