Rebels clear underdogs heading into opening-round post-season series
There’s nothing as dangerous as an underdog than a team of underdogs.
The Red Deer Rebels clearly won’t be a bettor’s favourite in their WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final clash with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, not after finishing 14 wins and 22 points behind the ‘Canes during the regular season.
But, as defenceman Jared Freadrich stressed Friday, if he and his teammates all pull together . . .
“You have to respect what they have over there. They have a lot of offensive guys and a good goalie, so you have to give them respect. But at the same time if we play a team game hopefully things will work out for us,” Freadrich stated while looking ahead to the first two games of the best-of-seven set, Saturday and Sunday in Lethbridge.
That one-for-all and all-for-one approach was precisely the plan of attack the Regina Pats — Freadrich’s previous team prior to being dealt to Red Deer last October — took into last spring’s series with Lethbridge and proceeded to knock off the favoured ‘Canes in five games.
“Playoffs are so tight, it can come down to the littlest mistakes,” said Freadrich. “It’s all about playing a team game, everyone has to be going. You’re only as strong as your weakest link so that’s what you need.”
As Freadrich noted, the Hurricanes are deep in offence with the likes of Tyler Wong, who sniped 51 goals and recorded 109 points this season, Giorgio Estephan (35-54-89) and Zak Zborosky (41-33-74).
In addition, Brennan Menell kicked in with 12 goals and 59 assists from the back end, while forwards Jordy Bellerive (27), Matt Alfaro (25) and Egor Babenko (24) all exceeded the 20-goal mark.
The Hurricanes, as a team, scored 280 goals. Only Regina and Medicine Hat scored more in the conference.
Top it all off with the fact the Hurricanes won five of the six regular-season meetings between them and the Rebels and it looks like an uphill climb for Freadrich and his teammates.
“We all know who they have over there,” said Freadrich. “We played them six times this season and we have to respect all the players on that team. They’re all good but we just have to shut them down and hope for the best.”
Not making the Rebels’ task any easier is the presence of the ‘Canes’ Stuart Skinner, one of the more impressive up-and-coming netminders in the league.
It will be up to Red Deer goaltenders Lasse Petersen and /or Riley Lamb to be at least equal to — and probably better than — Skinner to give their team a fighting chance.
The Rebels have offensive weapons of their own with Michael Spacek (30-55-85), Brandon Hagel (31-40-71), Evan Polei, Lane Zablocki and Austin Glover, who scored 33, 28 and 22 goals, respectively, but the loss of 20-goal captain Adam Musil to injury has cut into their depth.
That being said, a whole lot will fall on the shoulders of the Rebels’ defencemen with Freadrich, Colton Bobyk and Brandon Schuldhaus being the veterans in charge. The loss of Alex Alexeyev to a season-ending injury in January was a major blow to the Red Deer blueline, but it also forced the four rookies on the Red Deer blueline to play more minutes and the extra workload appears to have paid off in terms of development and maturity.
“I think our whole defensive corps has stepped up since Alex got injured,” said Freadrich. “Everybody is playing well right now and hopefully we can keep it going in the playoffs.”
If the Rebels are harbouring any nerves heading into the post-season, it’s not apparent to Freadrich.
“Everyone is looking forward to it,” he insisted. “We’ve battled all year to be in the spot we’re in, now it’s over and it’s a new season. Everybody is excited to get it started on Saturday.”
Notable: Games 3 and 4 of the series go next Wednesday and Thursday at the Centrium. Additional games, if needed, are set for Saturday, April 1 in Lethbridge, Sunday, April 2 in Red Deer and Tuesday, April 4 at Lethbridge.