Next game keeps becoming biggest game of the year for Red Deer Rebels

Take on Lethbridge Hurricanes in final regular season home game Friday

When the Red Deer Rebels beat the Brandon Wheat Kings on home ice last week, it was billed as the biggest game of the season by the players.

Little did they know, the next biggest game(s) of the season would come the following week.

A pair of weekday losses, one at home Tuesday to the Edmonton Oil Kings and Wednesday on the road in Medicine Hat, means they are still scrambling for a spot in the WHL Playoffs.

“We just have to do what we’ve been doing. Obviously, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted (Wednesday) but we’re still in a fight to get into playoffs. It’s still possible,” said Rebels veteran forward Brandon Hagel.

“Just gotta move past that and look ahead. It doesn’t matter who we (might) play in playoffs or where we are going to stand. We know where we are at right now. Just gotta get back to the way we know how to play defensively and offensively and I think we’ll be fine.”

It’s been essentially playoff hockey the last month, for a Rebels team that seemed to have a playoff spot all but locked down around Christmas time when they sat first in the Central Division.

That’s no longer the case with just two games left on the docket.

There is one final playoff spot up for grabs in the WHL Eastern Conference and the fight remains between the Wheat Kings and Rebels to claim it.

Red Deer currently occupies the final wildcard position and even pushing Friday’s final home game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes to overtime would get the Rebels into the big dance. A loss from Brandon Friday, who take on divisional foe the Regina Pats also secures a spot for the Rebels.

Lethbridge will be a tough out for the Rebels Friday. They have one of the more dangerous attacks in the WHL, with five of the top 20 scores in the league (Nick Henry, Dylan Cozens, Jordy Bellerive, Jake Elmer and Jake Leschyshyn). Four of those players have 30-plus goals and Henry is second league-wide in assists with 64.

Hagel is the only the Rebels player to post such numbers this season. He’s been on a torrid pace, even with the team struggling of late. On Wednesday, Hagel became the first Rebels’ player since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2010-11 to eclipse the 100-point plateau in a single season.

For Hagel, clinching a playoff spot in his final regular-season contest at the Centrium would be ideal.

“Definitely a huge battle. My last home game at the Centrium, so, nothing better than that. I’m excited and think all the guys are as well,” said Hagel.

The Rebels welcome the Hurricanes to the Centrium Friday for their final regular season home game with puck drop set for 7 p.m. Red Deer finishes the regular season off on Sunday in Cranbrook against the Kootenay Ice.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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