The Red Deer Rebels and Brandon Wheat Kings engaged in a back-and-forth battle to open the series, potentially foreshadowing a lengthy Eastern Conference Finals.
It ended with John Quenneville’s second goal of the night 2:53 into overtime. With only Rebels goalie Rylan Toth to beat, his wrist shot fooled the netminder and put an end to Game 1.
“We have to find a way to win Game 2,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Overtime was almost unnecessary.
Wheat Kings forward Stelio Mattheos scored what looked to be the final dagger — a wrist shot with 44 seconds left in regulation. The goal gave the Wheat Kings the late lead, 3-2.
But the Rebels responded.
With the extra attacker on and time winding down, Haydn Fleury carried the puck out of the Rebels zone and got an shot off that was blocked in front. Fleury picked up the loose puck just inside the Wheat Kings blueline and fired a long wrist-shot on net. The seeing-eye shot fooled Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny and tied the game with 4.1 seconds on the clock.
Brandon now has a 1-0 edge with the Game 1 win in the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final.
“We played well enough to win,” said Brent Sutter. “We just got loose in the last seven minutes of the game and let some quality scoring chances happen in the middle of the ice on us and they’re going to capitalize.”
The Rebels withstood an early onslaught from the Wheat Kings, who had five shots in the opening few minutes. The Wheat Kings forecheck kept the Rebels hemmed in their own zone to start the first period. But the Rebels kicked up the tempo in the second and third periods, outshooting the Wheat Kings 27-19 from the second period on.
Sutter said turnovers were a problem and that to win Game 2 they will have to be more careful with the puck.
Hagel had two assists while Evan Polei, Adam Helewka and Fleury were the Rebels goal scorers.
Quenneville led the Wheat Kings with two goals while Duke Reid and Tim McGauley both had three assists.
Toth kicked aside 27 shots while Papirny was up to the task of stopping the Rebels’ barrage of pucks. Papirny made 34 saves in the win.
The two teams are back at it tonight in the best-of-7 series in Brandon for Game 2, puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.
Notes: Akash Bains made his first start of the post-season in place of Taden Rattie. The 17-year-old played in three regular season games for the Rebels … The Rebels have now lost four straight road games this post-season … 5,006 fans packed into the Keystone Centre for Game 1.