Keeping emotions in check is key for Rebels heading into Game 5
The Red Deer Rebels could be excused for harbouring a large portion of confidence now that they’re a mere one win away from advancing to the second round of the WHL playoffs.
But forward Evan Polei, following a practice session Friday morning at the Centrium, insisted that the players aren’t allowing their emotions to take over regardless of the fact they lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-1 in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
“We need to stay even-headed here, even keel, and just worry about what we need to do on the ice tomorrow night,” said Polei, in reference to Game 5 Saturday in Lethbridge.
While the Rebels took control of the series with back-to-back triumphs on home ice Wednesday and Thursday, they had to rally from behind in both games, a habit the team would prefer to break.
“We’ve been playing real solid hockey, but we have to start with a lead,” said Polei. “We can’t be coming from behind every game. We just have to come out with a jump at the start of the game. It makes it easier.”
The Rebels have been hard on the ‘Canes physically, in particular during Game 4. That’s been the plan since before the series started, Polei suggested.
“With the size we have on our team, that has to be a huge part of our game,” he said. “We need to get pucks in behind their defence and finish checks all night long and be hard on their top-end forwards . . . not make it easy on them.
“With the size we have we definitely need to play that big, heavy game where physicality is a huge factor.”
The return of centre and captain Adam Musil for Games 3 and 4 from an ankle injury has helped the Rebels maintain their size advantage and edge in body contact, especially up front. The six-foot-three, 203-pound St. Louis Blues prospect has also contributed offensively with a pair of assists.
“He’s one of our biggest bodies out on the ice and he uses it to his advantage and helps create space for his linemates and other players out there,” said Polei, the Rebels’ resident heavyweight who carries 228 pounds on his six-foot-one frame.
“He gets pucks to the net and uses his size very effectively. Having our captain back is huge for the team.”
The Rebels’ aggressive play has somewhat contributed to them being penalized on 22 occasions through the four games. That’s another pattern that has to change, Polei noted.
“Too many penalties. Our penalty kill has been real solid for us all series (surrendering just three goals) but we have to stay out of the box,” said the Wetaskiwin native, who potted the winner in each of the last two outings and has three goals and eight points in the series, good for seventh place in WHL playoff scoring, four spots back of team leader Michael Spacek (2-7-9).
“It would make it a lot easier out there for us.”
The common belief that a series-clinching victory is always the toughest to attain has held up through the years and Polei, his teammates and coaches know the ‘Canes will come hard in Game 5 with their season on the line.
But the Rebels have enough playoff seasoning to eventually nail down that decisive win at some point in the series, said Polei.
“We had a good taste of it last year. I think we have those veterans in the room who know what it means and what it takes to get that win,” he stated.
If Lethbridge prevails Saturday, a sixth game will go Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Centrium.
Game 7, if necessary, will be played Tuesday in Lethbridge.