It’s an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often, but the Red Deer Rebels will get the chance to do something that no one has been able to do since January 23rd.
Beat the Saskatoon Blades.
It’s been an incredible run in ‘Toon town for the past month, as the Blades have strung together a 15-game winning streak and vaulted themselves from doubtful Memorial Cup Host to WHL Championship contender. For whatever reason, things have started to click for the Saskatoon Blades, and they’ve been the best team in junior hockey for the better part of the past 30 days.
Their 15-game winning streak is remarkable in itself, but when you look at how the Blades have been doing it, it’s even more impressive. Over their past 15 wins, Saskatoon has outscored their opponents a staggering 78-25, averaging 5.2 goals for per game, and limiting to just 1.67 goals against, on average. More or less, their average win has come by a score of 5-2. Take into account that three times the Blades have put up 7 against their opposition, and that’s an offence that has really taken off over the past month.
So what’s been the biggest change in Saskatoon? Sure adding a player of Michael Ferland’s ilk at the WHL trade deadline was a boost. The 20-year-old’s 25 points in 25 games since coming over from Brandon has been a welcome addition…but what else? Well, the team’s other overage products have certainly stepped up as well. Josh Nicholls and Brenden Walker have played exceptional this season with Nicholls posting a career high 40 goals, tied for fourth in the Dub’s goal scoring race.
Add in a solid goaltender in Andrey Markarov and you’ve got some strength at both ends of the rink. The Russian net minder enters tonight’s contest with the Rebels with a .923 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against average. Those are pretty good numbers, which have Makarov in the top five in goaltending statistics amongst the WHL’s elite ‘tenders.
Though, it should be noted, that Brent Sutter’s goaltender can go one better.
As good as Makarov has been this season in Saskatoon, Patrik Bartosak has done yeoman’s work for the Rebels and his .933 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average put him slightly higher in the WHL goaltending race. The Czech native has played five fewer games than his Russian counterpart, but all things being equal, you’ve got two pretty good goalies who will be on display tonight at the Enmax Centrium.
But can the Rebels match the offence that will be firing against Bartosak?
Red Deer has been doing a good job of trying to lock down the 4th and final home ice advantage spot in the Eastern Conference and their recent five game winning streak helped them get up on Prince Albert in that regard. Rhyse Dieno and Turner Elson continue to be the straws that stir the drink for the Rebels, both sitting tied for the team lead in points with 49 apiece. After their five game streak was brought to a halt on Sunday in Medicine Hat, the team will look to wrap up the final 9 games of the regular season on a high note. With Saskatoon tonight and Swift Current on deck, the Rebels will close out the final 7 games this season in the Central Division.
The Rebels have had the Blades’ number all season long having won all three meetings to this point. The question is, can the Rebels sweep the season series and end the hottest streak in the WHL this year, or will the Blades continue to steamroll everyone in their path, including the Rebs in Red Deer tonight?
There’s already a genuine dislike between these two clubs. With everything else surrounding both teams, I’d say fans should be in for a fun one tonight!