Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Midget Rebels Are Provincial Champs (Again)

I'm always a bit hesitant to use the word "dynasty" but the Red Deer Optimist Rebels have earned it.

They beat the St. Albert Raiders 5-3 last night at the Red Deer Arena to sweep the Alberta Midget Hockey League final series three games to none.

For the Baby Rebels, it's their third straight AMHL and Midget AAA provincial title and their sixth in the past ten years.

Dynasty? Yup, that definitely counts.

Last night's game had a much different feel for Red Deer compared to all of their other playoff games. It had become almost routine to see the Optimist Rebels outshoot their opponents by at least 20 or 30 shots on their way to victory (there were a few 2-0, 2-1 and 3-2 games that were nowhere near that close in terms of game play).

Red Deer opened the scoring just 2:47 into the game courtesy of Rory Davidson. But Liam McNamara replied with a shorthanded goal for St. Albert and it was 1-1 through twenty minutes.

Tyler Lomsnes gave Red Deer a 2-1 lead 3:14 into the second period and BJ Duffin scored just 18 seconds later to make it 3-1. The Optimist Rebels were seemingly in cruise control at that point.

But St. Albert called a timeout after Duffin's goal and it definitely had an impact. The Raiders refused to roll over and eventually cut into the Rebels lead late in the middle frame. It was 3-2 heading into the third period.

The gathered crowd over over 1,000 was silenced when McNamara scored his second of the game for the Raiders, tying it 3-3 just over six minutes into the third. St. Albert was full of confidence and Red Deer was on its heels somewhat.

In the end, special teams would prove to be the difference. The Raiders took back to back minors with just over three minutes remaining, giving the Optimist Rebels a 5-on-3 powerplay. The would take full advantage.

Stefan Danielson scored the eventual series winner with a blast from the point with 3:08 remaining. Joel Topping would add an insurance marker forty seconds later. Red Deer wins 5-3.

Red Deer Head Coach Doug Quinn was pleased with how his team battled back to earn the win.

"We were back on our heels in the second half of the first period. I thought we actually played pretty well in the second period, we kind of regrouped. We got into penalty problems and once they got that second goal then we were playing like we were trying not to lose, which is a dangerous combination."

Quinn says winning a third straight provincial crown is a testament to the overall strength of their program.

"The group of coaches that we have here and the type of players that are coming through the program, there's an expectation that if you're gonna play here you gotta give us everything. And we certainly feel that that combination will always give us an opportunity to compete for provincial championships."

But now a much tougher challenge lays ahead for the Rebels, a third straight meeting with the Vancouver Northwest Giants in the Pacific Region Midget AAA Final. The best-of-three series will be played at the Red Deer Arena, April 6-8. There is no doubt in Quinn's mind that home ice advantage will play a huge role in the series.

"Two years ago when we played [Vancouver] it was a huge advantage playing at home." (Red Deer won the series). Vancouver came out on top when they hosted the series last year.

If/when the Baby Rebels get past Vancouver they will go after the Telus Cup national title that has always been just beyond their reach (Red Deer finished as the runner-up when they hosted in 07, as well as back in 94 and 95). This year's Telus Cup tournament will take place in Leduc, April 23 - 29.

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