After defeating the Calgary Hitmen four games to one in their quarterfinal matchup, the Red Deer Rebels are on to round two to face the Regina Pats. Since they are hosting the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament, Red Deer is in a unique situation: they are guaranteed a spot in the four-team round-robin contest that awards its winner the ultimate prize in junior hockey and crowns them the best among all 60 Canadian Hockey League teams.
But the Rebels are going to want to win the Western Hockey League championship first, because who wouldn’t want two championships in one season?
With the knowledge that they would be hosting the Memorial Cup tournament before the season began, the Rebels naturally geared their 2015-16 squad toward contending for a championship. But the mid-season acquisition of former Swift Current Broncos star forward Jake DeBrusk was meant to truly put them over the edge, and they’ll need him to be firing on all cylinders against Regina.
The Pats were the seventh-seed entering the playoffs (they grabbed the first wild card spot) after missing an East Division spot by just one point to the Moose Jaw Warriors. They had an inspiring first-round series, defeating a hot Lethbridge Hurricanes club in five games and getting four roster players in the top 20 in playoff scoring (including no. 1 Adam Brooks with a remarkable 14 points).
It’s obviously fairly rare for a seventh-seed to take such a commanding victory over their higher-seeded opponents, but even with a thin roster on paper, Regina got the most out of its players in the first round. In fact, the Pats posted two shutouts and a seven-goal game over the course of the series, likely making their second-round opponents a bit nervous as their match-up approaches.
The Rebels will look to DeBrusk to be their savior, though, as the forward was their best on the ice in Games 3 and 4 — both road wins for Red Deer — and appears to be heating up. With three goals and two assists in five games, he has been far less productive offensively than some of Regina’s top stars, but every series is different and the disparity is a product of how close the match-ups were.
Jake DeBrusk 2G, 1A in Game 3 #WHLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/mjzWmXCmiv
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) March 28, 2016
That’s not to say that DeBrusk has been perfect, though. His final WHL season has not exactly gone as planned, especially for a prospect that was bound to be examined under a microscope all year long due to how high he was picked in the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Boston Bruins went off the board and made him a surprise selection at 14th overall, and even then, coming off a career-high 81-point season, there was talk that his high selection would be one that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney would eventually regret.
The winger began the season fairly slow, scoring only 26 points (9G, 17A) in 24 games when compared to his pace last year. DeBrusk scored 42 goals last year, but after joining the Rebels this year, he only added 12, which means he finished with exactly half the amount of goals he scored last season.
That tends to sound the regression alarms, but fear not: DeBrusk will certainly pick up his production in the playoffs. In fact, he basically already has, and playing a team with far less forward depth and a lower-quality defense makes for the perfect situation in which he can really break-out offensively.
Joined by star prospects like Adam Helewka, Haydn Fleury, Michael Spacek, Adam Musil and more, there is far too much depth on the Rebels roster for DeBrusk not to be able to produce in the second round. They’ll be counting on him as they take on the Pats for Game 1 this Saturday.