The TELUS Cup hosts, the Red Deer Optimist Rebels, have captured the Alberta Midget Hockey League regular season title. The Optimist Rebels went 27-6-3 this year – including 18 games without a loss on home ice, something they hope will carry over into the playoffs and through to the national championship.
“Our offence will take care of itself, we just have to make sure that the penalties don’t hurt us,” assistant coach Wynn Dempster said following a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames in Game 3 of the South Division semi-finals on March 21. The Rebels wrapped up the series the following night with a double overtime win, and face the UFA Bisons in the division final beginning this week.
Scoring has not been a problem for the Optimist Rebels this season – they finished second in the league in team scoring with a total of 152 goals, despite not having a single player within the top 30 in the goals race.
Matt Fraser and Cass Mappin, both picked up after the start of the season, have become crucial to the team’s success. Fraser finished as one of the Optimist Rebels’ top scorers, with 25 points in 23 games, while Mappin makes an impact every time he steps on the ice.
“Mappin has added a physical toughness to our team, and Matt is a very good offensive player” said Dempster.
As important as scoring is, it has not been the only source of the Optimist Rebels’ regular season success. Goaltending is often what wins games in the playoffs, and the Optimist Rebels have arguably two of the best in the league between the pipes.
Marc Boulanger and Adam Gingras combined to backstop the team to a league-low 2.11 goals against average, allowing just 76 goals in 36 games, well ahead of the second-place Bisons, who allowed 91.
The Red Deer goaltenders finished the season one-two in goals against average, with Boulanger’s 1.96 mark slightly ahead of Gingras’ 2.29. Both also finished in the top three in save percentage, with Boulanger first at .937, and Gingras third at .916.
Already guaranteed of their seventh berth in the National Midget Championship, the Optimist Rebels will look for league championship number seven as they gear up for the 2007 TELUS Cup on their home ice.