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Optimist Rebels three-peat as AAA champions

Winning the Alberta Midget Hockey League championship is not something that’s taken for granted by the Red Deer Optimist Rebels.Yet it’s something they expect to be challenging for every year.
Red Deer Optimist Rebel goalie Brenden Mandrusiak as his teammate Stefan Danielson comes into help against the charging Calgary Royals in midget AAA playoff action at the Arena Tuesday.

Rebels 5 Raiders 3

Winning the Alberta Midget Hockey League championship is not something that’s taken for granted by the Red Deer Optimist Rebels.

Yet it’s something they expect to be challenging for every year.

“Our expectations from the beginning of the year is that we want to be competing for a provincial title,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn.

“It’s a big commitment but the group of coaches we have and the type of players that have come through our program there’s always an expectation that if you play here you have to give us everything you have.”

They did just that and for the third year in a row the Rebels captured the Alberta midget AAA title with a 5-3 victory over the St. Albert Raiders before over an estimated 1,000 fans at the Arena Tuesday, giving them a sweep of the best-of-five AMHL final.

The win was anything but easy. The Raiders turned in their most inspired performance of the series, coming from behind to tie the game at 3-3 in the third period and it looked as if overtime would be inevitable.

However, the Rebels took advantage of a pair of undisciplined penalties and scored twice with a two-man advantage to pull out the victory.

Stefan Danielson broke the tie at 16:51 on a blast from the right point and Joel Topping put the icing on the victory with a bullet from the left point at 18:14.

“I just saw an open side and put my head down and fired it,” explained Danielson. “It couldn’t feel better.”

The Rebels showed a lot of patience on the two-man advantage and moved the puck smartly, which set up Danielson and Topping for open shots.

“They (Raiders) took away our low plays and both Stef and Joel can really shoot the puck . . . they were both really nice goals,” said Quinn.

Red Deer came out flying in the first period and jumped into a 1-0 lead on a goal by Rory Davidson during a scramble.

In fact it wasn’t until 14:10 of the period that the Raiders got their second shot on goal. But Liam McNamara made the most of it, beating Rebels netminder Dasan Sydora while killing off a penalty.

“As soon as they scored that shorthanded goal then it was ‘oh boy’,” said Quinn.

“We were back on our heels the later part of the first period, but we regrouped in the second, although we did get into some penalty problems.”

The Rebels jumped into a 3-1 lead with Tanner Lomsnes connecting at 3:13 after a feed from Ty Mappin left him alone in front of St. Albert netminder Wyatt Hoflin.

Nineteen seconds later BJ Duffin darted down the left side and snapped a quick shot past a defender and beat Hoflin to the short side.

But the Raiders got back into the game with a power play goal by Kyler Hehn at 18:32 and tied it at 6:51 of the third period when McNamara converted a rebound after Sydora had stopped Josh Jewell on a breakaway.

“I thought after they got their second goal we started playing not to lose,” said Quinn. “It was a bad combination with the penalties and it was hard to get it turned around. But we took advantage of a couple of opportunities late.”

Danielson felt the Raiders played their best game of the series, which was expected.

“They were battling for their lives,” he said. “They were gunning for us, so I wasn’t surprised. They had nothing to lose.”

But the 16-year-old rearguard wasn’t worried about pulling out the victory.

“We knew if we kept the pressure on we could score,” he said.

The Rebels have some time off before hosting the Vancouver Giants in the best-of-three Pacific region, April 6-8 at the Arena. It’s time they need according to Quinn.

“I’m glad, we need to get back into a regular weekly practice schedule,” he said. “We’ve had so many games in a short period of time we haven’t had time to really work on anything. There’s a few things I see creeping into our game that I really don’t like and we’ll work on those and hopefully be ready for Vancouver.”

The fact the series is in Red Deer is an advantage, added Quinn.

“Home ice is really important. This is the third year we’ve played them and they’re a strong talented team. Two years ago it was a huge advantage for us to be at home. Last year it was tough in Vancouver.

“But I’m looking forward to the series and hopefully we play the way we’re capable of.”

• The Rebels had 35 shots on Hoflin while Sydora faced 25.