The Red Deer Rebels entered almost unthinkable territory this week.
After being all but out of the playoff hunt nearly two months ago, the Rebels not only clinched a playoff spot, but they are suddenly three points back of second place in the Central Division.
They’re looking to hunt down the division rival Lethbridge Hurricanes, who Red Deer has beaten twice in the past three games.
Lethbridge has lost its past seven but needs just a point in the final two games to clinch second in the division.
That losing streak included a massive Rebels 5-2 victory Wednesday night, against a Hurricanes squad that Red Deer will play in the first round of the WHL Playoffs regardless of how the final two games end up.
One man who made a difference in the win was Red Deer product Josh Tarzwell.
The 18-year-old scored once and added a nice assist late in the game to linemate Reese Johnson. Tarzwell, a former Hurricane who was acquired by the Rebels Dec. 8, was the third star against his former club.
“I couldn’t have planned a better night. Was a lot of fun beating them for sure,” Tarzwell said.
“It gives a lot of confidence going into the first round, we’re all really excited to be playing them.”
In five games against Lethbridge since the trade, it was the first time Tarzwell found the back of the net.
The gritty winger hasn’t scored a lot since he joined his hometown team with seven goals in the 39 contests.
While the goals have been few and far between, Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said it’s the plays that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet that have helped so far.
“He’s been using his shot more and getting to the hard areas in front of the net. Offensively, entering the zone he’s done a pretty good job. Hasn’t had a lot of turnovers at the line,” Truitt said.
“He’s getting pucks in deep and using his strength in the corners to win battles. Then getting himself in good positions at the net.”
Those intangibles, like the way he battles in the corners and wins 50-50 pucks along the half-wall could be critical to giving Red Deer an edge in the opening round of the playoffs.
“He’s got a bigger body, a power guy that can hit and move. He’s got the speed that you need, now it’s just a matter of putting it all together. He’s the prototypical forward that you always want in the playoffs,” Truitt added.
And considering Tarzwell was teammates with many of the Hurricanes earlier this season, he intends to embrace the challenge against his former group when the post-season starts next week.
“I’m really liking it here. I didn’t play a whole bunch last year against (Red Deer) but I’m looking forward to getting back at it,” Tarzwell said.
“I know most of them, but they’ve got a pretty new team from when I was there. Their core guys, I know some of their tricks, but they know some of mine.”
The Rebels will close out the regular season on the weekend with a pair of games against the Kootenay Ice. The Ice will be in Red Deer March 16 before the Rebels close out the regular season in Cranbrook March 17.