Grubbe’s triple-overtime winner lifts Rebels past Wheat Kings into round two
Rebels 5 Wheat Kings 4 (3OT)
BRANDON — Two teams battled tooth and nail through six grinding contests, two teams that the average fan would assume hated each other.
But once the war was over, once the Red Deer Rebels had closed out the Brandon Wheat Kings, the traditional handshake was full of mutual praise and good sportsmanship.
Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk praised his team’s first-round WHL Eastern Conference playoff opponents.
“That was two good hockey clubs battling hard,” said Konowalchuk, after team captain Jayden Grubbe connected at 7:41 of a third overtime period to lift the Rebels to a 5-4 victory Sunday before 4,611 fans at Westoba Place.
The Rebels won the best-of-seven conference quarter-final 4-2 and will meet the Edmonton Oil Kings in a second round series starting Thursday in the Alberta capital.
“Their club battled hard and they didn’t give in,” Konowalchuk said of the Wheat Kings. “They certainly didn’t fold any tents and battled hard right to the end.
“It was nice to see they got one overtime game (a 2-1 Brandon win in Game 2 April 23 at the Peavey Mart Centrium) and we did too. It evened out that way.”
Jace Isley played a major role in the winning goal, taking the puck behind the Brandon net and tossing it out front to Grubbe, whose one-timer gave Wheaties goaltender Ethan Kruger no chance.
That the teams were still able to perform with passion and desperation through more than five periods following the long and tiring trips between two centres 1,150 km apart, was truly inspiring.
“You get into overtime it can come to one bounce or break,” said Konowalchuk. “You have to be mentally tough to stick to it. For the most part our guys kept putting pucks in, just waiting for that opportunity.
“You’re just hoping your guys can create that opportunity and they definitely found it.”
Ben King, who led the WHL in goals during the regular season with 52, scored twice in the opening three minutes — en route to a hat-trick performance — as the Rebels sprinted out of the gate.
Arshdeep Bains, the WHL scoring king, won a puck battle with defenceman Mason Ward behind the Brandon net and centered to King, whose quick release gave the visitors a lead a mere 50 seconds in.
King then converted a backhand pass from Bains before Ridly Greig answered for the home team directly off a faceoff in the Rebels end.
Rylan Roersma pulled Brandon even 2:16 into the second period, cashing a rink-wide feed from Jake Chaisson while breaking to the net.
King rounded out his hat trick at the midway point of the frame, quickly burying a pass from Jhett Larson on a two-on-one break.
Greig potted his second of the evening with Brandon on the power play late in the period, cashing a rebound after teammate Nolan Ritchie had been robbed by goalie Chase Coward.
Bains restored Red Deer’s lead less than a minute later, the puck glancing off his skate and past Kruger, but Marcus Kallionkieli made it a 4-4 game early in the third period — slamming home a rebound after a wrap around attempt by teammate Chad Nychuk — and forced more than another two extra periods of play.
Konowalchuk singled out special teams play as an edge the Rebels held over the Wheat Kings through much of the series, a notion that was hard to argue after Red Deer killed the only two penalties called during the overtime frames.
“Maybe that ends up being the difference in the series,” he stated.
That and the fact King and Bains lived up to their regular season dominance in Game 6.
“Your top guys need to be better than the other team’s top guys,” said Konowalchuk. “What can you say about Bains and King in a huge game? You have to tip your hat to them.”
Notable: Coward had another solid game, turning aside 46 shots. He started — and finished — all six games, posting a 1.45 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage with one shutout. Kruger made 50 saves . . . The Rebels were 0-for-2 on the power play, the Wheat Kings 1-for-3 . . . The Wheaties honoured their three graduating players — Nychuk, Kruger and Kallionkieli — as the game’s three stars.