Red Deer and Rouyn-Noranda meet in semi-final on Friday night
Red Deer, AB – The 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup got its first taste of overtime and as is always the case, the victory was sweet and the defeat bitter.
Evan Polei sent the Red Deer Rebels to Friday’s MasterCard Memorial Cup Semi-Finals on a feed from linemate Conner Bleackley 3:50 into overtime, beating a sprawled out Jordan Papirny to eliminate the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings with a 2-1 victory.
“The adrenaline was just pumping,” said Polei. “To be honest I thought he (Bleackley) was going to shoot it, but I called for the puck and he fed me a great pass.”
The win marks redemption for the Rebels, who were ousted from the WHL’s Eastern Conference Finals by Brandon in five games a month ago.
“We can enjoy this tonight,” Polei continued, “but it’s going to be a quick turnaround and we’ll have to start getting ready for Rouyn-Noranda on Friday. They’re a good team that we’ll need to be prepared for.”
Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth earned second star honours, turning heads with a 32-save performance while keeping his team in a closely matched contest.
The Wheat Kings, who were without star forward Jayce Hawryluk, finish their MasterCard Memorial Cup with a record of 0-2-1, scoring five goals-for while surrendering 16 over the three games.
“We had a crack at it here, it was my last chance in junior and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” said Wheat Kings overage forward Tim McGauley. “It’s the way it goes sometimes though. It’s hockey. You have to move on. We were better tonight but I don’t think we were as good as we could be.”
“Somewhere between Seattle and Red Deer we lost our mojo,” added Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon. “We never got going anywhere near the level that we were in the playoffs and in the four series that we played I just always had a feeling as a coach that we weren’t going to be denied no matter what the circumstances and we didn’t bring that here.”
The two clubs felt each other out through the first frame as Red Deer outshot Brandon 8-7.
Papirny provided the period’s biggest save, denying Grayson Pawlenchuk with a blocker save on a breakaway chance inside the final five minutes.
Toth was steady when called upon, helping the Rebels kill off a late penalty.
Papirny stood tall early in the second, denying another Red Deer breakaway opportunity off the stick of Jeff de Wit before Toth responded with a pad save off John Quenneville in the slot.
The Wheat Kings finally broke through just beyond the midway point of the second as overage sniper Tim McGauley scooped up a loose puck inside the Red Deer blueline before snapping a wrister over the shoulder of Toth from the top of the circle at 11:26.
Papirny would preserve the Brandon lead with just over three minutes remaining, flashing the leather on Bleackley who had a point-blank scoring opportunity from the hash marks.
A pair of big saves from Toth off Quenneville held the Rebels within a goal headed to the second intermission as Brandon outshot Red Deer 21-18 through 40 minutes.
The Wheat Kings pressed for a second goal early in the third frame, but Toth stood tall, giving the Rebels a chance to tie things up, which they did at 14:55.
St. Louis Blues prospect Adam Musil forced his way into the slot, swatting a rolling puck past Papirny with assists going to Haydn Fleury and Kayle Doetzel as the ENMAX Centrium erupted.
The capacity crowd was treated to a tense final five minutes before time expired, sending things off to overtime for the first time at the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Brandon outshot Red Deer 33-29 in regulation as both goaltenders were playing at the top of their game.
It took just 3:50 for Red Deer to put an end to things, punching their ticket to the MasterCard Memorial Cup Semi-Final on Polei’s winner as Bleackley stripped a Wheat King of the puck and quickly dished to his linemate for the finish.
The Rebels will face the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for a chance to advance to Sunday’s MasterCard Memorial Cup Final.
This marks the second time in the last six years that a tie-breaker won’t be required at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Friday’s action gets underway at 6:00pm MT/8:00pm ET, a game that can be seen live across the country on Sportsnet and TVA Sports 2.