The Red Deer Rebels were desperate for a strong performance in net Wednesday with their playoff lives on the line.
In game 4 on home ice, and a sweep by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the best-of-seven series looming, Red Deer turned rookie Ethan Anders.
There was nothing especially spectacular about the 28-save performance from the 17-year-old Regina, Sask., native in just his second career playoff start, but it was steady.
His first try in the playoffs didn’t exactly go as planned. Anders lasted just 13 minutes and three seconds in Game 2 of the series and allowed three goals on nine shots. He said some advice from the head coach helped ease his mind at home in Game 4.
“First playoff start in Lethbridge, so I was a little nervous,” Anders recalled.
“But before the game (Wednesday) Brent (Sutter) just said go out there and play. I had more of a go out there and have some fun and kind of play mindset. I think that worked out for the better.”
There were probably some nerves as well for Anders after the first Hurricanes’ goal on Wednesday. The sharp angle shot beat him along the ice with just 40 seconds left in the opening frame.
“If something doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to, you can’t get down about it, just have to stick with your focus – keep yourself in the game and go and make your next save and he did that,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said post-game Wednesday.
Particularly in the third period, when the game was on the line and the Rebels were ahead, Anders made a number of key saves and finished the final 20 minutes with 12 stops.
One of those saves even turned into a first for Anders.
After he kicked aside a shot shorthanded, the pick jumped out of the zone and onto Mason McCarty’s stick. McCarty quickly fired a pass to Alex Alexeyev he broke free on a breakaway and notched his first goal of the playoffs. The goal meant Anders registered his first career playoff point.
“I didn’t think I was going to get an assist. When I heard it, I said you know what, I’ll take it,” Anders said.
The six-foot, 185-pound first-year netminder was also important in helping the Rebels stymie the Hurricanes power play.
In each of the first three games of the series, Lethbridge scored three goals per game on the man advantage. The old hockey adage always goes that your best penalty killer needs to be your goalie, and Anders was happy to shoulder the load for the club in Game 4.
“Last couple games our special teams weren’t there, their power play was really good. I think we held them back a bit,” he said, after the Rebels didn’t allow a power-play goal in Game 4.
“(Saves) on the PK will help get some momentum going back on the other side, it was key.”
Not only did the play loose mindset work better for the Rebels netminder, it also was infectious through the rest of the lineup. He said it was a pivotal moment in their approach to Game 4 and one he hopes they can find again in Game 5.
“There was a lot on the line, but it was a there’s nothing to lose kind of thing. Can’t save it for anything because if we lose we go home. We went out there and gave it our all,” Anders said.
Have to do the same thing as (Wednesday). We have to go out there and play heard and special teams are going to be key again. I think if we’re good on specialty teams, we’ll be able to get another win.”
Game 5 is Saturday in Lethbridge and if necessary, Game 6 will be Sunday at the Centrium.