CALGARY — The Red Deer Rebels know a thing or two about winning in Calgary. What they don’t know much about is the Stampede Corral.
Because of the 2016 Juno Awards this weekend at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the fourth game of the Rebels-Calgary Hitmen best-of-seven Western Hockey League opening playoff series — and the sixth if needed — will be played at the 65-year-old Corral, which is hosting a playoff game for the first time since April 4, 1998.
The Rebels, who hold a 2-1 edge in the series, and Hitmen both practised at the Corral Thursday.
“A different venue, but it’s still 85 by 200 (feet),” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “The benches and boards are different., but it’s the same for both teams. I don’t think it matters where you play.
“We play well here, although it will be a different atmosphere. with 6,500 fans right on top of you. It will be different than the ‘Dome, but it will be different for them as well. I know one thing it should be exciting.”
The Corral is loaded with history with the WHL playoffs the final hockey to be played before it’s torn down.
“You have to go in with the mindset to play as well as you can, don’t get caught up in the venue,” said Sutter, who will have the same lineup as Sunday when the Rebels got the winning goal by Evan Polei late in the third period for a 4-3 victory. It was also the third game in as many days. The Rebels opened at home, winning 3-1 Friday and losing 5-2 Saturday.
”It was a busy time, things happened quickly,” said Sutter. “This weekend will be busy again, but we’re ready.”
The four-day break in the schedule was much needed, although now the teams could play three games in four days. The fifth game is Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Centrium with the six, if necessary, Monday at the Corral. If a seventh game is needed it’s Wednesday at the Centrium.
The Rebels are still without three key ingredients in goaltender Rylan Toth and forwards Ivan Nikolishin and Conner Bleackley.
Toth is skating on his own, but his return is still up in the air while Nikolishin, lower body, is out two to four weeks. Bleackley, who had his tendons in this wrist cut, is out indefinitely.
But the Rebels have the depth needed to overcome the injuries with goaltender Trevor Martin playing as well as he has all season. He takes a 2.69 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage into tonight’s contest.
Sutter indicated you can’t look at what may have been when it comes to injuries, but look for the best out of what he has.
“We need to continue to work hard and continue to do the things we’re better at,” he said.
Sutter also liked the way his squad handled themselves Sunday.
“We took six minutes in penalties the first two-and-a-half minutes and got down 2-0. But the guys stayed at it and did a good job coming back.”
Polei (3g,1a) and Jake DeBrusk (2g,2a) lead the team with four points each while Adam Helewka has three goals.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at email@example.com. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.