Red Deer Rebels Mason McCarty couldn’t help but crack a smile about his good fortune.
Finally, after 223 regular season WHL games, the 21-year-old will play in his first post-season game later this month.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger from Blackie, Alta. was originally drafted by the Rebels all the way back in 2012, but spent the majority of his four-year WHL career with the Saskatoon Blades.
McCarty was reacquired by the Rebels in his overage season at the WHL Bantam Draft in the summer with one goal in mind: make the playoffs.
When the horn sounded Saturday after a 5-2 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers, the tumultuous trip through his WHL career had finally arrived in the promised land.
The Rebels had clinched a playoff spot, something even the players doubted in January.
“I know the Rebels are expecting to win and make playoffs and be a competitive team every year. I was looking forward to that. At times it didn’t look too good,” said McCarty, who is enjoying a career year with 37 goals and 71 points in 67 games.
“The boys started to play well and we rallied together and became mentally tough as a team. I’m really happy we made it.”
With one plateau reached, the veteran forward, who also is the Rebels’ goals and points leader, won’t be simply satisfied to wet his appetite in the playoffs.
He’s focused on a sustained run, one that gets back on track with an intriguing matchup with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Red Deer notched their first regular-season win in nearly three years at Lethbridge last Friday and will face them Wednesday in what will likely be a first-round playoff preview.
“Just have to play hard, doesn’t matter who you’re playing. They’ll probably be our first round opponent but you have to play every game like it’s the same,” McCarty said.
“Just have to go out and go in with the same intensity and hard work ethic. Ready to battle and play smart and hard.”
If the two rivals do square off in the first round, it will be a rematch of the 2017 WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final that saw the Hurricanes pull out a gut-wrenching Game 7 victory over the Rebels. Red Deer led the series three games to one but couldn’t close it out.
In their final three games and into the playoffs this year, Red Deer will lean heavily on the trio of McCarty, Brandon Hagel and Kristian Reichel.
The Rebels top forward line in the last seven games have combined for 14 of the team’s 24 goals and have 29 points over that stretch. In the last three games alone, they have 17 points.
“We each bring something different, but similar at the same time. We each contribute in our own way. We have a lot of good chemistry and we’re good buddies off the ice, too,” McCarty said.
The last meeting was the only time the Rebels beat the Hurricanes this season and Wednesday’s final regular season contest between the two clubs will be a good measuring stick for Red Deer.
Puck drop is 7 p.m. at the Centrium.