Rebels 5 Wheat Kings 0 (Rebels lead best of seven series 1-0)
It was about as perfect a start as you could ask for from the Red Deer Rebels.
The Rebels continued exactly where they left off in the WHL regular season on Friday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium, cruising past the Brandon Wheat Kings with a 5-0 win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
“It was a tough game, I thought both teams played physical. It was a tough game but I’m happy with our guys. I thought they prepared themselves. It was a hard-fought game,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
Chase Coward was perfect with 18 saves, picking up his first career WHL playoff win along with his first shutout. Rebels captain Jayden Grubbe led the way for the Rebels with a goal and an assist.
“I think we just came out and we were prepared to play the right way, get it behind their D and get on them and be physical. That was the message right from the start and we did that all night,” Grubbe said.
The Rebels set a physical tone early and kept up the pressure throughout the evening, particularly on the Wheat Kings’ top defence pair of Chad Nychuk and Vincent Lorio.
“Especially on their top two D, that play half the game sometimes. Those guys and their top skill guys– all around that’s kind of how we’ve been playing all year, so it’s important that we came out and played like that in the first game,” Grubbe said.
Wheat Kings head coach Don MacGillivary said his young team learned a hard lesson in the nature of playoff hockey Friday night.
“I think we can be better as a group, top to bottom,” MacGillivray said. “There were parts of the game I liked but there were a lot of parts of the game we weren’t good enough. We let Red Deer carry the play to us. We have to carry the play to Red Deer and want it more than they want it and tonight I didn’t think that was the case.”
Rebels forward Jace Isley got the crowd on its feet early, after a great individual effort from Grubbe shorthanded 9:34 into the game. The Rebels captain won a loose puck battle below the Wheat Kings goal line and Isley chipped a pass in as he was driving hard to the net.
“It’s big. You’re shorthanded and there’s a lot of nerves and to be able to get one there and settle in was important. We try to stay focused every shift,” Konowalchuk said.
Just 71 seconds into the second, defenceman Blake Gustafson made in 2-0 for the home side. Ben King found the streaking blueliner off the rush with a nifty behind the back pass and Gustafson one-timed it past an unsuspecting Ethan Kruger.
With the Rebels up 2-0, the biggest play of the night may not have even registered on the scoresheet.
A mini two-on-one rush for the Wheat Kings with the Rebels holding all the momentum helped turn the tide for good. Ridly Greig hit Nate Danielson with a great pass and Danielson let it rip all in one motion, only to find the paddle of a sprawling Chase Coward.
“Big save there, we had a couple of mistakes in the second. That was a huge save. We had a couple of mistakes in the second, where he made huge saves. Good job by Coward. Mistakes are going to happen and he helped make a mistake less of a mistake with a couple of big saves,” Konowalchuk said.
Less than two minutes later, Grubbe made 3-0 with another strong effort on a wraparound where he beat Kruger to the far post.
“He was solid, strong, physical, big goal for us. Good on the penalty kill. Solid game for him,” Konowalchuk said of his captain.
Sylvan Lake’s Talon Brigley banked in his first career WHL playoff goal 57 seconds later.
Arshdeep Bains added his first goal of the series on the power play just past the halfway point of the third.
Red Deer killed off all seven Brandon power plays, scored a shorthanded goal and also added a power-play tally late. Konowalchuk said that special teams were huge for his group.
“We want to clean up in that area, control our emotions a little bit better… our penalty kill gave us a little bit of a spark there,” he said.
The Rebels and Wheat Kings will play Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Saturday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium.