In a game in which five-on-five play was as rare as a bad episode of Seinfeld, the Red Deer Optimist Rebels came up huge on special teams.
Ty Mappin scored shorthanded, Nick Glackin and Scott Feser each scored on the powerplay as the baby rebels edged the host Leduc Oil Kings 3-2 at the Telus Cup national midget championship on Wednesday.
Much to the chagrin of both teams, and the hundreds of fans in attendance at the Leduc Sobey's Arena, referee Jordan Lightbown was front and centre in this game... handing out a whopping 23 minor penalties. Somewhat obviously, Red Deer Head Coach Doug Quinn says winning the special teams battle was the difference in the game.
"Our penalty killing at key moments was outstanding today. And we had been struggling on our powerplay but certainly we capitalized on a few opportunities."
The always classy Quinn refused to blame officiating for the glut of penalties taken by his troops in this one. "We didn't adjust to how the ref was calling the game and we took some really silly penalties."
In fairness, the officiating was equally... uhh... "stringent" towards both teams (11 penalties to Red Deer, 12 to Leduc). It certainly did a good job of giving both teams plenty of open ice to work with. But it also for the longest time hindered any chance this game had of developing good flow.
In the end, Quinn feels it was a change in late game strategy that helped his team survived this "penalty-palooza."
"We were probably using too many of the same guys killing penalties as on the powerplay. So then we started expanding the amount of guys were putting out to kill penalties. I thought that seemed to help and give us more energy at the end."
All three Red Deer goals came in the second period after Doug Morris electrified the home crowd by giving the Oil Kings a 1-0 lead just 2:04 into the game. Leduc came out, as expected, with a ton of energy to start the game. At one point, they held a 6-2 lead in shots on goal before the Optimist Rebels came back to tie that 11-11 by the end of the opening frame. Mappin admits complacency crept into his team's mindset to start this game.
"I think we came into it thinking we might have an easier game. But you can never think like that. You just have to come into it thinking it's another game. I guess that's what we showed in the second and third [periods]."
Were the Optimist Rebels complacent? Probably. The fact that the Oil Kings did not score a goal against Red Deer in two league games may have been in their heads. Whatever the reason, they certainly played their worst hockey of the tournament in the opening ten minutes last night. Gradually, they got their feet moving and were seemingly back to normal in the second period as Mappin eluded to. If they were indeed over-confident, Quinn says they shouldn't have been.
"They're a top team. They actually lead the league most of the year and we didn't catch them until right at the very end. They basically played liked I expected them too. They played with a lot of energy and were physical."
In the end, the Optimist Rebels improve their record to 2-0-1 and trail only 3-0-0 Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin in the standings. Both teams have clinched spots in Saturday's semifinals heading into their head-to-head match-up this afternoon at 4pm. To say this will be a tough game for Red Deer would be a drastic understatement. The Quebec representatives have rolled through the tournament so far, outscoring their opponents by a whopping 21-9 margin... including a romp yesterday over Saskatoon.
One injury note for Red Deer... forward Tanner Lomsnes did not play versus Leduc and will also miss today's game versus Quebec. Coach Quinn says Lomsnes is dealing with lower back issues and is hopeful to be back in the lineup for the weekend.