Grubbe places Sunday’s overtime winner at top of his list of all-time clutch goals
Red Deer Rebels captain Jayden Grubbe has notched some huge goals during his hockey career.
The New York Rangers prospect scored 11 times in the spring of 2019 for the eventual champion Calgary Buffaloes in the Alberta Midget Hockey League final, the Pacific Region final and ultimately the Telus Cup, the national midget AAA championship tournament.
Included among the timely tallies was an overtime marker in the Pacific Region series versus the Caribou Cougars.
And then there was Grubbe’s overtime series clincher in Sunday’s Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Where would Grubbe place that gino on his list of big goals?
“I think that would probably be No. 1 up there. Probably the most important one up until now. Definitely a big one,” he said Tuesday, two days after converting a centering pass from Jace Isley in the third overtime period and lifting the Rebels to a 5-4 series-ending win.
Isley circled the Brandon net and threw the puck out front to Grubbe who made no mistake with a rapid release.
“It was a great pass, right in the wheelhouse,” said Grubbe. “I just had to put the quick one-timer in the sweet spot. It was a great play.”
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The goal ended a hard-fought, bitter battle between two nearly evenly- matched sides.
“Credit to them, they came out hard every game,” Grubbe said of the Wheat Kings. “We knew they would come out hard and be good competition. That’s what we expected.”
The Rebels finished third in the conference in regular season play while the Wheat Kings were sixth.
Brandon’s position in the final standings was not a true indication of the team’s talent and potential, Grubbe noted. The Wheat Kings seldom had a full lineup during the winter but did in the playoffs.
“They weren’t healthy for most of the year so I think that had a lot to do with where they placed,” said Grubbe. “They came out and gave us a great series. It was a good battle, every game.”
The Rebels, as the overtime periods wore on Sunday, seemed to have the extra stride that the Wheat Kings were lacking. It might have come down to team fitness, Grubbe noted.
“We’re big on our cardio and keeping up with it all through the year,” said the six-foot-three, 200-pound centre. “We’ve been doing different bike workouts trying to keep in shape.
“That’s been a big focus point for us. You get to a second and third overtime and you don’t realize it but that extra little gear comes in handy. Maybe the other team isn’t doing the same stuff we’re doing. It’s definitely something that could help and has helped us out.”
There were a number of advantages Red Deer held over Brandon during the six games.
Netminder Chase Coward was nothing short of excellent, posting a goals-against average of 1.45, a save percentage of .946 and one shutout through the series. He outplayed opposing goaltender Ethan Kruger, who was outstanding in his own right for Brandon.
The Rebels’ penchant for a solid backcheck also came into play, as did the overall performance of their defencemen.
Another edge the Rebels enjoyed was special teams play. Red Deer scored just one more power play goal than the Wheat Kings — four to three — but Brandon’s extra-man units were shut down through the first three games of the series, going zero-for-17 during that stretch.
The Rebels were 24-for-27 on the penalty kill through the six games, an impressive mark considering the level of offensive depth possessed by their opponents.
Red Deer’s penalty killers came up extra big in the deciding game, twice erasing overtime infractions while not getting a power play through the additional minutes and change.
“We were stressing hard that special teams a lot of times was going to decide the outcomes of games,” said Grubbe, who scored 14 goals and collected 35 points in 68 regular season games and has two goals and two helpers in the post-season to date.
“The last two games we took very few penalties. That was a focus for us.”
In addition . . .
“Our D was solid all series long and our forward depth helped out through each game as well,” said Grubbe, an early third-round pick of the Rangers in last year’s NHL entry draft.
“It was kind of everyone coming together, and then Cowie (Coward) back there was real solid as well. It was a mix of everyone and our depth coming through.”
The Rebels are now preparing for an even bigger test in the Edmonton Oil Kings. The best-of-seven conference semifinal opens Thursday in Edmonton and continues two nights later in the provincial capital.
Games 3 and 4 will be played next Monday and Wednesday at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
The Oil Kings finished the regular season No. 3 in the CHL rankings and swept the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a quarter-final series.
“They’re a really good team and we know what they can do and the players they have,” said Grubbe, whose team did have success head-to-head with the Oil Kings during the season, winning five of 10 meetings.
“We’re excited for the challenge and we’re getting ready for it. We’re excited.”