Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Rebels face huge challenge in Wheat Kings

Rest gives Brandon an edge in WHL Eastern Conference finals

Adam Helewka and his Rebels will battle the Wheat Kings.
    One of the slogans the Red Deer Rebels have gone by in the 2016 WHL playoffs is “#allheartrebels,” and they are going to need all of that heart and more against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The Rebels advanced to the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference championship series after taking a thrilling and memorable seven-game set against the Regina Pats. Red Deer will be making its first appearance in the conference final since 2004.
    In the Wheat Kings, the Memorial Cup hosting Rebels face their toughest test of the post-season to date. The Wheaties have been resting since dumping the Moose Jaw Warriors 7-3 in Game 5 of a second round series at Westman Place last Friday in Brandon.
    With Brandon hosting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals this Friday, a one week break means the Wheat Kings will be rested, but rust shouldn’t really be a factor. The Wheaties are also deep, and they have one of the best team cultures in the league.
    You can bet there are Red Deer hotel and restaurant staffers who are looking forward to the arrival head coach, general manager and owner Kelly McCrimmon and his Wheat Kings bunch in the central Alberta centre for Games 3 and 4, because Brandon is known for being one of the best mannered and classiest clubs off the ice. Those off-ice characteristics transfer to success on the ice as well. Brandon finished second overall in the WHL regular season standings with a 48-18-4-2 mark.
John Quenneville had been hot in the post-season for the Wheat Kings.
    Under head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter, the Rebels have traditionally been known for their heart and never quit work-ethic. Those characteristics allowed the Rebels to overcome a talented and spirited young team in the Regina Pats, who will likely be a force for years to come.
    Red Deer is as deep and talented as Brandon due to the fact Sutter loaded up his roster to be strong due to hosting the Memorial Cup in May. The Rebels were sixth overall in the WHL with a 45-24-1-2 record.
    With all things being equal, this series should be a tossup, but it may not be. Since April 13, the Rebels have endured three different eight-hour bus trips between Red Deer and Regina. Red Deer faces a 12-hour haul to get to Brandon.
    The Rebels have only two off days between their 2-1 victory over the Pats in Game 7 of their second round series on Tuesday and the start of the conference finals on Friday. The bus hours and the volume of games played does take its toll on a team.
Haydn Fleury fires a shot on goal for the Rebels.
    If the Rebels are to win the series, they are going to need starting netminder Rylan Toth to steal a couple of games. Toth returned after missing about two months due to a low body injury in a relief appearance in Game 4 of the series with the Pats and has gone the distance since. The Saskatoon product has a 2.31 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in the post-season.
    The 19-year-old entered the season as the Rebels money goalie. Toth is also aided by what has become strong group of starting six defencemen in Haydn Fleury, Kayle Doetzel, Nelson Nogier, Josh Mahura, Colton Bobyk and Austin Strand. That group just has to play smart, and Toth’s job becomes that much easier.
    With that in mind, Brandon’s big offensive players have been rolling in the team’s 11 post-season games, where five players are averaging over a point a game in John Quenneville (7g, 9a), Reid Duke (6g, 10a), Tim McGauley (6g, 7a), Nolan Patrick (5g, 8a) and Jayce Hawryluk (2g, 10a).
    Kale Clague, captain Macoy Erkamps and Ivan Provorov have been dynamite on the back end for Brandon. Jordan Papirny has gone the distance in goal in the playoffs posting 2.65 goals against average, a .898 save percentage and one shutout.
Captain Macoy Erkamps steadies Brandon's back end.
    Adam Helewka (8g, 4a) and Jake DeBrusk (5g, 7a) have topped the Rebels in post-season scoring. Captain Luke Philp, Michael Spacek, Evan Polei, Brandon Hagel and Adam Musil have all added key contributions at different times. Musil had the series winner against the Pats.
    While both teams have good players, the rest factor in Brandon’s favour looms large as a series-deciding intangible. The lengthy series definitely favours the Wheat Kings.

“Retired” Meachem still on WHL beat

    Veteran Red Deer Advocate sports writers and editor Greg Meachem retired, but he didn’t stay out of action for long.
    Shortly after his retirement, the Rebels brought Meachem on board to write web stories on the team on Meachem’s presence ensures the Rebels top the WHL in the best written content on any team website in the league.
    Big props have to be given to Sutter and his staff for ensuring Meachem remained active in covering the team. He is one of the best on the WHL beat. It seems Meachem is enjoying his new role as well.

Back on the cover of the Express thanks to Flinton

Julia Flinton looks to make a setup pass for the Huskies.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week writing the cover story on the duel life of Julia Flinton, who recently wrapped up her career with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    During her playing career with the Huskies, Flinton returned home to Williams Lake, B.C., in the off-season to be a forest firefighter. The 23-year-old will return home to follow that career on a full-time basis now.
    My sit down chat with Flinton ranks up there with as one of my most favourite interviews I have ever done. Flinton topped all Huskies defenders in career scoring with 14 goals and 66 assists in 131 regular season games.
    Flinton was also part of the Notre Dame Hounds squad that won the Esso Cup female midget AAA national hockey championship in 2011. 
    The Saskatoon Express on Flinton can be found here.

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