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Rebels relishing shot at revenge in playoff rematch

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Last year the Rebels blew a 3-0 series lead and lost in Game 7 to the Saskatoon Blades. This year the Rebels are getting another shot at redemption in the second round. (Photo by Steve Hiscock/ Saskatoon Blades)

The Red Deer Rebels caught a major case of deja vu this week.

Just like last season the Rebels eliminated a central division rival in the first round of the WHL playoffs and will face the Saskatoon Blades in the Eastern Conference Semifinals once again.

Only this time around Red Deer doesn’t want to see a repeat of the series result.

Up 3-0 in the series in 2023, the Blades stormed back to win the series in Game 7 becoming the third team in WHL history to accomplish that feat.

Red Deer Rebels captain Kai Uchacz told the media on Wednesday the series loss to the Blades is one they’ve never forgotten.

“Coming into training camp this year that was in the back of our minds and something that we’ve talked about,” he said.

“It’s something for the guys who are returning that we want back and this is our second chance at a little bit of revenge for us…

“It’s great that we do get that second chance and I’m really looking forward to the series and the matchup. We’re excited for the group that we have in there and we’re excited for a crack at the second round again this year.”

Interim head coach Dave Struch explained it’ll be important that the returning players remember and use the lessons learned from that series.

“Getting off to such a good start in that series is important but making sure that we’re finishing. We went through the same experience in Game 1 against Medicine Hat being down 4-0 and slowly chipping away,” he said.

“We know that Saskatoon is going to use that to their advantage as well. We’re going to have to be ready for it. Our older guys taking ownership of that leadership role and even the young guys that have been a part of it in a smaller role have to take advantage of that.”

The Rebels were just one of only five teams who beat the Blades at least twice this season. The Regina Pats, Moose Jaw Warriors, and the Prince Albert Raiders beat them twice in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Brandon Wheat Kings were the only team in the WHL to beat them three times.

The Blades won the first two outings of the season but the Rebels answered back with a 5-4 win in Red Deer in January and a 5-0 win on the road in February.

Rebels netminder Chast Wutzke stood on his head in both victories making 31 and 36 saves. The Rebels also ended a 14-game point streak by the Blades and became the only team to shut them out this season.

“I’ve had a chance to watch both games and I felt that our team played really well in those games,” Struch added.

“I know that we can use some of that for our preparation. In the end, I think we’ll focus on our game and focus on playing the right way… The way that we’ve grown here over the last four weeks has been good for the group.

“I think we’re slowly coming into our own and we need to get off to a good start here on the weekend.”

The season series may have been even in terms of wins but the Rebels are coming in as heavy underdogs.

Saskatoon finished 30 points ahead of the Rebels in the standing with a 50-13-2-3 record in first place in the Eastern Conference.

Not only were they the top team in the Canadian Hockey League for most of the season, they were ranked the WHL’s top penalty killers (86.1 per cent) and had the sixth-best powerplay (26.1 per cent).

They also had tremendous goaltending led by rookie Evan Gardner who had a league-best 1.91 GAA and .927 save percentage in the regular season. He’s also went undefeated in the postseason in four wins over the Prince Albert Raiders in round one posting a 1.80 GAA and .923 save percentage.

On the other hand, the Rebels are coming off a fantastic series against the Medicine Hat Tigers eliminating them in five games.

They were led by elite goaltending from Chase Wutzke who had a 2.59 GAA and .922 save percentage.

The Rebels were also without forward Jeramiah Roberts and defenceman Elias Carmichael in the first round due to injuries. When asked if either were on track to return, Struch denied to comment.

“We’re underdogs for sure,” Struch said.

“I hope that we understand where we are in the standings. If you look at the overall standings, Saskatoon is first in a number of the categories and they’re there for a reason.”

When speaking to Saskatoon media on Wednesday, Saskatoon Blades head coach Brennan Sonne said when it comes to facing Red Deer, he wants to keep the past in the past.

“What can you do about the past? When you pose that question the answer is really simple, you can let it hinder you, you can consumed by it, you can learn from it and try to apply those lessons to the future,” he said.

“This is something we’ve talked about a lot over the years. I go back to The Lion King. The past can’t hurt, you either run from it or learn from it. As a team for the last three years, we prefer the latter. For us, the past is nine trillion kilometres away.”

Games 1 and 2 and set to go ahead this weekend in Saskatoon on Friday at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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