Saturday, 16 April 2016

The WHL at its best

Rebels and Pats have delivered a spectacular series

Adam Brooks (#77) of the Pats battles Rebels captain Luke Philp.
    It is almost sad that the WHL playoff series between the Red Deer Rebels and Regina Pats has to end.
    While the Victoria Royals and the Kelowna Rockets have been engaged in a thrilling second round series played in front of the Shaw TV cameras out west, the series out east between the Rebels and Pats has been the WHL at its best.
    The Rebels lead the best-of-seven set 3-2 with Game 6 set for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Brandt Centre in Regina. Game 6 sold out on Saturday afternoon. From a pure hockey fan standpoint, you almost hope a series deciding Game 7 would be needed, which would be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer.
    The Rebels versus Pats series has had everything. You have seen the odd tight defensive game, a lot of stellar offence, red hot work on the power play, great goaltending and the odd interesting storyline. You also have two buildings that have been rocking, which has added to the overall atmosphere.
    With all the action that has taken place, you almost wish the series could go on forever.
Haydn Fleury is strong in all situations.
    The main storyline that has come out of the last two games has been the return of Rebels starting goaltender Rylan Toth, who had been out with a lower body injury since the middle of February. He was in a walking boot just before playoffs started.
    Trevor Martin took over the starter’s role and ran with it. During the playoffs, the Ardrossan, Alta., product started out playing like a money goalie, and he was a key reason the Rebels took Games 1 and 2 against the Pats.
    The Pats, who have a lot of gifted players, started to get more and more pucks past Martin, when the series shifted to Regina. “The Queen City Kids” took Game 3 by a 6-3 score and Game 4 by 6-4 count.
    In Game 4, the Rebels pulled Martin at the 12:18 mark of the second period after he stopped 18 of 22 shots. Toth entered in relief stopping nine of 10 shots fired his way before the Pats added an empty netter.
    The Rebels started Toth for Game 5 on Friday in Red Deer and the Saskatoon product turned away 28 of 29 shots fired his way in a 5-1 victory. Now the question becomes can Toth continue to deliver.
    During the series, a lot of players have delivered. Rebels captain Luke Philip has two goals and five assists to top his team in scoring for the series. Brandon Hagel has delivered too with a goal and five assists for Red Deer.
    Others like Adam Musil have come through at key times, like when Musil tipped home the power-play game winner in the Rebels 4-3 victory in Game 2.
    Defenceman Josh Mahura, who missed 70 regular season games with a serious knee injury, has been a force recording two goals, two assists and a plus-five rating in the plus-minus department. He has shown signs of being an elite player.
Connor Hobbs has been a rock on the Pats back end.
    Mahura's play has almost overshadowed the fact that Rebels star rearguard Haydn Fleury, who has been a member of Canada world junior team, has continued to handle himself well playing in all situations.
    For the Pats, Adam Brooks and Cole Sanford have been the offensive stars they have always been. Brooks, who led the WHL in scoring during the regular season, has a goal and seven assists, while Sanford has three goals and four assists.
    Overage captain Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs have been dynamite on the back end for Regina. Williams, who is from Regina, has a goal and four assists, while Hobbs, who is from Saskatoon, has two goals and three assists.
    Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn, who is in his 16-year-old rookie season, has come through in key gritty moments in Regina picking up a goal and two assists in the series.
    The power play success for both sides has been off the charts. Red Deer has connected on 7-of-19 chances for a 36.8 per cent success rate. Regina has cashed in on 11-of-30 chances for a 36.7 per cent success rate.
    In the stands, the Rebels have drawn crowds of 5,845, 4,802 and 6,185 in their three home dates. The Red Deer fan base is loyally behind Rebels head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter, who has always been a strong community minded person in that centre. Sutter and his family are enduring figures in the hearts of the Rebels faithful.
The Pats and Rebels battle for the puck along the boards.
    The Pats have drawn crowds of 6,247 and 6,171 in their two home games. As the oldest junior hockey franchise in the world dating back to 1917, the Pats have an entrenched and loyal following in Regina. The passion gets cranked up a few notches in the post-season making the Brandt Centre a tough place to play for the opposition.
    This series has been one to remember, but someone has to win it and advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series to face the defending conference champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
    For now, fans in both Red Deer and Regina should enjoy the present and the remaining action of this series while it lasts.

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