June 19th, 2024

Rebels look to continue success from Tigers series

By JAMES TUBB on April 9, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Two Red Deer Rebels skaters join goaltender Chase Wutzke in celebrating their 5-2 Game 5 win Friday at Co-op Place over the Medicine Hat Tigers, winning their first-round series 4-1.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

From Game 1 to a clinching Game 5 of their first-round series, the Red Deer Rebels saw consistent improvement that put them on top.

The Rebels weathered a back-and-forth first two games of their series with the Medicine Hat Tigers, winning the final three games and a 5-2 victory Saturday for a 4-1 series win.

They had a four-goal comeback 5-4 double overtime Game 1 win that was followed up with a 3-1 loss in Game 2. After that contest, head coach Dave Struch said he didn’t like the effort of his team and he wasn’t happy they didn’t carry any of the lessons from the win into that game.

Three games and three wins later, Struch says he’s liked the progression and how his team stepped up to take the series.

“Just the consistent improvement, we know we’re going to make mistakes, we know the game is momentum shifts,” Struch said. “But for our guys to stay even keeled through it all becomes the most important thing.”

The first road series was chock full of momentum swings.

Beyond the Rebels completing the four-goal comeback, Games 3 and 4 were decided by just one. Medicine Hat made a late comeback in Game 3 to send the game to overtime before Red Deer capitalized on a power play. In Game 4, the two teams traded goals through the first 40 minutes before Red Deer sealed the win with a last-second goal, giving them a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Rebels’ captain Kai Uchacz says their best ability was being able to roll with the punches of the series and not get too low or too high.

“We stuck with it right from the start, they were up on us early in Game 1 and we never let it get us down,” Uchacz said. “We kept pushing the pace and found a way to squeak out that Game 1 and we carried the momentum through there.

“A big thing for us was just playing with a five-man unit, staying connected through all three zones and pushing the pace, and it worked out for us.”

The Rebels also had success starting in the crease with rookie net minder Chase Wutzke.

The 17-year-old goaltender started all five games, working a .922 save percentage and 2.59 goals against average, holding one of the best offences in the regular season to 14 goals through the five games.

“He’s been great for us,” Struch said about his goaltender. “In the first game at 4-0, he didn’t play bad, he was playing great for us. So right from that moment forward he was solid and our players got a lot of energy from him. Big moments, and that’s what your goalie is there for, to make those big saves and give you a chance against a real highly offensive team like Medicine Hat. You need a goalie to make those saves.”

The Rebels held the Tigers’ power play, which was the third-best in the regular season, to one goal on 20 attempts, also scoring two shorthanded goals in the process.

They’ll face an even more formidable foe and one that is very familiar to Red Deer in the second-round in the Saskatoon Blades.

Saskatoon, who finished the regular season as the top team in the WHL and won their first-round series against the Prince Albert Raiders 4-1, reverse swept the Rebels in the second-round last season.

Having blown a 3-0 series lead last season against the Blades, Uchacz says their upcoming matchup has long been on their minds and he says they’re looking to reverse history.

“They took us out last year and it’s been in the back of our mind the whole year,” Uchacz said. “As soon as we came into training camp this year, we were talking about that series from last year. Now that we’re moving on against them again, it is a revenge series and we have to find a way to dig deep and it’s going to be a fun series.”

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