LEDUC — The Red Deer Optimist Rebels were on life support after 40 minutes of the Telus Cup final Sunday afternoon, their hopes of capturing the Canadian midget AAA hockey championship all but gone.
The next 38 minutes were nothing short of remarkable as the Rebels crawled out of a 5-1 canyon to defeat the Phenix de College Esther-Blondin of Quebec 6-5, emerging victorious on a goal by Nick Glackin, his third in succession, at 8:45 of the second overtime period.
The 2012 Telus Cup final was truly a classic, a championship clash that will stand with the best of them — at any level — for years to come. The roughly 1,200 spectators who witnessed it first-hand and the thousands more who watched on TSN will attest to that.
It’s rare that a team can not only rally but come all the way back from such a drastic deficit, but the Rebels clearly believed it wasn’t impossible.
“I mean, you don’t really draw it up that way, but heading into the third period down by four we just said that’s a goal every five minutes and we had a lot of faith in there (dressing room),” said a jubilant Joel Topping, the superb Red Deer rearguard who was named the best at his position during the round-robin portion of the tournament.
“The message was we’ve been down before, we can do this. And sure enough we just gutted one out today and it feels unreal.”
The Red Deer power play, missing in action through much of the tournament, came alive at precisely the most opportune time, netting a mind-boggling five goals in the gold-medal contest.
Included were four third-period tallies as the Quebec champs were assessed nine minutes in penalties and were outshot 22-5.
“They had all the bounces early in the game and then the tide seemed to turn and we started to get some breaks,” said Topping. “There was a lot of desperation factor, too. We didn’t come here to lose in the gold-medal-game, we came here to win it and that’s what our power-play units did. We really stepped up and scored some big goals.”
A five-minute boarding major to Phenix forward Alexandre Caron-Roy midway through the final regulation frame opened the door for the Optimist Rebels, who had closed the gap to 5-2 earlier in the period. Jason Rouleau’s slashing infraction just 12 seconds left the Quebec champs two men short and the Rebels tallied almost instantly and then pulled even before the penalty to Caron-Roy expired.
“We caught a break with the 5-minute major and we absolutely took advantage,” said Red Deer forward Scott Feser.
“We’d been struggling all week long on the power play and I can’t really tell you why that was. But today it was about our character, work ethic and compete level. We didn’t give up and we capitalized on our power plays.”
While Glackin was the man of the hour — and rightfully so — with his natural hat trick and captain Brady Bakke, who sniped a second-period, short-handed goal and assisted on the tying and winning markers, it was Feser who got the party rolling with Red Deer’s second and third goals of the contest.
“It felt good. I was talking in the room about how someone had to make a difference and I’m happy I was able to get on the board in the third period,” said Feser.
“It was just a great effort by all the guys. It doesn’t matter who’s on the scoresheet, but I think it says a lot that our team can come back from that and win it all.”
Feser was still collecting himself nearly a half hour after Glackin’s extra-time marker brought the majority of the fans at the Leduc Recreation Centre to their feet.
“I don’t it’s settling in quite yet,” said Red Deer’s eighth-round pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft and a front-running contender to earn full-time employment with the Rebels next season.
“It was a game for the ages. We’ve looked at a couple of tweets comparing it to the 1980 Miracle on Ice,” he continued. “I can’t say enough about the guys in that room and the character that we have. The way the guys stepped up says a lot about our character and why we’re the Telus Cup
The Rebels, clearly, were the hardest-working team in the 2012 tournament.
“That’s the game we play, we forecheck and wear teams down. We play a team game,” said Feser. “All of these teams from across the country have high-end skill and guys who can score. We have that too and when you put that with hard work and structure and team play, it pays off, and it did today.”
Next up for Feser will be the Rebels WHL training camp in August.
“My goal is to make their team. I want to be there contributing night in and night out,” he said. “But right now it’s about this and celebrating this. I’m probably going to enjoy this for the rest of my life.”
As the Optimist Rebels paraded around the ice surface after accepting the Telus Cup and championship banner, Queen’s timeless classic We Are The Champions blared through the sound system.
“A ton of pressure, on a big stage, on national television . . . it’s incredible how we pulled together and it’s going to be interesting watching the replay of this,” said Feser. “I know it’s something I will never forget.