The Red Deer Optimist Rebels aren’t worried where they sit heading into the Telus Cup championship playoffs as long as they’re in them.
They assured themselves of a berth in the final four when they downed the Leduc Oil Kings 3-2 Wedenesday evening.
Still the Rebels would have liked to have grabbed top spot, but that may have been eliminated when they battled the Quebec champion Phenix du College Esther-Blondin to a 2-2 tie Thursday at the Leduc Recreation Centre.
The Phenix ran their record to 3-0-1 and are one point up on the Rebels (2-0-2) heading into the final day of round-robin play today.
The Rebels meet the winless Sudbury Wolves (0-4-0) at 9:30 a.m. while the Phenix take on the fourth-place Oil Kings (2-2-0).
“We would have liked to finish first, but we’re staying positive,” said Rebels defenceman Joel Topping.
“We’re not overly concerned as we know we’re in the playoffs and we’re confident we can play with any team here, no matter which way it falls.”
Unlike the other three games the Rebels stormed out the gate against the Phenix controlling play most of the first two periods and leading 1-0 and 2-0 by periods.
Scott Feser gave Red Deer a 12-0 lead at 2:23 of the first period as he slammed home a Ty Mappin feed on the power play. Jonathan Finnigan scored his second goal of the tournament at 1:24 of the second period, sliding the puck under Quebec goaltender Kevin Darveau.
The Rebels offence sputtered the rest of the middle period, finishing with three shots, although they were forced to kill off five penalties, including a two-minute five-on-three.
The Rebels could have complained about some of the calls by Matt Cassidy of Red Deer, who seemed to be showing he wasn’t going to favour the Alberta champions. Instead they were giving credit to their penalty kill.
“Our penalty kill has been strong all year and the three guys on the five-on-three have done an outstanding job all season,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn. “When we put ourselves in that situation we need that.”
The Rebels finally gave up their second power play goal of the tournament, when Daniel Audette shovelled home a rebound just 18 seconds into the third period. Audette, son of former NHL player Donald Audette, tied at game at 5:42 on an outstanding play as he cut down the right side, darted to the middle and picked the corner on Red Deer netminder Matt Zentner.
“It’s disappointing to lose a 2-0 lead and we played well enough earlier to be up three or four goals,” said Quinn.
“I thought we came out and played with a lot of energy and were focused from the start. But the penalties in the second period seemed to drain us a bit and the start of the third we weren’t ready to play and they capitalized on a couple of mistakes.
“It didn’t take much as we backed off a bit and they’re such a skilled team that they were able to capitalize on their opportunities.”
Rebels Scott Feser agreed with Quinn.
“We didn’t stick to our game plan,” he said. “We backed off pressuring them, and let them get to us. But overall it wasn’t a bad game, we just made a few too many mental mistakes. If one player makes a mistake it affects the whole team.
“We knew coming in they were undefeated and highly skilled. We didn’t play 60 minutes, which you can’t do against these top teams. It will be interesting to see what we can do when we play a full 60 minutes.”
The Phenix controlled play for much of the first 10 minutes of the third period, but the Rebels once again turned the tide over the final 10 minutes.
“This is a learning lesson for us,” said Quinn. “We just can’t play this game with a fear of making mistakes or a fear of failure, we need to learn we can’t relax.”
Phenix head coach Paulin Bordeleau knew his team got away with one.
“For 30 minutes we were OK,” said the former NHL forward. “They surprised us, either we weren’t ready or didn’t expect them to come out the way they did. I think we responded a little better in the second half of the game.
“In the third period we put them back on their heels a bit, which is what they did to us in the first period. But overall I thought we were terrible in our zone when they put pressure on us. We took too many chances with the puck, not clearing it and trying to make too many fancy plays and risky plays. You can’t do that against a team like that.”
Bordeleau also knew the penalty kill was big for both teams.
“Special teams and goaltending are important at this time of the year,” he said. “ I thought both teams did a good job of that.”
Zentner, who made his second start of the Telus Cup after not playing for over a month, was rock solid, making a key save in the first period, stopping Alexandre Grenier on a breakaway.
Zenter finished with 23 saves while his mates had 26 on Darveau.
• Rebels Dylan Thudium had a first-period penalty shot, but didn’t get a shot away when the puck bounced off his stick . . . The Rebels are last in the power play in the championship at two-for-33 while they’re No. 1 in the penalty kill, allowing two goals on 32 opportunities . . . They also have the top goaltending with a .927 save percentage and a 1.75 goals-against-average . . . They’ve also scored two shorthanded goals . . . Zentner has allowed three goals in two starts . . . The semifinals go Saturday at 2 and 6 p.m. with the bronze medal game at 11 a.m. and the final at 3 p.m. Sunday.