Sunday, April 29, 2012


Simply put... it was the most remarkable comeback I have ever seen in a championship game.  Any sport.  Any level.

But before we discuss said comeback, we must first hear the story of the first two periods which set the stage for it... as opposed to pulling a George Lucas and telling the good part of the story before the lack lustre prequels.

The first period can be summed up in one word... disastrous.  There was great pace and plenty of hard hitting.  But the Optimist Rebels simply did not come ready to play and found themselves down 3-nil through twenty minutes, out shot 19-10 in the process (
Vincent Deslauriers scored twice followed by Frédérik Gauthier).  The consensus among the (non-TSN) media folk I was watching with was that the game may already have been over... and I hadn't really seen enough good play from Red Deer to disagree.

The second period started off much, much better when Brady Bakke picked the pocket of an Esther-Blondin defender and went in to score a shorthanded breakaway goal for Red Deer.  Once again, the Optimist Rebels found themselves riding on the Bakke (that works, right?) of their captain and right back into the game.  The goal definitely lit a spark under the Red Deer squad as they would dominate the next dozen or so shifts before a near fatal turning point.

At the 13:42 mark of the middle frame, Red Deer forward BJ Duffin skated through the Esther-Blondin crease just after the whistle had gone.  Duffin was knocked down by a Phenix defender and a scrum ensued.  Players from both teams were doing their best to get their shots in without being noticed (most effectively goalie
Simon Leiva who nailed some poor Rebel with a series of at least six straight 'can openers').  Somehow, referee Kowalski saw fit to hand Esther-Blondin a powerplay and effectively control of the game along with it.

David Bergeron scored on the ensuing powerplay and Ol' Mo was right back with the Quebec champs.  Tournament MVP Laurent Dauphin scored with 91 seconds left in the period to give Esther-Blondin a commanding lead.

Through 40 minutes of play the Phenix from Esther-Blondin were in full flight at the Leduc Sobey's Arena.  They had a commanding 5-1 lead over the Red Deer Optimist Rebels.  Three of those goals came on the powerplay against the Rebels air tight penalty killing unit.  Even the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail would admit things were looking gloomy for the Baby Rebels at that point.

Sticking with the Star Wars theme... it was time for A New Hope.

Just 53 seconds into the third period, Scott Feser provided that hope when he scored a powerplay goal to cut the Red Deer deficit to 5-2.  At point I was thinking "Ok, nice goal.  But it'll be window dressing at best" more so than "Alright, here they come."

But the ultimate turning point was yet to come.

At the midway point of the third, Phenix forward Alexandre Caron-Roy came in hard on the forecheck and laid a crushing blow on Rebels defenceman Kirk Johnson.  Problem was the hit was from behind into the boards.  As Johnson laid on the ice for a few moments, referee Kyle Kowalski (who will most definitely come up again later on in this here write-up) conferred with his linesman then assessed a five minute major for boarding plus a game misconduct.  Afterward, Esther-Blondin Head Coach Paulin Bordeleau wasn't sure a major penalty was warranted.  Most everyone else watching the play would say otherwise.  Twelve seconds after that play, Jason Rouleau was sent off for slashing and Red Deer, trailing by three goals, found themselves with a five-on-three man advantage.

It was at this point that the Optimist Rebels powerplay, which was a miniscule 10.20% for the tournament, turned the game on its head.

Feser struck again 46 seconds into the two-man advantage.  5-3.

Nick Glackin found the back of the net just 18 seconds later.  5-4.

Glackin scored his second straight goal 90 seconds after that.  5-5.

Three powerplay goals in 1:58.  Four ppg for Red Deer in the third period.  The comeback that no one, and I really do mean no one, saw coming had been pulled off.  At that point, you needed look no further than the players benches to see the effects of this complete change in momentum.  Every single Red Deer player was up on his feet, ready to pounce at a moment's notice.  Every Esther-Blondin player was seated dejectedly, wondering what in the name of Jean Chretien just happened.

The Optimist Rebels had plenty of chances to score the game winner before the end of the period, including Scott Ferguson hitting the post in the final minute, but regulation time ended with the game tied 5-5.

The 10-minute first overtime saw both teams create some decent scoring chances but nothing was solved.  It remained 5-5 and we were off to double overtime.

At this point I was having flashbacks to 2007 when I was at the Enmax Centrium to see the Optimist Rebels lose in double overtime to the Prince Albert Mintos in the Telus Cup final.  I also thought briefly about my boss, Paul Mason, whose son Chris was in net for Red Deer when they lost in double overtime of the 1994 (then Air Canada Cup) final to Regina.  Surely, the third time had to be the charm.

The sphincters of Red Deer fans both at the rink and watching at home tightened when Duffin was sent to the sin bin for kneeing.  The call was a good one, Duffin instinctively stuck his leg out to clip down a rushing Quebec forward.  Thankfully for those fans, the Optimist Rebels penalty kill returned to form and held Esther-Blondin at bay for the full two minutes.

A few minutes later,
Alexandre Grenier was sent off for tripping up a Red Deer forward (I think it was Nick Glackin) at centre ice.  Another easy call for Kowalski to make.  The Optimist Rebels had an overtime powerplay of their own.

Logan Fisher won the faceoff in Esther-Blondin territory to Bakke.  The captain fired on net.  The puck bounced off of Glackin and past
[Phenix goalie] Kevin Darveau completing the comeback.  The epic comeback.  8:40 into the second overtime period... the Red Deer Optimist Rebels were Telus Cup Champions.

Red Deer fans both at the rink and watching at home will remember this game for many years to come.  Even the casual fans watching across Canada on TSN ("Red Deer" was trending nationally on twitter in the third period and overtime) will be thinking "Hey, that was pretty cool" too.

I'm sure my writeup didn't even come close to doing this game the justice it deserves.  But I'm not sure anyone can do so in word form.  You'll have to chat with someone who was there to see it or (if you're lucky) TSN will post the game on their website at some point.  I'll also have plenty of clips from the likes of Doug Quinn, Bakke and Glackin in my Monday morning sports on Big 105 and 106.7 The Drive and my good pal Rene Rondeau will have plenty of sights and sounds on


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