As the hours ticked away Thursday, Red Deer Rebels head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin was still waiting for a prognosis on injured starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Kuemper missed the Rebels’ do-or-die 1-0 Western Hockey League playoff victory over the host Medicine Hat Tigers Wednesday with a badly swollen ankle, a situation that was to be assessed by a doctor a day later.
While Wallin hadn’t received a medical update late Thursday afternoon, he could at least take solace in the fact that he appears to have a capable back-up in place if Kuemper is unavailable for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday at the Centrium. Dawson Guhle replaced Kuemper Wednesday and turned in a stellar effort while blocking all 19 shots he faced.
If Kuemper, who was limping Wednesday night, is unable to dress Saturday, Wallin won’t feel uncomfortable calling on Guhle for a repeat performance in yet another must-win scenario for the Rebels.
“No, not at all. Dawson went in there last night and he was so focused. That was really the biggest thing for him,” said Wallin, whose club still trails the best-of-seven set 3-1.
During the handful of regular-season games in which he played this season, there were times that Guhle didn’t appear comfortable. That certainly wasn’t the case Wednesday as the former Regina Pats stopper projected a sense of calmness.
“In fairness to him, in two years in the league he’s never been the guy. He started games over periods in Regina where he played very well and showed a lot of potential,” said Wallin of the former Alberta Midget League all-star.
“This is maybe the opportunity he needed. If Kuemps isn’t able to go then he knows he’s the guy, that he doesn’t have somebody looking over his shoulder. That’s how he played last night — like a starting goaltender. He went in there and was focused. He competed hard and he’s shown in the past that he has that ability and this might be the break he needs.”
Meanwhile, the Rebels got the break they needed Wednesday when Byron Froese potted the lone goal of the game with eight minutes remaining. The visitors, with Guhle standing tall, then held the Tigers at bay and nailed down a well-deserved victory.
“We’ve been working hard each game and yesterday was the hardest-working game,” said Froese, who looked almost relieved when he beat Tigers goalie Tyler Bunz with a quick volley from the slot.
The goal was just the Rebels’ third in the entire series. The Tigers’ defence has played a large role in limiting Red Deer’s scoring opportunities, but Bunz has been the Rebels’ main nemesis.
“We just have to keep putting pucks to the net and getting traffic on Bunz,” said Froese. “He’s been playing really well and that’s what you have to do when you’re facing a hot goalie. Just get pucks to the net and drive to the net.
“I don’t think that we’re going to change anything. We just have to keep things the same . . . just keep firing pucks at him. Eventually we’ll make him break and get a few more goals.”
The Rebels, of course, are still facing long odds.
“You can’t look at it like that,” said Froese. “You just have to take it one game at a time. It’s life or death now so you can’t leave anything on the ice.
I’m expecting another hard-working playoff game on Saturday. We’re just going to have to work as hard as we can. It’s do-or-die so there’s nothing to save it for.”