As the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament hosts, the Saskatoon Blades had to eventually emerge as a Western Hockey League power.
Although GM/head coach Lorne Molleken negotiated numerous trades to give his club more depth and star power with the likes of centre Brenden Walker and winger Michael Ferland, the Blades stumbled through the first three to four months of the season but now haven’t lost since falling 4-2 to the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings Jan. 23.
That’s 15 wins in succession, a streak the Red Deer Rebels have every intention of halting when the clubs tangle tonight at the Centrium (7 p.m. start).
“We always knew they were a good team. Really, the whole league knew it was just a matter of time before they got it together,” Rebels overage defenceman Brandon Underwood said Monday. “(But) I don’t know if we thought they’d put together that kind of a winning streak. Tomorrow’s game is going to be as close to a playoff game as we’ve had all year.”
Not only would the Rebels snap the Blades’ long and impressive run with a victory tonight, but they would also complete a sweep of the four-game series.
“There’s a pretty big rivalry between our two teams,” said Underwood. “With us taking the first three games we want to get the sweep and I’m sure they want to beat us just as badly as we want to beat them.”
That being said, Underwood cautioned that the Rebels can’t be too caught up with the Blades.
“We can’t really think about them too much,” he said. “We’re the kind of team that if we play our style, especially in our own rink, we seem to have success.”
That’s certainly been the case as of late. Red Deer posted a clutch 4-2 win over the visiting Prince Albert Raiders Saturday with a huge, three-goal third-period performance.
“P.A. came out and started to play the run and gun game they like to play,” said Underwood. “We got down 2-0 early, then kind of refocused and got back to playing Rebels hockey. That’s what got us the win.
“So we can’t really worry about the opponent too much, especially at this time of the year. You have to worry about your own game first and everything else will hopefully fall into place.”
Underwood, a California native who was acquired from the Regina Pats last September, is part of a Rebels blueline crew that has gradually improved under the direction of assistant coach Bryce Thoma and associate coach Jeff Truitt, who was hired in November.
Truitt is a seasoned mentor with head coaching experience in both the WHL and the American League. His guidance has helped Underwood elevate his game in recent weeks.
“Jeff has been awesome, he’s been a great coach,” said the six-foot-three, 220-pound rearguard. “I’ve learned a lot from him even with this being my last year (in the WHL). He’s worked with me a lot and he’s also really good with the young guys.
“He’s a good guy first and foremost and he’s good with the guys . . . he knows how to teach young adults like we are. Often it’s just the little things with Jeff. He doesn’t let us off the hook, he holds us accountable when we need to play better and he’s also positive when we do play well.
“He’s a good coach and I couldn’t be happier having him with the team.”