Despite dressing several sick players and playing a semi-final only four hours prior, the Red Deer Rebels bantam AAA boys hockey team beat the hometown Pirates 6-0 Sunday afternoon to win Prince Albert’s annual bantam hockey showcase tournament.
The Venice House Pirates showed speed and scoring prowess, but the Red Deer squad used its physical defencemen, sticky neutral zone tactics and high-pressure fore-checking to contain and counter the Pirates’ top players.
The two teams entered the tournament’s A-group final at the Art Hauser Centre after each came off of four-straight wins to make it to the championship game; Red Deer beat the Leduc Oil Kings 5-1 on Sunday morning in the semi-final, while the Pirates skated to a tough 6-5 overtime win Saturday evening against the Humboldt Broncos in the other A-group semi-final.
Coming into Sunday afternoon’s contest, Rebels head coach Justin Jarmolicz expected fatigue to be a factor for his team.
“We had three guys out – we’ve got this real sickness going through our team. There’s guys playing sick, and they battled through. I was really surprised at their effort level and how hard they were actually able to play.”
He praised his defence for containing a Pirates team “that has some pretty high-end guys.”
Part of the Rebels’ game plan in doing that was to jam up the Pirates’ play through the neutral zone, he said.
“We wanted to slow down their top line. We really wanted to make sure they didn’t generate any attack speed through the neutral zone and our guys really did a good job.”
In effect, Prince Albert’s normally high-scoring trio of Gabe Klassen, Ashton Ferster and Logan Cox were held off the score sheet.
Red Deer’s defence and its back-checkers were also effective in playing the body to knock the Pirates skaters off the puck and in slowing down their transition play out of their zone.
Pirates head coach Shawn Phaneuf disagreed that it was the Rebels’ neutral zone play that slowed down his team.
“We just weren’t sharp. We just weren’t catching passes, we just weren’t executing very well today.”
Neither did Phaneuf think fatigue was a factor in his team’s loss.
“We just didn’t execute at any pace at all and just couldn’t get anything going. A couple of those goals kind of took the wind out of our sails a bit, and we just weren’t able to come back from it.”
The teams ended the first period with Red Deer up 1-0, but the visiting team outshot and outplayed the home team for most of the frame.
The Rebels broke the game open in the second period, scoring three goals, including a short-handed score by Myles Hilman on a breakaway at 11:25.
By the end of the period, the shot count was 29-11 in Red Deer’s favour.
The Rebels continued to pour it on in the third period, netting two goals in the frame.
But the Pirates kept pushing for a goal, coming close on two goal-mouth scrambles in the period.
Phaneuf underscored his team’s effort in that regard.
“We didn’t quit when we were down. They stayed positive on the bench – they wanted to compete, to get that goal.
“I think it just says a lot about the character of our team.”
In his mind, the game was an important one, because, “you learn a lot from a loss. You learn your deficiencies and what you need to do to be better.
“And I think I’m happy with where we are right now. We’re kind of on that steady incline. We’re looking to peak in February when playoffs hit.”
Along with the six different skates who scored for the Rebels, Jarmolicz commended defenceman Bosten Lajeunesse, whose job it was to contain Klassen.
“He did an incredible job in tight, being physical with him. I had scouted that before; I was a little worried, cause I saw him go against some pretty top defences, and (Klassen) is a good player.
“(Lajeunesse) skates and he’s physical. He’s the hardest guy on our team to play against. He’s always banging,” Red Deer’s head coach said.
The Rebels also had goals from Daneault Ty, Reed Sparrow, Jayden Henderson, Foxx Doell and Tyler Mackenzie.
The Rebels head coach also said he wanted to thank Prince Albert for being a great host city during the tournament. “Shout out to the Ramada and the Smitty’s out by Safeway; they fed us every day. It was great.”