King’s OT winner sends Rebels to round two
Rebels 6 Hitmen 5 (OT)
The Red Deer Rebels are moving on.
The Rebels got an overtime goal from Ben King to defeat the Calgary Hitmen 6-5 Friday night in front of a raucous Peavey Mart Centrium gathering of 6,064 to win the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final 4-1.
King, at the side of the net, fired home a bounce off the end boards at 4:56 of the extra frame following a point shot by Mats Lindgren.
“I was kind of up high and I saw Matsy going to shoot so I was just going to the net,” said King. “It took kind of a lucky bounce behind the net and right onto my stick.
“So it was kind of a fortunate bounce and those are usually kind of the way goals are in OT. I was lucky enough to get it right on my stick.
“Obviously scoring those goals always feels great for yourself and for the team. I was fortunate to be able to score that.”
While the Rebels were able to eliminate the Hitmen in five games, most — with the exception of a 6-1 win in Game 4 in Calgary — were outright battles.
“It was a tough fought series all along,” said King, who sat out Games 1 and 2 with an upper body injury. “The first two games I was watching but the boys played great. We got the lead tonight and Calgary fought back and they gave us their all.
“They’re a great team over there and we’re happy to put it away tonight and get a week off.”
The Hitmen were indeed resilient Friday despite being outshot 44-24, taking advantage of their scoring opportunities thanks in part to some defensive gaffes by their hosts.
The teams were tied 2-2 after one period and 3-3 after 40 minutes.
The visitors, in fact, looked poised to send the series back to Calgary when Oliver Tuck cashed a power play rebound 2:46 into the third period and Maxim Muranov made it 5-3 seven minutes later on a short-handed breakaway following a turnover at the Calgary blueline.
But the Rebels got a fourth goal from Matteo Fabrizi, who took two strides in from the blueline and fired a laser over the shoulder of goaltender Brayden Peters with 4:28 remaining in the period.
Then, with 2:42 left in the frame, Jayden Grubbe passed from the high slot onto the stick of Christoffer Sedoff and the Rebels defenceman beat Peters with a quick release to tie the game.
The goal brought a roar from the Centrium crowd that was unmatched since former Rebel Evan Polei scored an overtime tally to defeat the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament hosted by Red Deer.
The Rebels appeared to have the go-ahead goal with time winding down but it was waived off for incidental contact when Kalan Lind, Peters and a Hitmen defender collided before the puck entered the net.
Undaunted, the Rebels dominated the overtime frame, outshooting the Hitmen 3-0 before netting the series clincher.
“Down two goals like that, it could be easy to get frustrated,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk. “Our guys kept going and I think that’s a good learning lesson in playoffs, that you’re not done, just keep playing.
“I’m so proud of our guys, so many guys chipped in. It was a great team effort the whole series. We’ll enjoy it for tonight and then get ready and move on.”
The Rebels opened the scoring with a power play goal 4:22 into the contest when Kalan Lind’s backhand from in tight leaked through Peters, but the Hitmen replied with a man advantage marker of their own with David Adaszynski beating goalie Kyle Kelsey from the left circle.
Brandon Whynott gave the visitors a lead 50 seconds later with a low shot to the far corner before Lindgren scored on a blast from the high slot following a drop pass from King.
Lindgren pushed the Rebels back on top with a snap shot from the high slot at 7:32 of the second period, but the Hitmen responded when Muranov broke in alone following a turnover at the Rebels blueline, setting the stage for a wild third period and ensuing overtime.
“It’s fun when you win those overtime games, not so much on the other end,” said Konowalchuk. “Give Calgary credit, they came out really hard today, there wasn’t one guy I thought that was ready to go home on that team, which you’d expect.
“I thought we played a good game from start to finish. There were some key mistakes that we made and they capitalized. But we kept going.”
Red Deer’s first three goals were on the power play, an element of their game that didn’t get untracked until Game 4.
“That has to be a little bit of a weapon,” said Konowalchuk. “They have some bug guys who get chippy and the last couple games when they did that we were able to put the puck in the net.”
In the end, the favoured Rebels prevailed with their dogged work ethic, character and determination.
“It was a really hard fought series and we knew that it would be going in,” said Konowalchuk. “They’re a good hockey team. Midway though the year they had some injuries otherwise they’re probably higher up in the standings.
“They’re a good hockey team that battles hard every day and you have to match that and even improve on it to give yourself a chance. You have to take hits to make plays, be strong on pucks.
“Our penalty kill was huge especially early in the series when our power play wasn’t clicking. You need a lot of things to win a series and we had good goaltending too. A lot of things came together.
“The work ethic when we were down two goals shows the caring and pride our guys have. Our older guys led by example, none of them hung their heads.”
The Rebels will meet either the Saskatoon Blades or Moose Jaw Warriors in the next round. Saskatoon took a 3-2 series lead on Regina Friday night and if the Blades prevail they will be Red Deer’s next opponent and the series will star next weekend in Saskatoon.
If Regina comes back to win in seven, the Rebels will have home ice advantage versus the Warriors, who swept the Lethbridge Hurricanes in round one.
“Whoever we get we’ll be ready for,” said King. “We just have to rest up and tune a few things and we’ll be good.”
Notable: The Rebels were three-for-six on the power play while the Hitmen were two-for five . . . The three stars: (1) King, who had three assists to go with his winning goal, (2) Lindgren (2g,2a) and (3) Muranov . . . Peters made 38 saves and made several outstanding stops to keep his team in the game, while Kelsey finished with 19 saves.