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#WHLPlayoffs: Red Deer Rebels (3) vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes (2)

 

With the 2018 WHL Playoffs set to begin Thursday, March 22, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the eight head-to-head matchups across the league.

With a general introduction, vital statistics and keys to the series, we’ve got everything you need to know heading into the 2018 WHL Playoffs. While the usual suspects are known, our ‘Players to Watch’ section will take a deeper dive into some of the supporting characters set to take on a big role in the post-season.

Finally, we close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to ignite.

In our eighth of eight opening round 2018 WHL Playoffs previews, we examine the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels. 


Brock Boot & Taylor Rocca

The Red Deer Rebels enter the 2018 WHL Playoffs riding a wave of momentum. After spending the majority of the season on the outside looking in, Brent Sutter’s squad put together an impressive run in the final weeks of the regular season and now find themselves in a familiar position – facing the Lethbridge Hurricanes in what promises to be a fantastic opening round matchup.

Fans of both clubs will remember last spring’s entertaining seven-game affair well. Whether Lane Zablocki’s last-minute tying goal in Game 3, Ryan Vandervlis’ key strike in Game 7, or the general intensity of both the Enmax Centrium and Enmax Centre – playoff memories between Red Deer and Lethbridge are fresh.

The two organizations have been locked in a heated rivalry that has smoldered since the 2015-16 season. As they sit on the verge of their second consecutive first-round meeting, it’s not a stretch to assume that we will see that intensity (and potentially animosity) continue to grow.

Despite the playoff familiarity, many of the front-line faces have changed for both the Rebels and Hurricanes.

After dispatching Red Deer in last spring’s seven-game series, Lethbridge went on to a thrilling Game 7 overtime victory over archrival Medicine Hat, before eventually bowing out to the Regina Pats in the Eastern Conference Championship series. Tyler Wong, Giorgio Estephan, and Stuart Skinner all played a significant role in propelling Lethbridge to last season’s playoff success, and with all three of those players now gone, the Hurricanes will have to rely on a new cast if they hope to continue that trend in 2018.

Key among the new leadership core will be first-year captain Jordy Bellerive. After an impressive display with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins this past fall (which earned him a free agent contract with the Club), Bellerive exploded for 92 points in 2017-18. Enough to land him a spot on the WHL’s Eastern Conference Second All-Star team. Bellerive, along with fellow veteran and deadline acquisition Brad Morrison, will likely be leaned on heavily by ‘Canes head coach Brent Kisio to provide offence.

Not unlike Lethbridge, Red Deer has also seen significant transformation of their roster in 2017-18. Michael Spacek, Evan Polei, and the aforementioned Zablocki (all key contributors in last year’s first-round series) are no longer part of the picture. Like Lethbridge, Red Deer will be relying on a host of new faces to step up and carry their squad.

One such face will be veteran Mason McCarty. Acquired from Saskatoon in the offseason, the product of Blackie, Alta. led the 2017-18 edition of the Rebels with 82 points in the regular season. He, along with fellow veteran Brandon Hagel, will undoubtedly need to be contributing factors if the Rebels intend on a successful playoff drive.

While the intensity of the matchup is undoubted, there’s no denying that Lethbridge has gotten the better of Red Deer in terms of wins over the last few seasons. The trend continued in 2017-18 as Lethbridge won the season series with a commanding 4-2-0-0 record. Additionally, the Hurricanes also managed to marginally best the Rebels in goal differential, tallying 20 goals to the Rebels’ 18.

But while the results may appear lopsided, the Rebels were on the winning side of the final two head-to-head matchups earlier this month. Additionally, Red Deer enters the post-season having won six of their final 10 games. Lethbridge, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well down the stretch. The Hurricanes sputtered, mustering a disappointing 2-8-0-0 record to end the season. The boys from the Windy City will be looking to build on a road victory over Medicine Hat last weekend as they now turn to face Red Deer in Round 1.

To add to the intrigue, this series also boasts the appearance of two promising young defencemen. Both the ‘Canes Calen Addison and Rebels’ Alexander Alexeyev are ranked amongst NHL Central Scouting’s top 50 North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft. Fans of the Rebels and Hurricanes will have the enviable opportunity to witness the two go toe-to-toe on opposing bluelines. It goes without saying that this is also a great chance for the players to showcase their skills in pressure situations heading into the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas, this June.

Schedule

Game 1 – Friday, March 23 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, March 24 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 27 – Enmax Centrium – Red Deer – 7 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 28 – Enmax Centrium – Red Deer – 7 p.m. MT
Game 5* – Saturday, March 31 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
Game 6* – Sunday, April 1 – Enmax Centrium – Red Deer – 6 p.m. MT
Game 7* – Tuesday, April 3 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
*if necessary

 

Season Series

December 6 – Red Deer (0) at Lethbridge (4)
January 9 – Red Deer (4) at Lethbridge (5)
January 12 – Lethbridge (6) at Red Deer (4)
January 28 – Lethbridge (2) at Red Deer (1) – OT
March 9 – Red Deer (4) at Lethbridge (1)
March 14 – Lethbridge (2) – Red Deer (5)

 

Lethbridge Red Deer
Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. Red Deer Rebels
33-33-6-0 (72 points) Record 27-32-10-3 (67 points)
11th Place WHL Standing 12th Place
Fifth Place Conference Standing Sixth Place
Second Place – Central Division Standing Third Place – Central
19-13-4-0 Home Record 14-16-4-2
14-20-2-0 Road Record 13-16-6-1
244 (14th) Goals For 209 (21st)
260 (16th) Goals Against 250 (T-10th)
24.1 (Eighth) Power Play 18.7% (19th)
76.4% (17th) Penalty Kill 77.9% (T-11th)
Eliminated in Conference Championship 2016-17 Playoffs Eliminated in First Round
Jordy Bellerive – 46-46–92 Leading Scorer Mason McCarty – 38-36–74
Brad Morrison – 27-48–75 Second Leading Scorer Brandon Hagel – 18-41–59
Calen Addison – 11-54–65 Third Leading Scorer Kristian Reichel – 34-23–57
Jordy Bellerive – 46 goals Top Goal Scorer Mason McCarty – 38 goals
Calen Addison – 11-54–65 Top Scoring Defenceman Alexander Alexeyev – 7-30–37
Logan Flodell

(38-18-4-0, 3.13, .909, 3 SO)

Top Goaltender Ethan Anders

(10-19-6-1, 3.09, .905, SO)


Key to the Series – Lethbridge Hurricanes

Youth movement: In many ways, ‘Canes GM Peter Anholt approached the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline at a crossroads. The Hurricanes had underachieved for much of the season but were still very much in the playoff picture. Would Lethbridge look to load up in a challenging Eastern Conference with experienced talent or off-load their stock of elite veterans and build around a youthful core?

Having elected for the latter, Anholt moved Stuart Skinner, Giorgio Estephan, and Tanner Nagel to Swift Current in exchange for Logan Barlage, Logan Flodell, and Owen Blocker. The new-look Hurricanes found success with Barlage adding to an already impressive young core, centred around WHL Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year Dylan Cozens and 2018 NHL Draft prospect Calen Addison.

If Lethbridge hopes to once again best the Rebels in a seven-game series, it will be crucial for their talented youth to contribute. For his part, Cozens proved to be very effective last spring. A late season call up, the product of Whitehorse, Yukon tallied an impressive eight points through 12 playoff games with the ‘Canes. If he, Barlage, and Addison can find a way to provide the Hurricanes with stellar play, Lethbridge will be poised for playoff success. Either way, all three young players stand to gain valuable playoff experience playing key minutes as the Hurricanes appear to have a bright future as a perennial Central Division force.


Key to the Series – Red Deer Rebels

Goaltending: It was an up-and-down year for the Rebels goaltending duo, though rookie Ethan Anders came into his own and Riley Lamb put together some great performances down the stretch to help Red Deer etch out a playoff spot in the Central Division. With WHL Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year Logan Flodell at the opposite end of the rink, the Rebels will need one thing from their netminders – consistency – regardless of who ends up in the blue paint come Game 1.


Forward to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes

C Dylan Cozens (22-31–53): After bursting on to the WHL scene with eight points in 12 playoff games as an underage forward during the 2017 WHL Playoffs, Cozens returned and used the 2017-18 regular season to prove that last spring was just a flash in the fan. At 6-foot-3 and 177 pounds, the right-shooting pivot earned recognition as the WHL’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year as he outplayed fellow rookie and former first-overall bantam selection Peyton Krebs of the division-rival Kootenay ICE. Having already proven his gumption during last season’s playoff call-up to the ‘Canes, Cozens will now be relied upon as a driving force should Lethbridge hope to advance beyond the opening round.


Forward to Watch – Red Deer Rebels

LW Grayson Pawlenchuk (18-34–52): After missing the bulk of the 2016-17 campaign due to injury, the plucky product of Ardrossan, Alta. returned to the Rebels and assumed leadership of the room while also bouncing back offensively on the ice. With a tireless work ethic, the 6-foot, 186-pound winger embodies that well-known, gritty, blue-collar Rebels culture to a tee. With big-game experience under his belt – Pawlenchuk was a healthy contributor during Red Deer’s 2016 WHL Playoffs run and 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup appearance – the captain will be leaned on heavily to guide a young group.


Defenceman to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes

Calen Addison (11-54–65): At 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, Addison isn’t the biggest defender on the Hurricanes roster. The product of Brandon, Man., is however, an elite offensive threat from the blueline. Having tallied 65 points through 68 games in 2017-18, Addison presents all sorts of trouble for the opposition. His puck distribution and play-making vision continue to be a significant part of the Hurricanes’ power-play attack. Red Deer will have to find a way to shut him down if they want to win the special teams battle.


Defenceman to Watch – Red Deer Rebels

Dawson Barteaux (3-29–32): Acquired from the Regina Pats as a part of the deal that sent Josh Mahura to the Queen City, the 18-year-old Barteaux has slowly come into his own in Central Alberta. After a rookie campaign that saw him produce four assists through 42 contests, the 6-foot-1, 176-pound product of Foxwarren, Man., stepped up in 2017-18, notching 32 points (3G-29A) in a career-high 64 appearances with the Rebels. The breakout year was enough to earn Barteaux the recognition of NHL scouts, as the league’s Central Scouting bureau has him ranked 156th among all North American skaters ahead of the 2018 NHL Draft.


Goaltender to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes

Logan Flodell (61 GP, 38-18-4-0, 3.13 GAA, .909 SV%, 3 SO): If there’s one area where the Hurricanes clearly hold the advantage in terms of career WHL experience, it’s between the pipes. Recently named the Eastern Conference Goaltender of the Year, Logan Flodell is a mature netminder who should give the Hurricanes a stabilizing force in goal.

Flodell was a big part of the Swift Current Broncos’ 2017-18 success before being moved to Lethbridge at the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline. While the veteran goaltender has appeared in 161 regular season WHL contests, his playoff experience is limited. Having only appeared in one prior post-season game (22 minutes with Seattle in 2015), the ball is firmly in his court to prove he can be the guy to backstop Lethbridge to a first round victory.


Goaltender to Watch – Red Deer Rebels

Ethan Anders (42 GP, 10-19-6-1, 3.09 GAA, .905 SV%, SO): At only 17 years of age, the rookie from Regina grabbed the reigns in the Red Deer crease when veteran Riley Lamb faltered in the early going. Without the play of Anders – who was the Rebels’ nominee for WHL Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year – Red Deer likely doesn’t have a chance to climb back into the post-season picture. While the net will likely be there for the 19-year-old Lamb to lose, Anders is more than capable should he get the call.


Playoff History – Lethbridge Hurricanes

Tyler Wong
Tyler Wong

A battle-tested Hurricanes squad fueled by the fiery passion of former captain Tyler Wong gave the Regina Pats a real run before eventually being extinguished during the 2017 WHL Eastern Conference Championship. The last WHL Championship Series appearance for Lethbridge came back in 2008 when they fell in four games to the Spokane Chiefs and the Club’s last WHL Championship came back in 1997. What 2018 holds for the ‘Canes remains to be seen, but make no mistake – they don’t have any interest in bowing out to the rival Rebels in Round 1.


Playoff History – Red Deer Rebels

2001 Red Deer Rebels – Memorial Cup Champions
2001 Red Deer Rebels – Memorial Cup Champions

The Rebels fought tooth and nail, but ultimately couldn’t take that last step in Game 7 of their 2017 first-round series with the Hurricanes. As one of the hottest teams in the WHL through the second half of the season, the Rebels executed an improbable tear to claw their way back into the post-season. Still young, it remains to be seen what this group can accomplish in the playoffs, but a tilt with the rival Hurricanes might be just the thing to stoke Red Deer’s fire. The Rebels haven’t brought home a WHL Championship since 2001, though they advanced to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship in 2016 – the same year they played host to the Mastercard Memorial Cup.


Head-to-Head Playoff History – Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels

2016-17: Lethbridge Hurricanes defeat Red Deer Rebels 4-3 in Eastern Conference first round
2001-02: Red Deer Rebels defeat Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-0 in Eastern Conference first round
2000-01: Red Deer Rebels defeat Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-1 in Eastern Conference first round
1996-97: Lethbridge Hurricanes defeat Red Deer Rebels 4-1 in Eastern Conference Final
1993-94: Lethbridge Hurricanes defeat Red Deer Rebels 3-1 in Eastern Division first round

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