The Red Deer Rebels aren’t looking past the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who invade the Centrium tonight.
But you could excuse the Rebels for perhaps placing just a tad more importance on Saturday’s season-ending, home-ice meeting with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
While the Rebels are not playoff bound, they can possibly play the role of spoiler versus their northern neighbours in yet another chapter in what has become a somewhat bitter rivalry.
The clubs clashed twice last weekend, with the Oil Kings taking both games, including Saturday’s meeting at Rexall Place where Edmonton bench boss Derek Laxdal accused Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin of sending one or more of his troops on a mission to injure their opponents.
When you’re a frustrated team that’s been ripped apart by injuries and witnessed your goaltender being flattened with an Oil Kings goal soon to follow, tempers are going to boil over. But to claim Wallin, of all people, would purposely order a player to inflict injury on another, is ridiculous. As was the claim by an Edmonton Sun writer that the Rebels were ‘head-hunters’, considering Red Deer has been assessed the second fewest number of penalties in the Eastern Conference this season.
To cap off the shenanigans of last Saturday, whoever was running the Rexall scoreclock seemingly took great delight in posting that the Rebels had just been eliminated from the playoff race via a victory by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Whatever, the Rebels and Oil Kings are not on the friendliest of terms and there is no indication that the clubs will kiss and make up Saturday.
“We have some unfinished business with Lethbridge and Edmonton too,” said Rebels defenceman Alex Petrovic. “They beat us twice last weekend. It was a war in both games and I think Saturday will be a war for sure.” Wallin said the Red Deer-Edmonton conflict has been building for some time.
“It goes back to last season and the playoffs (a first-round series won 4-0 by the Rebels),” said Wallin. “It was an intense series. Even though it was a four-game sweep, it was definitely a battle. It’s been no different this year. We’ve played them hard all year long and were in every game. It’s been a battle all season long and I don’t expect Saturday’s game to be any different. This isn’t something that has just been pumped up because of last weekend. That game was the result of the rivalry that’s been in place. Saturday’s game is an important game for them and an important game for us for different reasons.”
Indeed, the injury-ravaged Rebels will pack their bags following Saturday’s contest while the Oil Kings will head into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and possibly the entire league (Edmonton is one point up on Tri-City for top spot overall with each team having two games remaining).
“It might not seem like there’s much to play for when you’re out of the playoffs but we have an opportunity to keep Edmonton from getting that top spot Saturday depending on what happens Friday,” said Wallin.
“Certainly we want to end the season the right way against a divisional rival and a good hockey team. We have a chance to be spoilers in that regard. But more than anything, we’ll be playing for the front of the jersey. Every time you step on the ice you’re representing yourself and it’s an opportunity to go out and show what you’re made of, to show that you’re not going to quit. We’re out of the playoffs but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to play for. There’s a lot to play for.”