Regina Rebels working towards redemption at Esso Cup

Photo by Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Regina Rebels forward and Prince Albert product Stryker Zablocki lead her team offensively with three goals in Regina's 3-1 regional win over the Winnipeg Ice.

Darrell Davis, Regina Leader-Post

Another chance at the Esso Cup awaits the Regina Rebels, who placed third last year in the Canadian U18 AAA female hockey championship and needed some heroic performances to get their opportunity for redemption.

“A lot of times,” said Rebels forward Addison Greve, “our thing on the bench is someone saying, ‘Who’s gonna be the hero? Who’s gonna get the goal?’

“We look around, lean on each other and find new ways to get on the scoreboard. Whether that’s a snipe from the point or throw it at the goal or you get a rebound, someone responds.”

On a roster full of dependable offensive weapons like Greve, Berlin Lolacher, Carys Cross, Cedar Swan, Avery Gottselig, Kadence Dansereau and Brooklyn Nimegeers, the Rebels can seemingly always count on sniper Stryker Zablocki.

Zablocki scored all three goals in Regina’s 3-1, playoff-clinching victory over the Winnipeg Ice last week, which gave the Rebels the West berth into the six-team Esso Cup that starts Sunday in Vernon, B.C. Zablocki’s two-goal, third-period performances also rallied Regina to back-to-back victories in an earlier playoff series against the Battlefords Sharks.

“I feel like I play better under pressure,” said Zablocki, who led the Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey League in regular-season scoring with 40 goals and 25 assists. “(Late in games) is kind of my time and I always feel more strong when I’m in those situations.

“I work super, super hard in the gym and I’m also a really competitive person. I hate to lose.”

The Rebels placed first in league standings with a 26-3-1 record. A coaching change with one game remaining in the regular season — caused by an unsubstantiated complaint submitted to Hockey Canada that resulted in Mike Merk being replaced by Kim Perepeluk — didn’t dissuade the Rebels from getting back to the national championship.

“We’re shooting for gold,” said Zablocki. “We have a super strong team and we’re kind of going for redemption this year after getting bronze last year.

“At the end of the day, a coach doesn’t make our team. We still have the exact same team and it’s brought us closer. We created a really strong environment after the loss of Mike. We just came back stronger.”

Perepeluk, who coached the Rebels for four seasons before Merk took over in 2016, has added new assistant coaches while altering the team’s penalty-killing and power-play units. Perepeluk is making sure his players get enough rest while practising enough to maintain their conditioning before flying out of Regina this coming Saturday. The coaches will also gather as much intel as possible about their upcoming opponents.

“Ultimately they’re all league or provincial champions if they’re coming out of their regions,” said Perepeluk. “Other than that, it’s part of the excitement of going to these tournaments as you know as much about them as they know about you.”

Regina opens its schedule Sunday against the Ontario representative (North York Storm), followed each day by games against Quebec (Outaouais Intrepid), Pacific (Edmonton Jr. Oilers), the host squad (Thompson-Okanagan Lakers) and Atlantic (Northern Selects). The top four teams qualify for Friday’s playoffs, followed Saturday by the medal games.

“Right now I’m in my best shape ’cause I’m headed to nationals,” said Greve, who afterwards will join Saskatchewan’s squad at the Canadian Indigenous championship in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“We’ve got seven games in seven days. It’s a benefit, for sure, having that experience from last year. It’s really helpful because we’ve got quite a few returnees from last year. And we definitely have talked about last year.”