That's the lesson Head Coach Doug Quinn says his team learned on Thursday. Play with no fear.
The Red Deer Optimist Rebels took on Phenix College du Esther-Blondin in a battle of unbeaten teams, and a possible gold medal game preview, and came away with a 2-2 tie.
Red Deer held a 2-0 lead going into the final period until Esther-Blondin scored twice in the span of 4:24 to even the match. And while the point lost in the standings wasn't critical for the baby rebels, the lesson learned in the process certainly was.
"You just can't quit. And you just can't play this game with a fear of making miskates or a fear of failure. You just always gotta be assertive."
For the better part of fifty minutes the Optimist Rebels certainly were aggressive. And in the ten minutes in which they weren't the Quebec side took full advantage.
"We didn't stick to our game," said forward Scott Feser, who opened the scoring for Red Deer 2:23 into the first period. "We weren't pressuring them, they were pressuring us and we let it get to us."
Jonathan Finnigan scored for Red Deer in the second period. Matt Zentner earned the win between the pipes.
Daniel Audette, son of former NHLer and Esther-Blondin team manager Donald Audette, scored both goals for his side.
Listening to the post-game thoughts of Esther-Blondin Head Coach Paulin Bordeleau... one got the impression that the Quebec squad took Red Deer a bit too lightly heading into the game.
"They surprised us a little bit. Either we weren't ready or didn't expect them to come out the way they did."
I suppose one couldn't blame them for thinking that way (to start the game at least). Bordeleau's crew had breezed through their first three games, outscoring their opponents 21-9. Red Deer's stifling defensive play ensure yesterday's game would be much closer.
"In the third period we started moving a little bit more and put them on their heels a little bit like they did to us in the first period. We were able to come back and it showed a lot of character."
Special teams continues to be a case of strikes and gutters for the Optimist Rebels.
Their penalty killing has been superb all week long. In fact, it is tops at the tournament at a sparkling 93.75 percent (32 for 34). The baby rebs certainly had plenty more practice at it yesterday thanks to referee (and, ironically, Red Deer's own) Matt Cassidy. Danny Rode, the esteemed Hall of Fame scribe for the Red Deer Advocate, figured Cassidy was going out of his way to show he wouldn't play the role of "homer." But whatever the case, he handcuffed the Rebs on numerous occasions (yet somehow he found a way to evenly distribute minor penalties to the tune of 10 for Red Deer and 9 for Esther-Blondin). This included handing the Quebec squad a 5-on-3 powerplay for a full two minutes. To their credit, the Optimist Rebels did a superb job of killing off that powerplay along with numerous others.
"The three guys on the five on three have done an outstanding job all season," praised Quinn. Once again, he refused to publicly speak ill of the officiating (though he did 'share his thoughts' with Cassidy on a fairly regular basis).
Conversely, the Optimist Rebels powerplay still leaves much to be desired... ranking last in the tournament at a meager six percent (2 for 33). Find a way to score just once on the man advantage... and we are talking about a Red Deer victory instead of a tie.
Bottom line... the Rebels are full of confidence now knowing they can compete with the very best this tournament has to offer.
"We still haven't played a full sixty minute game and we're competing with the top teams in the country," according to Feser. "It's gonna be interesting to see what we can do when we finally do."
By the time most of you read this Red Deer will have already played their final round robin game versus the winless Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves [9:30am game time]. The Wolves will be heading home today, so too will the Moncton Flyers. Red Deer, Esther-Blondin, Saskatoon and Leduc have earned spots in tomorrow's semifinal round. A win by the Optimist Rebels over Sudbury combined with a Leduc win over Quebec will give Red Deer first place in the final round robin standings.