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Memorial Cup: Welcome to the Dub

The WHL recorded its first win the the 2016 Memorial Cup thanks to the Red Deer Rebels.

The Rebels Celebrate Victory at Home
The Rebels Celebrate Victory at Home
Rob Wallator/ CHL Images

Welcome to the Dub

There are certain things one comes to expect after a prolonged familiarity junior hockey; one of those things comes with the dubious title of the Dub Special in my house. Others include players making passes with good intentions, someone doing something stupid, and fans with more passion than they know what to do with. The Memorial Cup's return to Alberta brings together a perfect storm of these wondrous occurrences just an hour and a half down the road in Red Deer.

What you may be asking yourself  what is the Dub Special? Well, those who attended the Red Deer Rebels versus the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies game on May 22 got to experience it; it's the particular brand of reffing that takes over the game and becomes a point of contention. Fans supporting both teams are equally sure that the referees are out to cost them the game, and by the end of the encounter, no one is sure what actually would have happened if the referees hadn't influenced the outcome.

The third game of the MasterCard Memorial Cup was one that was won on the power play. With four of the combined seven goals coming on the powerplay, time in the penalty box has to be a consideration for how the game went.

The Huskies opened the scoring in the game with a powerplay goal coming from San Jose draft pick Timo Meier with an assist from a  QJMHL top scorer, Francis Perron. The Rebels seemed a step behind, and their early attempts at capitalizing on the man advantage were unimpressive.  In fact, the opening ten minutes of the first period were controlled by the Huskies. Ultimately, the Rebels let the Huskies stymie their offense and pressure them into mistakes. A turnover in front of the Huskies goalie—who had a much better game than five goals allowed would suggest -€” allowed Julien Nantel to create a breakaway chance that he converted. Nantel had possibly the prettiest goal of the night if the breakaway down the ice, avoiding the Red Deer defender, and deking out Toth are considered.

That was it for the Huskies's offense, however, as the Rebels managed to get one back in the first period from Polei with assists from a newly returned Bleackley and Hagel. Bleackley's ability to draw defenders to him and create space for his teammates was a contributing factor to the first goal. Adam Helewka scored to start the second, and had excellent second and third periods despite not being able to keep his feet after the whistle. Helewka was assisted by DeBrusk, who scored the game-winning goal just before the five-minute mark in the second period on the power play. DeBrusk's goal saw assists to Nikolishin and Spacek, and the momentum changed. The Rebels had come into the second period with the mentality of blocking shots and forcing the Huskies to play more defensively.

The Rebels added one more goal before the ten minute mark of the second, this one again from Helewka but assisted by DeBrusk and Fluery, and again on the powerplay. The rest of the period remained scoreless thanks to stellar play by both goalies. Marchand and Toth both played well and seemed to be generally unaffected by the antics on the ice in front of them.

The Rebels added one more after a penalty-filled third, which saw AJ Greer sent to the room with a ten minute misconduct. This time the goal came from Fluery and the assists went to Philp and Helewka. The third period was really a tale of penalties as the Huskies managed six penalties and being forced to the penalty kill that often killed any momentum they had. The third was also the period where the referee-ing had a noticeable effect on the game, with Greer's ejection and a questionable non-call on Pawlenchuk only a minute or so before certainly did nothing to help ease the Huskies' frustrations.

The best thing for the Huskies to do is move on because as became apparent through the course of play, they were the more skilled team. There's very little that can be done to counter the 11 to 7 advanatge in power plays the Rebels saw over the course of the game. Important things to take out of the game were that the Huskies cycled the puck early in the game, were capable of using their speed and skill, and if they play Red Deer again later will be more aware of the style of game Red Deer plays. The Wheat Kings, who were the Huskies last opponent, rely less on blocked shots and more of talent and speed.

The Rebels won because they were able to capitalize on the many advantages they had over the course of the game. While important, the Rebels won't be count on being able to score 60% of their goals on the power play in their next game against the Wheat Kings -€” a team that beat them 4 games to 1 during the WHL playoffs. Instead, they will need to keep their offense firing on all cylinders, getting secondary scoring from their second and third lines. They will also need to be able to solve the fact every team in this tournament has the appearance of being faster than they are. Against the Huskies, they used a physical game -€” reminiscent of the game the Saskatoon Blades played against the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 -€” but they must take care to walk the line between physicality and being penalized because, as tonight showed, spending too much time in the box is a sure way to lose the game.

With both teams having a win, the Memorial Cup picture becomes more complex; the hosts are also saved the embarrassment of going winless that the London Knights experienced in 2014. The next games for both these teams become all the more important, as does the game between the London Knights and the Brandon Wheat Kings. If the Wheat Kings  fall to 0-2, it will give both teams an advantage in reaching the semi-final, or at the very least the tie breaker, later in the week.