Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan McLeod fires a shot just past Calgary Flames goalie Tyler Parsons on the Battle of Alberta Rookie Game on Wednesday at the Centrium. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

VIDEO: Fans pack Centrium for Oilers-Flames rookie game

From puck drop, there was a playoff buzz inside the Centrium.

It may only be September, but Central Alberta hockey fans were treated to a unique spectacle Wednesday night when the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers rookies did battle in Red Deer.

Although the Flames eventually took the contest 6-3, it was the young hockey players and supporters in the stands that were the real winners.

“All these fans supported me for four years and it was so much fun playing in front of them. I didn’t think I would be back this soon,” said Oilers forward Evan Polei, who played 240 games in a Rebels’ uniform and had plenty of memorable moments.

Polei, 22, assisted on the first Oilers’ goal and then drew a huge collection of cheers when he tied the game at three in the second period.

“I had the best experience here in Red Deer, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my fans and coaches that helped me through,” he added.

Flames prospect Dillon Dube, a former member of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets said it was a huge thrill to play in front of a such a big crowd.

“I was really excited. Whenever you can play in a packed WHL rink, it brings a lot of memories. I know I’m just fresh off it, but I already miss it,” said the Flames 2016 second round pick, who had a pair of assists on the night.

“I only got to play here a handful of times, but it was always special for me. my parents got to come up and watch and it was a lot of fun. I really wanted to play tonight and have a good game.”

Calgary drew first blood early in the game with a nifty backhand on a breakaway by Dmitry Zavgorodniy.

D’Artagnan Joly added to the advantage and Zavgorodniy rifled home his second of the night to open up a 3-0 advantage in the first period.

Luke Esposito finally got the Oilers on the board late in the first, with a rocket spin-o-rama backhand that just snuck under the arm of Flames goalie Tyler Parsons.

Oilers forward Cameron Hebig cut the deficit to a goal midway through the second period, and Polei tapped in a goal on a two-on-one to tie the game late in the period.

Adam Ruzicka put the Flames ahead on another breakaway just six minutes into the third period.

Former Swift Current Bronco Glenn Gawdin extended the Calgary lead to 5-3 with just over eight minutes left in the game. Brett Pollock also added a late goal for Calgary.

Polei, a Wetaskiwin native, split the 2017-18 season between the Wichita Thunder and Bakersfield Condors. He had nine points in 30 with the Condors in the AHL and 17 points in 32 games with the Thunder in the ECHL.

“Just a steady year in the American league with the Condors and help them out as much as I can. Go down there and play hard all year and hopefully good things come down the road,” said Polei about his hopes for next season.

Dube added seeing the support for the battle of Alberta in Red Deer showed how passionate hockey fans are in the province.

“It’s good for us, it’s good for Alberta hockey. They get passed up a little bit for how good their fans are here,” Dube said of the fan support.

“I’ve played in a lot of places in Canada and I do believe, Alberta, Edmonton and Calgary are two of the best fan bases in the league.”

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Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff Former Red Deer Rebel Evan Polei gets hauled down on a breakaway during the first period of the Battle Of Alberta Rookie Game between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames at the Centrium Wednesday. Polei scored and added an assist in the game for the Oilers’ rookies.

Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff The Calgary Flames celebrate an early goal in the Battle of Alberta Rookie Game against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday at the Centrium.

The Edmonton Oilers celebrate an early goal in the Battle of Alberta Rookie Game against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday at the Centrium. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

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