Wednesday night was a history-making affair for the Red Deer Rebels who are now 8-0 to start the Western Hockey League season for the first time in franchise history.
The Rebels beat the Calgary Hitmen 5-2 in a Central Division matchup to overtake a record set by the Rebels in the 2000-01 season when Red Deer started 7-0.
However, the best start in franchise history is 30 years in the making when the Rebels joined the WHL in 1992.
“Our guys were ready they knew what was at stake,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after the game. “Really proud of the team. Thirty years and those guys there were able to break the record. It didn’t start out that way. It started one game at a time and then all of a sudden it’s tied but they had to finish it out today. They played well they competed and played hard.”
“There’s been a lot of good teams throughout the years here. It’s a really good organization and to be able to have a start like that these guys did it.”
He added it’s a continuation of the great group of guys they had on the team last year. Konowalchuk gave his team credit and said they players work hard every day and want to be winners.
“They surely deserve to enjoy this one tonight.”
Rebels forward Ben King had a quick start when he scored their first goal of the game, a high tip off a blueline shot from defenceman Mats Lindgren just three minutes in.
Just over five minutes later Hitmen forward Sean Tschigerl answered and fired a shot past goaltender Kyle Kelsey on the powerplay.
At the 12-minute mark, King scored his second of the game and fourth of the year on the powerplay. A shot from Christoffer Sedoff left the net wide open on the rebound for King to fire it in.
Konowalchuk said King’s impact since returning to the team is no surprise because he works hard.
“Everybody sees his talent level but he works hard. He’s a leader on and off the ice for us. He came back from day one he’s one of the top three-four hardest-working guys in practice. Coming back from the pros that doesn’t always happen. That shows his focus, his leadership, his care about the organization.”
A few minutes after that forward Kai Uchacz made it 3-1 for the home team with his team-leading seventh tally of the season on a two-man rush.
With just over a minute left in the middle frame, Kalan Lind got one past the Hitmen goalie as the netminder sprawled out to knock it off the goalline. It wasn’t initially called a goal but after the officiating crew got together they agreed the puck crossed the line.
At the beginning of the third period, the Hitmen got a lucky bounce to decrease the deficit to just two goals. As the Hitmen iced the puck, Kelsey left his net and the puck took a strange bounce off the boards and went into the net. Kelsey sprawled out on his way back to the net but was unable to make the save.
Kelsey continued his hot start to the Western Hockey League season with 25 saves including an impressive glove grab on the penalty kill late in the final frame to keep the Rebels up by two.
“Nice outing. He makes big saves no doubt about it. Even when it was 4-2 powerplay you know they make a good play to the back door [and] he’s right there… You can see he’s got some confidence again he’s earned it. You play well and you play good you should have that confidence and he’s stepped right in and played good hockey for us,” Konowalchuk added.
As the game came to a close captain Jayden Grubbe fired one from centre ice into the empty net to secure the 5-2 win.
King explained setting the franchise record is unbelievable to be a part of.
“It’s pretty cool and pretty special to be on a team that beats the record. I think we got a special group in there that just comes in every night and day ready to work and stick to the game plan. I think we did that again tonight so it paid off,” King added.