In sports, there are very few words that are sweeter than Game 7.
In the biggest game of the year, the Red Deer Rebels and Saskatoon Blades went head-to-head for the final time.
And on Tuesday night in Saskatoon in front of 9,489 fans at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades beat the visiting Rebels 5-2.
The Saskatoon Blades became the third team in Western Hockey League history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. They’re the first since 2013 when the Kelowna Rockets accomplished that feat and before that in 1996 by the Spokane Chiefs.
Saskatoon will now advance to the WHL Eastern Conference Finals to go up against the Winnipeg Ice beginning this weekend.
On the other end of the ice, the Rebels are left in disbelief.
A week ago they led the series 3-0 and are now left to ponder what could have been and what went wrong.
Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk said it was a tough loss. Everyone gave their best effort but they just came up short.
“We didn’t win the last four games that’s what went wrong,” he said.
“We had chances every game but we didn’t score on our chances and they scored on theirs. That’s hockey but the bottom line is I’m proud of every guy who played hard here tonight.
“We certainly could have had a better fate that’s the frustrating part. You’re playing a team that doesn’t need a lot of chances. They play well in their own end clogging up things you don’t get a lot of clean looks. That was the difference in the game here tonight.”
The game began with plenty of scoring chances but with 7:50 to go in the first period Rebels defenceman Hunter Mayo blasted one past Blades goaltender Austin Elliott.
Mayo’s second of the playoffs came moments after Frantisek Formanek rang a shot off the crossbar. In his return to the lineup, Kalan Lind assisted on the play along with captain Jayden Grubbe to make it 1-0.
The Blades responded over two minutes later when Connor Roulette walked into the slot and fired a shot past netminder Kyle Kelsey on the backhand.
The Blades took their first lead of the game just 5:51 into the frame off the stick of Spencer Shugrue to make it 2-1.
However, it didn’t take long for Red Deer to get the equalizer. Forward Ryker Singer, who entered the lineup for Jhett Larson serving a one-game suspension, notched his first of the postseason.
While he propelled himself into the offensive zone at the 7:35 mark the puck bounced off the end boards and came out on the left side of the net. Singer fired it past the goalie from a sharp angle.
Four and a half minutes into the final frame Shugrue put the Blades on top scoring his second of the game and just 40 seconds later Roulette put Saskatoon up 4-2. After Lind shattered his stick in the offensive zone, the Blades were sprung on the offensive rush and Roulette made no mistake.
The Rebels didn’t go away quietly and beat the goaltender multiple times but couldn’t beat the post. In the final minutes, the Blades fired in the empty netter to complete the historic comeback.
In Game 7 there was no shortage of nerves but Konowalchuk said he thought his team handled the pressure well.
“We made a lot of mistakes around their net but they made a lot of mistakes. They weren’t a perfect team over there and we forced mistakes,” he said.
“I thought our guys prepared in their approach to the game and they came out like they deserved to win the game. They just didn’t win.”
Despite the loss, Konowalchuk is focused on improving the team and still plans to bring a championship to Red Deer.
“The goal of this organization is to win a championship and we have a real good team but I guess not a great team. You need to be a great team to win a championship and that’s where we’ve got to get to.”