For the Red Deer Rebels, the road to the 2012 TELUS Cup will be a short one.
Thanks to their two-game sweep of the Vancouver North West Giants in the Pacific Regional, the Rebels will head 115 kilometres up Highway 2 to Leduc for this year’s National Midget Championship.
It’ll be the ninth time since 1979 Red Deer has played at the national championship, and the third time in six years; it won the silver medal when it hosted the tournament in 2007 before crashing out in the preliminary round in Lévis, Que., in 2010, just the second time in eight appearances it failed to reach the semifinals.
“When we went two years ago we didn’t have as much depth and we had some injuries,” Rebels head coach Doug Quinn told the Red Deer Advocate. “We’ll be prepared.”
Despite eight previous appearances, including six times in the semifinals, Red Deer has never won a national title; it has finished as runner-up three times, including double overtime losses in the gold medal game in 19.
Could this be the Rebels’ year?
“It’s been our goal since Day 1 to go and win it,” said Quinn. “We feel we have the depth and skill to do it.”
The regional match-up was a familiar one, with the Rebels and Giants facing off for the third year in a row – Red Deer won in 2010 while Vancouver returned the favour a year ago, with each winning on their home ice.
Both teams entered the series playing shutdown defence – the Rebels allowed just 10 goals in 10 playoff games, while the Giants gave up seven goals in five postseason contests – so it was no surprise scoring was at a premium in Game 1.
Despite outshooting Vancouver 38-16, it took a Ty Mappin goal with 2:19 remaining to finally break the ice and give Red Deer a 1-0 victory in the series opener, with Rebels netminder earning Dasan Sydora his fifth postseason shutout in 11 games.
The Giants were finally able to beat Sydora in Game 2, taking a 2-0 second period lead before the Rebels rattled off three unanswered to take a one-goal advantage into the game’s final 10 minutes.
Vancouver pulled even on the power play to force overtime, but Dylan Thudium was the hero for Red Deer, scoring in the second extra period to give the Rebels a 4-3 win and send them north to the TELUS Cup.
History could be on Red Deer’s side in Leduc – in each of the three previous national championships hosted in Alberta (Calgary, 19; Red Deer, 2007) an Alberta team has appeared in the gold medal game, and the 1991 final was an all-Alberta affair, with the Calgary Northstars beating Sherwood Park.
ROAD TO THE TELUS CUP: RED DEER REBELS
Alberta Midget Hockey League
ALL-TIME AT THE NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP: RED DEER REBELS