The Red Deer Rebels know what they have to do.
“It’s pretty defined now, isn’t it,” said GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“Our backs are against the wall. We put ourselves in this spot to some degree, having leads in Brandon and not bearing down in the last seven to eight minutes of the games and blowing leads.”
Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final to the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Rebels will have to win on the road tonight to stay alive.
They haven’t won on the road since April 1, in their opening round series against the Calgary Hitmen. Up until Wednesday night, the Rebels hadn’t lost on home ice since March 26, also against the Hitmen. But the loss on Wednesday at the Centrium, 4-2 to the Wheat Kings, stung the Rebels squad who had used home ice to lift them through a tough seven game series against the Regina Pats.
Now, the prospect of a long rest leading up to the 2016 Memorial Cup in Red Deer is sinking in. As hosts, the Rebels will play in the tournament, but Sutter was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of being eliminated.
“We have to win or we sit around for two-and-a-half weeks doing two-a-days (practices) at 6:30 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon until the Memorial Cup,” said Sutter. “The other teams are going to be in shape and you’re not going to be in shape by practicing from 3 to 4:30 every day, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot extra.”
The Rebels have comeback from a 3-1 series deficit once in the team’s history. The 2001-02 Rebels were down to the Brandon Wheat Kings 3-1 in the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final when they rattled off three straight wins, including a double OT win.
With demons to exorcise on the road, the Rebels can take solace in the fact they competed with the Wheat Kings in both road games, even having leads late. But they haven’t been able to close out games on the road this series.
“We responded well in Game 3, but we didn’t respond in Game 4,” said Sutter. “Now we have to go there and we have to regroup. There’s only one way to play in this situation and that’s all-out. You have to treat it like it’s Game 7, it’s a do-or-die situation for us.”
Game 5 is scheduled for tonight FRIDAY in Brandon. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.
Notes: Rebels Goalie Rylan Toth has averaged 31.5 saves per game against the Wheat Kings, punctuated by a 39-save performance on Wednesday … Adam Helewka leads the Rebels with nine goals and nine assists, Jake DeBrusk is second with seven goals and nine assists. Luke Philp (four goals, nine assists) and Michael Spacek (three goals, ten assists) are tied for third in team scoring with 13 points each … After struggling against the Pats, the Rebels penalty kill has clicked against the Wheat Kings. They have allowed only two goals on 13 power plays … Wheat Kings’ Centres John Quenneville (12 goals 10 assists), Tim McGauley (eight goals, 13 assists, Reid Duke (six goals, 14 assists) and Nolan Patrick (seven goals 12 assists) are second through fifth in WHL playoff scoring.