Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

One Game Left To Win For Optimist Rebels

It wasn't like Dasan Sydora needed to prove himself, again.  But he did, again.

The diminutive goaltender was superb in making 29 saves for the Red Deer Optimist Rebels in their 2-0 semifinals win over the Saskatoon Contacts at the 2012 Telus Cup in Leduc.  Sydora stands just 5'8 tall but seems to grow about a foot taller whenever he stands between the pipes for his club.

"They're awesome to play in," Sydora said following the win.  "Nothing can compare to the do-or-die games."

Semifinal Saturday @HC_TelusCup

They are down to the final four at the 2012 Telus Cup national midget championship in Leduc, Alberta.

It may be cliche to say that all four teams have a legit shot at winning it all... but it is absolutely the truth in the is case.

The Red Deer Optimist Rebels finished the preliminary round of the tournament with a 3-0-2 record after a sound 10-3 thrashing of this year's tournament basement-dwelling Sudbury Wolves.  13 players had at least one point for the baby rebels in this one.  Ty Mappin led with two goals and three assists.  But the big moment in this game perhaps belonged to defenceman Kolton Dixon who scored Red Deer's 10th goal of the game... his first of the season.  No doubt he had a smile on his face and received "plenty of support" from his teammates.  On a more serious note... if the Optimist Rebels take nothing else from this game hopefully they gained some confidence on their powerplay (they converted three times on the man advantage vs. Sudbury compared to just twice throughout the rest of the tournament).

Red Deer finished second in the preliminary standings with 8 points, one behind 4-0-1 Phenix College du Esther-Blondin.  Saskatoon (2-1-2) finished third with 6 points while the host Leduc Oil Kings (2-3-0) earned four points to claim the fourth and final playoff spot. So here's how Semifinal Saturday shapes up...

2pm - Red Deer vs. Saskatoon - These two western squads met in the opening game of the tournament, playing to a 2-2 tie.  You can check out my earlier blog post for a full game re-cap but it was a match that wasn't nearly as even as the final score indicates.  Contacts goalie Mack Shields kept his team in it making 38 saves.  Saskatoon should have plenty of confidence knowing they managed to hang in with the Optimist Rebels and pull out a single point.  Red Deer Rebels fans will again get to see four prospects do battle in this game... Scott Feser and Scott Ferguson for Red Deer and Vukie Mpofu and Rodney Southam for Saskatoon. 

6pm - Phenix College du Esther-Blondin vs. Leduc Oil Kings - This will be the second meeting between these two teams in just over 24 hours.  The Quebec squad edged the hosts 5-4 in the final preliminary game on Friday afternoon.  If, and it's a huge 'if', that game is any indication today's semifinal should be an dandy.

Meantime... a pair of Red Deer Optimist Rebels have won player awards at the Telus Cup.  Joel Topping is the Top Defenceman.  Dasan Sydora is the top goaltender.  Congrats to both!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fit To Be Tied - Telus Cup Top Teams Remain Unbeaten

No fear.

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Optimist Rebels Clinch Playoff Spot


In a game in which five-on-five play was as rare as a bad episode of Seinfeld, the Red Deer Optimist Rebels came up huge on special teams.

Ty Mappin scored shorthanded, Nick Glackin and Scott Feser each scored on the powerplay as the baby rebels edged the host Leduc Oil Kings 3-2 at the Telus Cup national midget championship on Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Optimist Rebels Fly Past Moncton (sort of)

It's no exaggeration to say that out of the 120 minutes of hockey the Red Deer Optimist Rebels have played at the Telus Cup in Leduc they have dominated at least 110 of them.

The only problem is the scoreboard hasn't reflected that domination.

The baby rebs out shot the Moncton Flyers 43-20 on Tuesday but settled for just a 2-1 victory to improve their round-robin record to 1-0-1.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Optimist Rebels Make Contact But Settle For Tie

For whatever reason, the Red Deer Optimist Rebels simply weren't themselves to start the game.

But in the end they showed enough of their regular selves to pull out a 2-2 tie versus the Saskatoon Contacts in the opening game at the 2012 Telus Cup in Leduc.

Red Deer Head Coach Doug Quinn said his team did do well to overcome their shaky start.

"I thought we were a little bit nervous in the first period.  We settled in in the second period and created some pressure and had a good third [period]."

Scott Feser, who scored the game-tying goal in the third period, wasn't exactly sure why his team started the game so poorly (the Optimist Rebels trailed 2-0 after the first period).

"It's obviously been a couple weeks since we played a game and it's a pretty big tournament.  So I don't know if a few guys were nervous.  It could be nerves but it's good to get that first one over and I think we should be able to push forward now."

Slow start aside, Monday's game was like many others we've seen throughout the baby Rebels postseason.  It was a game in which they badly outshot (40-18) and outplayed their opponents yet ended up in a tight game.  Playing against a fairly high scoring Contacts team, Quinn was pleased with his squad's defensive play.

"We knew that they had a lot of skill.  We certainly wanted to make sure that we played a pressure game and didn't give them opportunities and space to handle the puck.  I thought for the most part, once we adjusted to their quickness, we did that in the second and third periods."

Josh Uhrich opened the scoring for Saskatoon 6:27 into the game with a well-placed shot that seemingly fooled Red Deer goalie Dasan Sydora (he hardly flinched as the shot went off his shoulder and beat him top shelf).  Rourke Chartier made it 2-0 with a powerplay goal at 15:44.

The Optimist Rebels finally broke through late in the second period on their 26th shot of the game.  Brady Bakke fired on net, Contacts goalie Mack Shields made the save, but Nick Glackin was there to put home the rebound for a shorthanded goal at
15:50.  The goal set the stage for complete Red Deer dominance the rest of the way.

Shields was outstanding between the pipes for Saskatoon.  He did everything he could to try and steal the win for his club.  And it started to look like he would do just that until Feser tipped Cole Berreth's point shot out of mid-air and past Shields
6:16 into the final frame.  Neither team was able to find the go-ahead goal from there and settled for a single point in the standings.

The Optimist Rebels are back in action today at 4pm vs. Moncton.

In other Telus Cup action on Monday...
Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin beat the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves 6-2 and the host Leduc Oil Kings knocked off the Moncton Flyers 5-4.

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Sticking with our theme from my previous blog... here are my thoughts on how the four Red Deer Rebels prospects fared in yesterday's game (as they auditioned for Rebels assistant coaches Chris Neiszner and Bryce Thoma who were both in attendance)...

Scott Feser, Red Deer (F) - Game-tying goal aside, Feser did a fairly good job of creating scoring chances throughout the game.  He certainly seemed more comfortable versus Saskatoon than he did in either game of the pacific regional final versus Vancouver.  Scott, like the rest of the Optimist Rebels, should look even more comfortable starting today now that the opening game jitters are out of the way.

Scott Ferguson, Red Deer (F) - Personally, I thought Ferguson played the best game out of any forward on the ice.  Every time he was on the ice, Ferguson either had the puck on his stick or was getting it to his line mates for scoring chances.  Scott also used his size (6'0 182lbs) to create havoc in the corners for Saskatoon defenders.  The Optimist Rebels will definitely benefit if Ferguson can maintain a high level of play throughout the rest of the week.

Vukie Mpofu, Saskatoon (D) - While Joel Topping was clearly the best defenceman on the ice for either team, Mpofu definitely led the charge for the Contacts group of bluelines.  I have no official stats, but I'd be willing to bet that Vukie played in excess of 25 minutes in the game.  His small small stature works against him, but Mpofu stood in tough against Optimist Rebels forecheckers.  He also was effective at moving the puck ahead to his forwards.  Speaking with him after the game, Mpofu is happy with how his game has progressed throughout the season, "I think not only myself but a lot of our [Contacts] young players grew a lot.  I think it [qualifying for Telus Cup] has got us really ready to maybe make the jump to the WHL next year."

Rod Southam, Saskatoon (F) - Yesterday's game was not an overly physical affair, which didn't play well into Southam's power forward style.  But he didn't look horribly out of place and didn't hurt himself at all in the way of turnovers and such.  A harder hitting game will help Southam better show off what he has to offer.  Southam told me he is happy with his development this season, having gotten bigger and stronger and quicker on his feet.  He says there is no secret to what his game is all about, "I like to hit and bring the body and be a physical presence out there."


Monday, April 23, 2012

Rebels Prospects To Do Battle In Leduc - UPDATED**

**IN MY ORIGINAL VERSION OF THIS POST I HELD OFF OF MENTIONING SCOTT FERGUSON UNTIL I WAS ABLE TO CONFIRM A FEW DETAILS I WAS LOOKING FOR.  I HAVE NOW INCLUDED FERGUSON IN THIS VERSION UPDATED MONDAY EVENING**

While four weeks of campaigning in the Alberta provincial election has come to an end (please... get out and vote on Monday!) a foursome of Red Deer Rebels will be some campaigning of their own this week in Leduc.

The Red Deer Optimist Rebels are representing the Pacific Region at this week's Telus Cup national midget championship tournament.  The Optimist Rebels feature forwards Scott Ferguson, taken by the Red Deer Rebels in the 6th round (122nd overall) of the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, and Scott Feser, selected by his hometown Rebels in the 8th round (166th overall) in the same draft.

The Saskatoon Contacts are in Leduc representing the West Region and feature two Rebels drafted players.  Defenceman Vukie Mpofu was selected in the 4th round (87th overall) in last year's bantam draft while forward Rodney Southam was selected by the Rebels in the 6th round (131st) overall.

It just so happens that the Optimist Rebels and Contacts meet in the opening game of the tournament (Monday, 12:30pm) meaning fans of the big Rebels will get an early look at their potential future players.  Here's a quick look at all four...



SCOTT FESER (F) - 5'10 170lbs, 01/05/1995, Red Deer AB
Feser finished second on the Red Deer Optimist Rebels in regular season scoring with 40 points (18 G, 22 A) in 49 games played.  He followed that up by leading all AMHL skaters with 11 points (8G, 3A) in 10 games. Scott was held pointless in the two game pacific region final versus the Vancouver NW Giants.  Feser was called up to the WHL Rebels this past season, playing nine games and collecting two assists.  His older brother Justin is a star player for the Tri-City Americans.



SCOTT FERGUSON (F) - 6'0 182lbs, 04/22/1995, Red Deer ABSize is definitely one of Ferguson's strongest assets.  He used his frame to record a respectable 23 points (12G, 11A) in 33 regular season games and another 7 points (2G, 5A) in 12 playoff games.  Ferguson was not called up by the big Rebels this season but did appear in three games with the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL.  He did not record a point for Camrose in those games.

 


VUKIE MPOFU (D) - 5'9, 165lbs, 18/02/1996, Saskatoon SK
When it came to scoring during the Saskatchewan Midget AAA regular season, Vukie finished fourth among Contacts defencemen with 19 points (7G, 12A) in 43 games played.  He also racked up 45 penalty minutes.  Mpofu followed up with 6 points (2G, 4A) in 16 playoff games played for the Contacts, good for second among team blueliners.





 







RODNEY SOUTHAM (F) - 5'10, 170lbs, 08/09/1996,
Saskatoon SKNot a particularly dominant force offensively, Southam was 10th in Contacts team scoring this season with 23 points (12G, 11A) in 43 games played.  But if penalty minutes are any indication, he ranked 4th on the team and 2nd among forwards with 93PIM, Southam isn't afraid to throw his weight around (he's not overwhelmingly big but 170lbs will still get you places).  Southam had just one assist and 16 penalty minutes in 17 playoff games for the Contacts.


Admittedly, it's easier to get a read on Feser having watched him play numerous times this season.  It will be interesting to watch Mpofu and Southam in action today.  A good showing by both players would serve them well heading into Rebels Prospects Camp this June.


You can follow the Telus Cup on Twitter @HC_TelusCup and online at hockeycanada.ca

TG 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Canada Wins U-18 Bronze, Dumba Named Top Defenceman

Before you ask... no, I did not wake up at 4am to watch this morning's bronze medal game at the World U-18 Hockey Championship.  But I did make my way to the office in time to chat with Mathew Dumba for a few minutes.

Dumba had three assists in Canada's 5-4 OT win over Finland to win bronze to finish the tournament with 5 goals and 7 assists.  He was a fairly easy choice as the Top Defenceman for the tournament.

Here's the transcript of my chat with Mat...

TG - Congrats on winning the bronze, Mat.  What are your overall thoughts on today's game?
MD - "It was a really good game by us.  We came out in the first really strong, up 2-0 going into the second.  The we took 10 minutes in penalties and we were killing the whole period.  That was tough to be in penalty trouble and the Finns are pretty feisty and they fought back just like we expected them too.  But it's a bronze medal [for us] and something to go home with.  Both teams really played hard and in the end we just kinda out-willed them.  We greased one out and it was good to see." 

TG - Was it tough for you guys to get motivated for today's game?  Bronze medal games aren't always easy for Canadian teams to get up for.MD - "No, it wasn't at all.  We've come all this way and to lose and not get anything from it would have been terrible.  It would have been a major failure for us and Hockey Canada.  We wanted to do something to take a little bit of pride home and have that [medal] in our bag to say we won something.  A medal is still a medal.  It's still a world championship with the best teams in the world so we're just satisfied taking home a bronze medal."
TG - You guys played probably your worst game of the tournament in losing 4-3 to Finland in the round-robin.  There must have been some motivation in getting another shot at them in the bronze medal game?MD - "Yeah, for sure.  We really didn't show them our best game in our first game.  But all the teams in this tournament get better in each game and today really showed that.  Both teams had got better and it was a really fast-paced game, high tempo and a lot of fun."

TG - You obviously put up a top of points at the tournament [led all skaters with 12 points] but were you happy with your individual play overall?
MD - "I was very happy with my point production, I kinda just got luck with all of that.  I got on a roll and it was nice but I think I also did a good job of playing defence and shutting down some key players in the tournament.  I maybe would've liked some plays back on the defensive end of things but the tournament goes by way too fast to dwell on those little things.  You just gotta be mentally tough battle through that stuff and I felt I did a really good job of that."

TG - This is the second straight overseas tournament in which you've led Team Canada in scoring [2011 Ivan Hlikna Memorial was the other] obviously something about European-style hockey suits your game.
MD - "Yeah, I guess so.  It kinda just puts me into a position where I can skate, get the puck on net and have a lot of opportunities.  I was pretty fortunate to be placed here in the positions that I was.  To have that powerplay time and be looked at as one of the key players on the team, I just embraced that as much as I could."
TG - Now that the tournament is over, talk about the fun you're having there [Czech Republic] off the ice.
MD - "It's a totally different world over here.  It's fun coming here.  Just to see the scenery and the history that is here is amazing.  Kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm so thankful for it."

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A few other quick thoughts...

- Dumba's play at the U-18's was, for lack of a better term, typical 'Dumba Hockey.'  He was a juggernaut offensively while still having a few off-moments in his own end (as he admitted to in our chat).  But he certainly responded well after being criticized in the wake of his drop in draft ranking.  Next up on his agenda... what is sure to be a long list of NHL teams calling him for pre-draft interviews leading up to June 22nd in Pittsburgh

- Jesse Wallin's coaching resume becomes even more impressive with the job he did at the U-18's.  Canada was right there in every game they played against teams which for the most part are together year-round.  In the case of the USA they have been together for two full years and Canada pushed them to the limit, twice.  The Rebels definitely have the right man at the helm as they look to re-group and get back into the WHL playoffs in 2012-13.

- Hunter Shinkaruk's third goal of the bronze medal game was the overtime winner.  He had 49 goals for Medicine Hat as a 17-year-old.  Even with Emerson Etem moving on is it a stretch to think he could net 60 goals next season? (as Etem did this year)

- Huge props to Cam Moon for getting me Dumba and Wallin to chat with throughout the tournament.  No doubt Mooner has had a great time being with the team in the Czech Republic, will be fun to chat with him when he gets back to Red Deer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Optimist Rebels Set To Battle Starting Monday

(Courtesy of Hockey Canada)

2012 TELUS CUP BEGINS MONDAY IN LEDUC, ALBERTA

LEDUC, Alta. – For the 39th time, Canada’s top Midget teams have gathered, this year in Leduc, to do battle for the National Midget Championship, beginning Monday, April 23. This year marks just the fourth time Alberta has hosted the TELUS Cup, joining Calgary in 1976 and 1991, and Red Deer in 2007.

The host Leduc Oil Kings are joined by five regional champions: the Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin (Quebec), Moncton Flyers (Atlantic), Red Deer Rebels (Pacific), Saskatoon Contacts (West) and Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves (Central). The six competing teams will take to the ice at the Leduc Recreation Centre hoping to earn one of the two berths in Sunday’s nationally-televised gold medal game.

This year’s field includes two teams that have won the National Midget Championship in the last decade – Saskatoon (2005) and Sudbury (2008) – and another, Red Deer, that has played in three gold medal games without winning the national title; the Rebels lost the final in double overtime in both 1994 and 2007, and also took home silver in 1995. While Collège Esther-Blondin and the host Oil Kings are making their first TELUS Cup appearances, the other four teams all have plenty of experience – Red Deer is making its ninth trip to the national championship, Moncton is in for the seventh time, Sudbury’s appearance is its fifth and Saskatoon is making visit No. 4.

CLICK HERE FOR THE TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Canada Beats Russia / Catching Up With Kudrna

Jesse Wallin's crew will be playing for a medal at the World U-18 Hockey Championship after what he called their 'most complete game of the tournament.'  What remains to be seen is just which medal they will be playing for.

Canada skated to an impressive 4-2 victory over Russia earlier today in quarterfinals action in Breclav, Czech Republic.

Kerby Rychel, son of former NHLer Warren Rychel, led the Canadian scoring attack with two goals.  Mathew Dumba opened the scoring with his team leading 5th of the tournament.  Felix Girard also found the back of the net for the Red and White while Matt Murray was outstanding between the pipes, making 28 saves for the win.

After the game, Wallin told me the stage for today's win was set during a team meeting last night.

"Guys kinda laid things on the line for one another [last night] and tonight I thought they really bought into one another.  There were some guys who only played a couple of shifts and there were some guys who were asked to play a lot of minutes and I thought everyone really bought into their jobs.  They supported one another and played a solid team game."



The key point in the hockey game late in the second period when Dumba was banished to the sin bin for 2 + 10 with a (questionable at best) checking to the head penalty. Canada was clinging to a 2-1 lead at the time and Wallin was quite impressed with his team's response.

"We certainly didn't feel that it was warranted.  But to lose a guy like that for 12 minutes, I thought our defense really stepped up.  We got through that penalty kill and everyone raised their level to get through that.  And then our third goal kind of settled us back down again."



So with that, the Canadians get another shot at the Americans in tomorrow's semifinals [11am Alberta time on TSN].  Of course, Canada lost 5-3 to their southern neighbours in round-robin action on Saturday.  It was a game Wallin says taught his club some valuable lessons.

"Playing against the team favoured to win the tournament, we were right there with them.  The two things that we wanted to take out of that game was that number one - we're good enough to play with them.  And the second is the importance to stick to our game plan.  Through two periods we were fine and we carried the play at times.  But then in the third we came out and we got away from our game.  We started turning the puck over in the neutral zone allowing them to come at us.  And we got away from things defensively."


With all that in mind, Wallin says his team is full of confidence heading into Friday's semi.


"There's nothing to be aprehensive about or sit back for.  It's just about getting after it and giving ourselves the best opportunity to win."

---

After we had finished our chat about the game and I had given Jesse a somewhat optimistic weather update (felt rather weird to feel some sunshine around our parts for once) he passed the phone over to a special guest who had stopped by for a quick chat.

Former Rebels sniper Andrej Kudrna is now playing in his native country in the Slovak Extraliga with Slovan Bratislava.  Notable teammates include longtime NHLer Miroslav Satan.  They are in the league final and in fact will play in game seven this Saturday night versus Kosice (you can check out the official league website at http://www.tipsportextraliga.sk/ just be sure to use the translator function on your browser first lol.To say the Rebels missed his hulking 6 ft 2, 200lb. frame would be a tragic understatement.  Kudrna notched 82 points (29 goals, 53 assists) as one-third of the Rebels top line in 2010-11 along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Byron Froese.

Summarizing our brief chat, Andrej told me the WHL is a great league and that it did a great job of preparing him for the jump to the professional ranks.  He'll always cherish his Red Deer experience and says he's not at all surprised to see his pal RNH do as well as he did in his rookie NHL season.

It was fun to talk to Andrej for a few minutes.  Good luck to him and his teammates in game seven on Saturday!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Tough Loss But Strong Showing For Canada's U-18's

It's rare that a Canadian national hockey team can feel good after a loss at any level. But the U-18's definitely have that right after what we saw from them yesterday.

Jesse Wallin's crew battled hard but came up just short in a 5-3 loss to the heavily favoured Americans in Brno, Czech Republic.

Yes, it was a loss. But as Wallin told the Canadian Press he feels his squad is more than ready for the medal round.

“We grew as a team today and that's what we had to do,'' he said. “We have to be that much better for our next game. We can't hang our heads, we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep getting better, keep plugging away and stay the course here.''


Mathew Dumba had another eventful game at both ends of the rink.

On the good side, Dumba netted a goal and an assist for the fourth straight game (earning him player of the games honours for Canada). He now leads all skaters at the tournament with eight points. On the bad side, he was on for two more goals against (albeit one was a powerplay goal by the Americans) in another perfect showcase for Dumba's high risk, high reward style of play.

And what a nice addition Hunter Shinkaruk has been to Canada's roster. He was a late arrival once Medicine Hat was knocked out of the WHL playoffs, but he was solid yesterday in netting a goal and an assist of his own versus the Americans. Brandon Wheat Kings blueliner Ryan Pulock also scored for Canada meaning all three goals in yesterday's game came from Western Hockey Leaguers!

Canada will now hit the ice for quarter-finals action tomorrow (Thursday) versus Russia.

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Once upon a time, there was a time when the name "Raffi" brought to mind warm thoughts of a beloved children's entertainer known for such classics as "Baby Beluga" and "Down By The Bay."

Sadly, Raffi Torres has ruined that for me.

With yet another predatorial hit last night, this time on Chicago's Marian Hossa, the Phoenix Coyotes winger enraged hockey fans yet again. Ironically, the hit came one later to the exact day after Torres (while with Vancouver) nailed Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook with a high hit.

I don't have enough time or desire to re-type Torres' full list of transgressions but safe to say he's done it way too often.

Bottom line... if Sherriff Brendan Shanahan does not do us all a favour and throw the book at him then he himself should perhaps given the boot. Mind you, Shanny has been quite a busy man over the past week or so. He's already dished out more suspensions in the first round than we saw during all of last year's playoffs. Intensity is one thing. But players are crossing the line and not just by a little bit.

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Next year at this time the Bentley Generals will be hosting the 2013 Allan Cup right here in Red Deer. The 2012 AC is on right now in Lloydminster. Today marks day three of round-robin action. Check out www.allancup.ca for all the latest.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

"An Important 'Czech Mark' for Team Canada"

A good bounce back effort for Team Canada today at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship.

Mathew Dumba had a goal and an assist (for the third straight game) as Canada beat the host Czech Republic 6-2, improving their round-robin record to 2-1.

During a quick phone chat right after the game, Wallin told me he really liked what he saw in what he called a 'game seven' situation for his squad.

"It's early in the tournament to be in that position but things happen that quickly. I thought the guys really responded to the challenge. They stepped up."

"We came off a game the other night against Finland where we were just absolutely rotten."
Wallin told me, in reference to Canada's 4-3 loss on Saturday. "We had guys on their own page and everybody was cheating, not playing systems and whatnot."

Today's was an important win for Canada in that it clinched them a spot in the quarterfinals. It also sets up a showdown for first place in their pool versus the United States. The task will be a daunting one to say the least.

"The U.S. is undefeated in the tournament, they haven't given up a goal yet. They're a team that's been together for two years so they know each other well and are very organized."

That being said, Wallin is confident that his team has what it takes to get the job done.

"We've got a real good group of players. They're great people, they've really gelled well off the ice. But ultimately the game is played on the ice and they have to play together as a team. And today I really thought they took a step in the right direction."

Wednesday's game versus the United States starts at noon Alberta time and will be shown on TSN.

(NOTE - Thanks to Cam Moon for tearing Jesse away from a conversation with Steve Yzerman so that we could have our phone interview. Sorry about that, Stevie!)

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As we ended our chat, I quickly asked Jesse for a quick thought on Brent Sutter. It's been an eventful few days for Wallin's mentor and Rebels boss. But as you would expect with all that he's been up to, Wallin didn't have much to say at this time.

"I haven't talked to anyone back there [Red Deer] other than my wife so I've only caught what she's told me and what I've found on the internet. He's an excellent hockey coach and I'm excited that he got the opportunity for the World Championships. He'll do an excellent job there."



Friday, April 13, 2012

Sutter Sacked, Bitz Sits While Weber Walks

I have always been a firm believer in "three and out" when it comes to sports.

If a head coach can't make significant progress within three years time... whether it be winning a championship or making the playoffs depending on your goal, or ever just a significant improvement in the standings... then it's time to make a change.

Therefore, it certainly did not surprise me (not that it surprised many others) to see the Calgary Flames and Brent Sutter go their separate ways.

As much as I like Brent as a coach, he really did do a great job while trying to succeed with an extremely inadequate Flames roster, the time for change was obvious. The scary question for Flames is what kind of change is in store?

Earlier this week, Sutter made it clear that he would be more than comfortable in coming back next season to guide a younger, rebuilding Flames team. Days later, he is on the outside. Does that mean GM Jay Feaster (along with President Ken King and principle owner Murray Edwards) are stuck in the 're-tool not re-build' mindset? You have to think that's the case otherwise Sutter would be an ideal candidate to lead such a rebuild given his track record of working with younger players.

That being said (as first tossed out there by @reb_rebellion) would Sutter be a good fit behind the bench in Edmonton? He probably would.

Anyhoo... Brent will no doubt take plenty of time before deciding on his next move. Don't rule out the possibility of him coaching Canada's entry at the World Hockey Championship.

One thing I can most certain of... Jesse Wallin isn't going anywhere. He is firmly entrenched at the Red Deer Rebels' General Manager and Head Coach. And deservedly so as he's doing an admirable job in both roles (though I did have some fans actually tell me he should have been fired after this past season). If Brent does not end up working in the NHL next season, my expectation would be to see him carry out his role as Rebels Owner / President with more of a first hand presence... while also doing a bit more ranchin' out at the homestead.

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Good to see the NHL come down on Vancouver's Byron Bitz, suspending him for two games for his hit to the head on Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford (who, by the way, will not be playing for the Kings tonight in game two).

Sadly, Sheriff Shanahan dropped the ball by not doing the same with Nashville's Shea Weber. At a time when the NHL is supposedly taking hardline stance on head shots, Weber essentially got a free pass for driving Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass (from behind at that). Regardless of the fact that the Detroit star forward was not seriously injured on the play, Weber's intent to inflict injury was apparent. It was a potentially dangerous play that is simply unacceptable... will be quite interesting to see what happens should a similar incident happen again at some point during the playoffs.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sanguin, Pierce Take RDC Honours



With all due respect to the other (outstanding) nominees... last night's
announcement of the 2011-12 Red Deer College Female Athlete of the Year was rather anti-climactic.

After winning a national title and ACAC Female Athlete of the Year honours, Cross Country Runner Jodi Sanguin was named as RDC's top female athlete at their year-end awards banquet last night.

It marked the perfect end to a brilliant five-year career which Sanguin admits almost never got started.

"I actually didn't plan on running until [RDC coach] Brian Stackhouse called me every day for a week. And, yeah, it all started from there."

To say her decision to join the team was a good one would be like saying Led Zeppelin was 'just alright.' Sanguin went on to become a 5-time CCAA All-Star. This past season she led the RDC Cross Country Running team to gold at provincials and bronze at nationals. She says her individual gold medal win at nationals was most definitely her career highlight.

"It had been my goal early in the season. So I started training early July. Put in some more mileage and ended the season with what I had planned."

Chatting with legendary Red Deer Advocate scribe (and Alberta Sports Hall of Famer) Danny Rode, Sanguin leaves RDC as perhaps their most decorated female athlete of all-time. And Danny's been around long enough to know exactly what he's talking about ;)

The remarkable turnaround season for Kings Basketball helped land Forward Robert Pierce RDC's Male Athlete of the Year honours.

After sitting at the bottom of the standings at the holiday break, the Kings made a number of roster changes and then rallied to make their first appearance at nationals since 1998. Individually, Pierce established himself as one of the ACAC's top scorers and rebounders. But not before the Windsor, Ontario native went through quite a culture shock.

"They told me it was gonna be cold. I didn't really expect is was gonna be this cold," Pierce joked after receiving his award. "I had to get an extra parka, you know. Leggings and all that other stuff. But it was great. Great group of guys and everything. Everyone at the school, Red Deer as a whole, Alberta. Everyone's real kind. It was great."

As good as was Red Deer was to him, Pierce did his best to give back as well.

"Helping in the community, it's been a while since I've volunteered for stuff. And it's good to see the youth and teachers. Little kids looking up to the college kids. It's great"

Pierce has yet to make a decision when it comes to his plans for next year but says RDC is definitely high on his list of options.

Other highlights from last night's year-end awards banquet...
- RDC tied NAIT for the most Academic All Canadians in the entire country
- The Academic Excellence awards are given to student-athletes who have a minimum GPA of 3.0. RDC honoured 72 students-athletes who achieved this standard... that is over half of their entire Student-Athlete population
- 6 RDC teams competed at ACAC finals, 4 also went on to compete at CCAA nationals

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dumba Discusses Draft, Team Canada

Ok... so he didn't so much discuss it with me as he did politely comment on it and move on.

But either way, Mathew Dumba doesn't seem too concerned about his final ranking from NHL Central Scouting for this June's entry draft. A ranking which saw him fall from 7th among North American based skaters to 11th.

"Anything can happen at a draft," Dumba said over the phone from the Czech Republic. "It's a team's perspective and if a team wants you that's what they're gonna do."

Fair enough. We'll see how things unfold when the first round of the draft takes place in Pittsburgh on June 22nd.

In the meantime, Dumba has more pressing issues to worry about as he and the rest of Team Canada get set for their first round robin game at the World U-18 Hockey Championship (tomorrow, 8am Alberta time vs. Denmark).

"It's tough playing these other teams because a lot of them have been together year-round," he said in reference to Canada's two pre-tournament games (5-3 win over Germany, 5-4 OT win over Czech Rep.) "We just come together on short notice and have to play our best hockey. There's definitely a learning curve with that. Guys weren't always in the right places and little things like that. Little details which we've worked on this week."

It should come as no surprise that Team Canada has taken on a style of play we've come to expect from a Jesse Wallin coached hockey club.

"We're gonna be a very hard working team. Hard-nosed, gritty, greasy team that's gonna go out there and battle the whole time. We've got some big strong forwards that will go to the net. And on defence we've got guys who can skate and move the puck. It's pretty fun."

I also asked Mat if any of his teammates had asked him about what to expect in having Wallin as their coach. Dumba says they found that out for themselves rather quickly.

"It was our first game versus Germany. We didn't play the best period and he came in [to the dressing room] and was 'real firm.'

Yup. Sounds familiar.

Anyhoo... it should be made official today that Dumba will wear the "C" for Team Canada starting tomorrow. After that we'll 'see' what happens throughout the tournament, the NHL Entry Draft, and beyond.

TG

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Optimist Rebels Win Pacific Title, Advance To Telus Cup

He was first credited with scoring the game winner on Friday night when in fact it was Ty Mappin's goal. This time, Dylan Thudium made sure he would get his just due.

Thudium scored 2:02 into the second overtime to give the Red Deer Optimist Rebels a 4-3 win over the Vancouver NW Giants. Red Deer wins the Pacific Region Midget AAA Final 2-0 and will play at the Telus Cup national championship tournament, April 23 - 29.

Funny enough, Mappin's name was the one announced as having scored the game winner. But make no mistake, it was Thudium who clinched the series for Red Deer.

"Tanner Lomsnes made a good play on the wall just to chip out front" Thudium said in describing his overtime goal. "Then I just grabbed it quick and ripped it at the net and it went right bar [post] and in. I was pretty lucky actually. I didn't try and pick that spot, I just fired it at the net."

Lucky, perhaps. But this blogger is a firm believer that you have to be good to be lucky. And the Optimist Rebels were indeed good. Exceptionally so. But it didn't start out that way.

Neither the Optimist Rebels or the NW Giants seemed to be at their best in the opening period. But Vancouver did have two or three point blank scoring chances only to be thwarted by Red Deer goalie Dasan Sydora.

The floodgates opened up in the second period. Adam Helewka, Vancouver's leading scorer in both the regular season and playoffs, scored the Giants first goal of the series 2:42 into the second period which definitely energized the road squad (though they were the designated "home" team for game two). Giants Captain Taylor Tanti, son of former NHLer Tony Tanti, gave his team a two-goal lead at the 8:50 mark, creating a sense of frustration for the Optimist Rebels. Red Deer players, notably goaltender Dasan Sydora, were furious in thinking the goal should not have counted (feeling the net was knocked out of position). But nevertheless, Vancouver led 2-0.

Cue the turning point for Red Deer. Seeing the frustration and feeling the need to regroup, Optimist Rebels Head Coach Doug Quinn called a timeout.

"We were playing well but after they scored the body language did not look good at all" Quinn noted following the game. "It [the timeout] was just a matter of trying to refocus and realize there's a lot of game left."

Point taken. Just 55 seconds after the timeout, Thudium scored his first goal of the game to get the Optimist Rebels on the board and the Red Deer fans (approx. 1200 of them) on their feet and back in the game.

If the timeout was one thing that tilted the game in Red Deer's favour, depth on their bench was the other. Red Deer continued to roll out three forward lines in the second period while Vancouver had already cut down to two lines. It was quite noticeable as the game went on and with just over a minute left in the second period Logan Fisher tipped home a Stefan Danielson point shot for a game tying powerplay goal. 2-2 through 40 minutes.

Nick Glackin's goal 6:59 into the third period gave Red Deer its first lead of the game and you kind of got the sense that the Optimist Rebels would pull away with it from there. But give Vancouver credit, they kept battling and tied the game less than three minutes later at 9:44. Josh Thrower, who seems like a lock to play in the WHL for the Calgary Hitmen after his stellar performance in this series, rifled a point shot past a screened Dasan Sydora. 3-3. Overtime beckoned.

And overtime nearly ended as quickly as it began. The Mappin, Thudium, Lomsnes line came out flying and nearly jammed the puck into the next on their opening shift. But Vancouver goalie Liam Smith, who got the start despite Braden Krogfoss' MVP-style performance in game one, held the fort. He would continue holding the fort through the rest of the 10 minute overtime period. Red Deer outshot Vancouver 11-0 but to no avail. The NW Giants held on long enough to force a second overtime period.

From there, Thudium netted the game and series winner sending Red Deer to the Telus Cup for the second time in three years.

The Optimist Rebels will take a couple of days to enjoy their triumph in the regional final before returning to practice on Tuesday.

(more to come tomorrow) - TG

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GAME SCORING SUMMARY

1ST PERIOD
(NO SCORING)
SHOTS - RD 13, VAN 7

2ND PERIOD
2:42 VAN Helewka (Landon)
8:50 VAN
Tanti (unassisted)
9:45 RD Thudium (Mappin, Lomsnes)
18:55 RD Fisher (Danielson, Topping) PPG
SHOTS - RD 14/27 VAN 7/14

3RD PERIOD
6:59 RD Glackin (Bakke, Mappin)
9:44 VAN Thrower (Carvalho) PPG
SHOTS - RD 8/35 VAN 9/23

OVERTIME
(NO SCORING)
SHOTS - RD 11/46 VAN 0/23

2ND OVERTIME
2:02 RD Thudium (Lomsnes)*
SHOTS - RD 3/49 VAN 1/24

* Goal was originally credited to Ty Mappin on the scoresheet, but it was indeed Dylan Thudium who scored the goal

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Optimist Rebels One Win Away From Telus Cup

Check out TSN's latest story on Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba as he gets set to lead Team Canada into battle at the World U-18 Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic.

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The scene played out last night at the Red Deer Arena was one we have already seen numerous times during the Red Deer Optimist Rebels playoff run.

Stifling defensive play. Dozens of shots on the opponent's net. Fast-paced. Low scoring.

Ty Mappin scored the only goal of the game with just 2:19 left in the third period. The Optimist Rebels took game one of the Pacific Region Midget AAA Championship 1-0 over the Vancouver NW Giants. Red Deer grabs a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

Mappin (
who had three or four great scoring chances go for naught earlier in the period) was the beneficiary of a great setup by Tanner Lomsnes... who charged into Vancouver territory down the left wing side, blew past the defender and circled the net before sliding the puck through the crease to an open Mappin. Dylan Thudium was also in the area but admitted after the game that it was indeed Mappin who netted the game winning goal.

Lomsnes' solid effort did not go unnoticed by Red Deer Optimist Rebels Head Coach Doug Quinn.

"Tanner is one of the players that has certainly stepped up for us throughout the playoffs" Quinn commented following the game. "He's taken his game to another level. That line [with Mappin and Thudium] has really carried us."

At the other end of the rink, Dasan Sydora did what he's done all playoffs long for Red Deer. He wasn't tested often, Vancouver had 16 shots on the night, but faced some quality chances. Especially so in the third period when both teams were pressing hard for the elusive first goal. Sydora earned his fifth shutout in 11 playoff games played. His goals against average drops to a miniscule 0.91 while his save percentage rises to a sparkling .963.

Quinn said it was exciting for his players to play in front of a raucous hometown crowd [estimated at approx. 1000] but felt it also may have played a role in what he felt was a slow start to the game for the Optimist Rebels.

When it comes to the Vancouver NW Giants, Braden Krogfoss was their best player on the night (he and Lomsnes were selected as the Players of the Game for their respective teams). The 16-year-old netminder turned aside 37 of the 38 shots he faced and gave his team a chance to win right up until the final whistle. Now when you look at the Giants stats, they have split their games fairly evenly between Krogfoss and his goaltending partner, Liam Smith. It will be very interesting to see who Head Coach Todd Harkins goes with tonight for game two.

Giants defenceman Josh Thrower was given plenty of ice time to audition for his WHL team. The 6'0" 186 lb. defender was selected in the 2nd round of the WHL Bantam Draft by the Calgary Hitmen... and both GM Kelly Kisio and Assistant Coach Brent Kisio were in attendance last night to see him play first hand. I think they'll be pleased with what they saw for the most part. Aside from a couple of minor miscues, Thrower played very well for the amount of ice time he received... which was a lot.

Vancouver's leading scorer Adam Helewka (9 points in playoff games coming into last night, 53 points in 40 regular season games) was held at bay last night. But judging by those numbers it'll be tough to do that two nights in a row. No doubt he'll have something to say about how tonight's game turns out.

"We had a kind of nervous energy and sometimes that can tire a body out. But, we found a way to win and that's all that matters right now."

It's safe to say that Quinn and the rest of the Optimist Rebels would love to see another large crowd on-hand tonight at the Red Deer Arena as they try to clinch the series and a trip to the Telus Cup in Leduc. Game time tonight is at 7pm.

If you're unable to make it to the game, check out www.imediatv.ca as I'll have live play-by-play coverage. We had great response to our first broadcast last night, thanks to everyone who tuned in! We hope to have you back again tonight (and tell some friends!)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Czeching In with Jesse Wallin


We will find out sometime today what Canada's team will look like for the World U-18 Hockey Championship.

Two things are certain... Mathew Dumba will be on the roster (and is a good bet to wear the "C"). Jesse Wallin will have this team working its collective arses off during each and every shift.

Wallin (along with the voice of the Rebels Cam Moon, who gets the sweet gig of doing media relations for the team) is currently in Toronto. That's where the squad will assemble before heading to the Czech Republic later this week.

Assembling a team for the U-18's is much like it is for the World Championship, you don't necessarily get to choose from the 'cream of the crop' when it comes to players. Nevertheless, Wallin is confident his assembled crew will be a competitive one.

"Our goaltending sounds like it's gonna be solid" Wallin told me when I stopped by his office on Monday. "Our defence, we should have four real solid guys and some good depth. And up front, we're gonna have a good mix of size and skill on our top couple of lines."

"A lot of players are still playing with their club teams so you're basically taking the best of what's available. But at the same time, I think we've got some depth in our country and it may not be the best team we could put together [if we had the whole crop to choose from] but yet I think we'll still put a pretty competitive team together."

As most of you know, this is Wallin's second go-round with the U-18's. He served as an Assistant Coach under Pat Quinn when Canada won gold in 2008. Wallin doesn't foresee any big differences in his role until the tournament gets underway.

"Pat was quite a presence and, of course, very experienced. We just kinda worked around him and supported him. So this time certainly having to be the guy taking that lead will be a great challenge for me, but it's definitely one I'm excited about.

Given the nature of the U-18 tournament, Wallin says having previous experience will definitely come in handy.

"I don't know of any other situation where it happens quite like this. There's no training camp whatsoever. It's just get the team together, get on the plane and go overseas. You really have to get your team to bond in a hurry."

We'll get our first look at how things are coming together when Canada takes on Denmark for its first game of the tournament next Thursday (12th) versus Denmark.

HERE'S THE FULL AUDIO FROM MY CHAT WITH WALLIN THIS PAST MONDAY.


NOTES... Wallin is also looking forward to visiting with some familiar faces while in the Czech Republic (his first time in the country in what will be his fifth trip to Europe overall). Rebels goalie Patrik Bartosak has promised to drop by for at least one day to visit with his junior coach (and his teammate Dumba for that matter). Also, former Rebels sniper Andrej Kudrna, who is playing pro hockey in his native Czech Republic, is hoping to connect with Wallin and Dumba at some point during the tournament.