The field isn’t set yet, but the Red Deer Optimist Rebels have cemented themselves as serious contenders for the TELUS Cup.
The Rebels captured the Alberta Midget Hockey League championship on March 28, beating the Leduc Oil Kings 3-1 to complete a three-game sweep of the provincial championship series.
“We earned our way there,” Rebels captain Corey Campbell said. “People can’t say we’re just there because we’re hosting.”
All season long the Rebels have said they wanted to win the Alberta championship and get a berth to the National Midget Championship through the front door, rather then simply relying on their status as tournament hosts. Coach Brent Fudge said that mission is now accomplished.
“These guys deserve it. They were the best team all year long, they were the best team throughout the playoffs,” Fudge said. “The best team with the best goaltender.”
Rebels netminder Marc Boulanger was the star of the game, making 23 saves, including some crucial ones in the third period.
“That kid has nerves of steel when the game is on the line. He keeps getting better and better and better,” Fudge said. “He just saved the game for us again today, and he’s been doing that all year long.”
The Rebels, who haven’t lost a game on home ice all season, were in jeopardy of dropping their first on Wednesday as the Oil Kings came out strong for the first 35 minutes.
“We lost (the series) 3-0, but I think we had an opportunity to win Game 1 and today we showed a lot of great things by coming out hard. We could have easily quit, but we chose not to,” Oil Kings coach Dave Romanko said. “I thought we had every opportunity to win that game today.”
Nicholas Bourgeois opened the scoring for the visitors with a power-play goal with two minutes and 52 seconds to go in the first period.
The Oil Kings played a tight-checking style and prevented the Rebels from registering a shot on goal for an eight-and-half-minute stretch at the beginning of the second period.
“We tried to do that all series long and today we really executed well,” Romanko said. “All-in-all, I thought we played our best game of the series.”
The Rebels finally got on the board when Kaare Odegard wired a shot from the high slot over the shoulder of Oil Kings netminder Brett Patchett with 3:38 to go in the second period. Red Deer took the lead three and half minutes later when Cass Mappin found Campbell open in front of the net.
“That last five minutes of the second period, that really turned the game around,” Campbell said.
Mappin sealed the win with an empty net goal with 17 ticks on the clock.
The Oil Kings gave the Rebels all they could handle in dying minutes and it was up to Boulanger and his defenders to preserve the lead.
“The whole team played awesome. Guys were blocking shots, putting it all on the line,” Boulanger said. “Everyone wanted to win tonight. It was just a great team win.”
The Red Deer blueliners did all they could to help their goalie, including one memorable scramble in front where six players were piled on top of each other in the crease. Play continued for five or six seconds until Boulanger secured the loose puck.
“I thought it was covered for a good few seconds there, but the ref said he saw it,” the goaltender recounted. “It was a big scramble. Usually those end up in the net. We were fortunate there.”
Patchett, who hails from Red Deer, made 26 saves in a losing effort.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Rebels flooded onto the ice and on top of Boulanger. They donned championship hats before receiving their gold medals.
“It’s unreal. It’s a dream come true, I guess,” Campbell said. “There’s so much great stuff happening in the dressing room right now. It’s unbelievable.”