RED DEER, Alta. – The Red Deer Rebels felt the pain of elimination back in April when the Brandon Wheat Kings bounced them from the Western Hockey League playoffs. Evan Polei never forgot the feeling.
Polei scored in overtime as Red Deer exacted some revenge by knocking Brandon out of the 2016 Memorial Cup with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
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“You can’t even describe it because we lost to those guys,” said Polei. “For them to come into this tournament and lose all three (round-robin games) and we’re the ones to send them home is an absolute great feeling.”
The 20-year-old Polei, a Wetaskwin, Alta., native, took a feed from Conner Bleackley at the side of the net and beat Jordan Papirny 3:50 into the extra period.
“Surreal moment, it’s my first overtime goal, biggest goal of my career,” said Polei, who is in his fourth year of major junior.
“I thought (Bleackley) was gonna shoot. I actually fanned on that shot, it was fortunate to go in.”
Red Deer will face the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in Friday’s semifinal. The OHL champion London Knights have already earned a berth in the tournament championship on Sunday after going 3-0 in round-robin play.
Adam Musil scored for the host Rebels in regulation time.
Tim McGauley scored for the WHL champion Wheat Kings.
Rylan Toth made 33 saves for the win as Papirny stopped 30-of-32 shots in defeat.
“Losing out to them was tough, little cherry on top to knock them out, maybe a little pay back I guess,” said Toth.
Brandon also lost 5-3 to the Huskies and was hammered by the Knights 9-1 at the tournament.
“We had much higher hopes coming to the tournament than how it played out. The three teams that played the best are the teams still playing,” said Wheat Kings coach Kelly McCrimmon. “Somewhere between the (WHL finals) and Red Deer we lost our mojo.”
Both teams came out strong in the first, playing some exciting hockey that kept the 7,000 fans in attendance at the Enmax Centrium engaged despite the game staying scoreless through the first 20 minutes.
Grayson Pawlenchuk nearly scored for the home team with five minutes to play in the period but was turned away by Papirny on a breakaway. Shots were 8-7 Rebels after the first.
The second period started similar to the first and Jeffrey De Wit got the first real scoring chance four minutes in, but Papirny made another breakaway save to keep it 0-0.
Shortly after a Brandon penalty expired, McGauley broke down the wing and snapped a shot over Toth’s glove to make it 1-0 with 8:34 to play in the second.
“It was a tight-checking game, not much room, much space. We got down one and our mindset was to win the game,” said Rebels coach Brent Sutter. “We didn’t want a situation where we lost a game but (advanced) on a goal differential.”
The two teams traded some chances, but Papirny and Toth both shut the door heading into intermission. Shots were 21-18 Brandon after 40 minutes.
Toth was busy early in the third period as the Wheat Kings produced two scoring chances while playing with the man advantage, but it stayed a one-goal game.
Helewka almost tied the game seven minutes into the third, but Papirny got his right pad down.
Papirny was finally beaten with 5:05 remaining in regulation. Haydn Fleury put a shot on net that was partially blocked before Musil picked it up and put it past the Brandon netminder. Shots were 33-29 Wheat Kings heading into overtime.
“No one has short memories, we knew we were beaten in the semis by Brandon,” said Sutter.
Notes: Brandon’s leading scorer from the regular season Jayce Hawryluk was scratched (undisclosed). McCrimmon would not comment when asked why.