Even if you knew this was coming, it’s still been a joy to watch.
Most people around the Red Deer Rebels were of the mind that for the team to have any success this season, Ethan Anders would need to play a key part.
And while the Pilot Butte, Sask. product hasn’t been statistically perfect through six games, he has been darn close undoubtedly the Rebels’ rock.
“He was unbelievable again. It’s not a surprise anymore,” said Rebels veteran blueline Ethan Sakowich.
“I’ve been playing with him for three years now. He’s such a hard worker, he’s always battling and it shows with the extra saves he’s making– diving across, he’s battling and getting rewarded for it.”
In the last two weeks, Anders hasn’t had a save percentage below 0.929. He turned in three stellar showings over the past week, only allowing five goals on 105 shots in three wins for the Rebels.
Those efforts earned him the WHL goalie of the Week honours, as well as selection to the CHL Team of the Week. The latter meant he was the top major junior goalie across the entire country last week.
“I’ve felt the same, just going out there trying to do my thing. I thought we had a good weekend as a whole group,” Anders said.
“I thought the team played really well. Two division games, so that was huge.”
The hallmark performance, a 39-save gem came against the division rival Medicine Hat Tigers. Anders faced some heavy rubber in that contest, including a 14-save first period and bookended with 13 stops in the third, while his club was under siege by the Tigers and outshot 14-6.
That effort earned a stamp of approval from Sakowich. He said as a group they’ve come to expect Anders to bail them out from time-to-time, something that is welcomed for such a young defence core.
“It’s good for us. We’ve played well and for the most part, let the shots come from the outside. He has made some great saves,” Sakowich said. “It’s good for our d-core because we’re still learning. Knowing he’s back there, we know that we can make a few mistakes and he’s going to bail us out.”
That was especially true midway through the third period when the Rebels led 3-2 over the Tigers.
On the power play, Cole Sillinger faked a shot that froze the Rebels netminder, then passed cross-crease to Elijah Brown. Brown had a wide-open net, but fanned on the shot and allowed Anders to reach back with the blade of his stick and pull the puck off the goal line.
“It was unbelievable. Tight game, it’s not surprising because he keeps making saves like that, but that one was pretty special,” Sakowich said.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) October 6, 2019
Anders admitted it was cool, albeit a bit lucky.
“I thought he was shooting, then he passed it across. Stuck out my paddle and hoped for the best. That one felt good,” he said.
“I knew after that, I really have to keep the guys in it, definitely have to get a win after that.”
It takes time for goalies to figure out life in the WHL. With Anders, a 19-year-old netminder is in his third WHL season, confidence is key and consistency is a close second this season. Especially after he exploded out of the gate last year and tittered as the season wore on.
“When he came in this year, he came in with the right mindset. I think he did the same thing last year, too. I think he’s having a very similar start. Which is awesome, because both years he’s come out of the gate really hot,” said Rebels goalie coach Kraymer Barnstable.
“This year, it’s exciting to see where it’s going to go, because of his maturity level and what he learned from last year. When you have confidence and momentum, to not let it slip and not let his foot off the gas in practice. It’s shown this week. It’s been his hardest working two practices (this year).”
Anders for his part, recognizes the ups and downs of the position, especially after battling through a rollercoaster of a season last year. His goalie coach has reminded him not to get to high on the highs, like this week and not to get too low with the lows, like what he experienced late last season.
“I’ve been feeling really good. Practices have been going really well. Just going out there working hard and trying to do the right things off the ice, too. Getting good rest, eating right and stretching,” Anders said.
“I think all that is really coming together and there is definitely more, I’ve got another level I just want to try and keep this up and keep giving these guys a chance to win every night.”