Oil Kings 3 Rebels 2
No matter how you slice it, this was a historic WHL regular season for the Red Deer Rebels.
Of course, it didn’t end on the best of notes, with a 3-2 loss to the rival Edmonton Oil Kings on home ice Saturday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium, in front of 4,446 fans, the biggest crowd of the season.
Still, this season will be remembered for its milestones. It marked the first time two Rebels eclipsed the 100-point plateau since Justin Mapletoft and Kyle Wanvig did it in 2000-2001. No two Rebels have ever finished 1-2 in the WHL scoring race before this season.
Arshdeep Bains recorded 112 points to lead the WHL and his linemate and good friend, Ben King finished second with 105 points.
“Remarkable regular season for those two guys,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
“I don’t know if you can give one MVP over the other… flip a coin. They compliment each other so well. The way they move the puck and it’s been a good line for us. Also on the power play, they do some good things. They’re leaders on the team and they accepted the challenge to be the top guys and they certainly lived up to it to this point.”
It’s been two decades since a Red Deer Rebel led the league in scoring– the last Rebel to do that was Mapletoft, he posted 120 in 72 games.
“It’s pretty special. It’s kind of a team award I’d say,” explained Bains, who had a highlight-reel goal and an assist to cap off the historic season Saturday night.
“Becuase of all the players that helped me out on the ice. All my teammates, they’re a big reason why why I’m getting the opportunity to win that award and even Ben was right there and I know he could have won it easily too. There’s a lot of aspects, it’s not just my work, but I’m proud I got an opportunity to win.”
King scored 52 goals in 68 games– the last Rebel to score more than 50… Wanvig when he had 55 in 2000-01. The 19-year-old Vernon, B.C. native also led the WHL in power play goals (24) and game-winning goals (15).
Red Deer’s 0.691 winning percentage was the highest for the club since 2010-11 and fourth-best in team history. The 45 victories marked the most for the club since then went to the third round of the WHL playoffs in 2015-16.
“I’m very happy for the players,” said Konowalchuk.
“It was a good regular season. It was an easy team to coach because they came to work every day and they wanted to get better. Really good character and culture here in the locker room and through the players. For the coaching staff, you guide them along and try to create good habits and teach them things. Definitely happy with the regular season.
“Obviously I say that and the main event starts here. We’re not satisfied. Everybody wants to win. It was a fun regular season and winning is fun and guys want to try and build on that.”
Saturday’s loss showed as much of that character and culture as any victory this season.
Red Deer fell behind 3-0 through 40 minutes and the game looked lost.
Cue 21-year-old Liam Keeler, who just 75 seconds into the third woke his club up after a scramble behind the Edmonton net, tucking in a quick shot behind Oil Kings netminder goalie Kolby Hay.
Just past the midway point of the second, Bains added to his case for the Western Hockey League’s most valuable player. He deked an Oil Kings defender at the Edmonton blue line and then fought off a second check before lifting a wrister high glove on Hay to get Red Deer within a goal.
The Rebels scrambled to find the equalizer and Bains had a chance with Hay down late in the game to tie it, but the shot hit a defender and ricocheted wide.
Even with the Rebels and Oil Kings having locked up playoff positions, there was no love lost between the rivals Saturday. Edmonton had nine minor penalties and the Rebels had eight, with each team only scoring once on the man advantage.
“I thought the guys battled hard in the third period,” said Konowalchuk.
“Gave ourselves a chance. A different game with all the penalties for both teams. Not a lot of flow. Maybe not the way you want to play the last game of the season. Would have been nice to roll some lines and get everybody involved. There was a lot of emotion on both benches. Especially for the last game of the season.”
Rebels netminder Chase Coward allowed three goals on 16 shots and Connor Ungar made five saves in relief in the third period.
Red Deer will host the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first round of the WHL playoffs. Game 1 of the series goes Friday, April 22 at the Centrium.