You just knew the Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs weren’t going to go down without a fight.
After falling behind 2-1 to the Calgary Buffaloes in the best-of-five Alberta Midget Hockey League South Division final, the Rebels walked into Calgary Sunday and came away with a 4-2 victory, sending the series back to Red Deer Tuesday.
And while they had their hands full for most of two periods the Rebels showed why they’re once again one of the premier teams in the country as they scored four times in the third period to beat the Buffaloes 6-1 before close to 1,000 fans at the Arena. Rebels head coach Doug Quinn felt his team wasn’t about to give in after falling behind in the series.
“I thought it was an opportunity for us to come together as a team and overcome some adversity,” he said. “We could have felt sorry for ourselves. We were short a D-man (Gabe Bast) but when push came to shove we stepped up and grew from that experience and carried it over to tonight.”
Rebels first-year forward Trey DeGraaf agreed.
“We always kept believing and kept fighting,” he said. “We worked so hard and played a great game in Calgary and came back here with some momentum. We knew inside ourselves this was our game and the home town crowd helped a lot. They were loud and kept us going.”
They especially needed the crowd to give them a boost early in the second period. Buffaloes Sheldon Rempal had tied the game at 1-1 at the buzzer to end the first period and the Calgary squad carried that momentum into the middle stanza.
“I thought we played well in the first period for 19 minutes and 58 seconds, then had a breakdown” said Quinn. “Then in the second period we were back on our heals . . . we bent but didn’t break. (Matt) Zentner also made some big saves for us.”
The Rebels were outshot 9-1 early in the second period, but DeGraaf gave them a little breathing room beating netminder Keelan Williams at 2:47 when he was sent in a lone on a nice feed from Jack Goranson.
“Jack made a great play to get me the puck and luckily I put it in,” said DeGraaf, who made a nice deke and lifted a backhand high to the stick side. “They (Buffaloes) came out after that late goal in the first with the momentum, but putting us up one was big.”
But the biggest goal of the game just 10 seconds into the third when Rory Davidson grabbed the puck just inside the Calgary zone, cut to his right and beat Williams with a perfect shot high to the glove side.
“That was huge,” said DeGraaf. “Rory has been such a great player for us all season and that goal really lifted the bench.”
“It was a big confidence boost,” added Quinn. “We were off to the races after that and played well the rest of the way.”
It certainly was the beginning of the end for the Buffaloes.
Davidson made it 4-1 at 10:47 as he swatted in a Dustin Gorgi pass on a two-on-one and Goranson, at 13:38, and Jacob Schofield, at 17:08, completed the scoring. Chase Thudium had opened the scoring for the Rebels 38 seconds into the game.
Zentner finished with 21 saves, including a spectacular arm save on a drive from the slot midway through the third period. Williams made 30 saves, including a handful on the brilliant side.
The Rebels will now face the North champion Edmonton Southside, who advanced with a 3-1 victory over Lloydminster.
Quinn knows it will be a battle.
“They have one really good line. In fact they had the top three scorers in the league. They finished just behind us in the standings and we played them twice and both games were 2-2, so it will be an evenly matched series.”
The best-of-five is expected to open Friday at the Arena.
• Calgary took six of nine minor penalties, including all four in the third period.