Rebels 6 Royals 1
The last time the Red Deer Optimist Rebels took the ice in combat at the Arena they looked anything like a team ready to make a serious run at the Alberta Midget Hockey League championship.
The Rebels struggled big time in dropping a 7-4 decision to the St. Albert Raiders in their final regular season contest.
But that was back on Feb. 13 and the Rebels were playing shorthanded because of injuries and sickness. Plus they were anxious just to get the season over.
Friday they returned to action and the break proved to be just what they needed as they dumped the Calgary Royals 6-1 in the opening game of the best-of-five South Division semifinal at the Arena Friday.
“The break helped us considerably,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn.
“We were banged up and after the regular season we had a couple of practices were we were short four guys. It also gave us an opportunity to refocus, regroup and work on some of our systems. I was definitely happy with everyone tonight.”
The Rebels led 3-1 and 6-1 by periods as Jaret Smith, Brady Bakke and Joel Topping scored in the first period while Cole DeGraaf connected once and Connor Hartley twice in the middle stanza. Trent Geiger scored for the Royals on a first-period power play, which at the time tied the game at 1-1.
Tanner Jaillet was solid in goal for the Rebels making 19 saves while the Royals used two netminders. Wester Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels prospect Bolton Pouliot started and allowed four goals on 15 shots before being replaced by Luke Lee-Knight at 11:05 of the second period. Lee-Knight made 15 saves, allowing two goals.
Smith opened the scoring for the Rebels before the five minute mark of the first period, which was an obvious boost.
“Scoring that first goal did help, although we did give up one shortly afterwards,” said Quinn.
“But we settled in nicely and I was happy with our forecheck and the defence moved the puck well. Overall it was a real good effort.”
Despite the lopsided loss, the Royals are no pushovers.
“They have a big, strong defence and they’re kind of mean, but we have some guys who can match up,” Quinn said. “They also have a lot of speed up front and if you give them room they’re dangerous offensively.”
Quinn also isn’t looking to far down the road.
“This is just the first step,” he said. “Are we happy we won? Yes, but we have to focus on that second game (Sunday in Calgary) as it’s long journey. We can’t get too high as one win means nothing. It takes three wins to win the series and they’re a tough, tough team. They were one of the best in the league over the second half of the season. Plus they’ll be tougher in their rink.”
The second game goes Sunday at 2:45 p.m. at Stu Peppard Arena in Calgary with the third game Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. at the Arena. If a fourth game is necessary it’s Wednesday in Calgary with a fifth, if needed, next Friday at the Arena.
The winner of the series faces the winner of the Calgary Flames and UFA Bisons series, which has the Bisons up 1-0.