Down 4 - 0, Rebels rally to win
Rebels 7 Oil Kings 5
LACOMBE — The Edmonton Oil Kings were in cruise control through the first half of a WHL preseason contest Friday, but they had no answer for the Red Deer Rebels’ extra gear.
Down 4-0 barely eight minutes into the second period, the Rebels rallied to knock off the Oil Kings 7-5 before roughly 1,200 fans at the Barnett Arena. Included in the Red Deer surge was a five-goal third period, including a pair from Conner Bleackley that rounded out a hat-trick performance.
As good as the Rebels were in the second half of the contest, they were equally as bad over the first 30 minutes.
“We were just lethargic in the first half of the game . . . not involved, not engaged, not competing,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “It’s tough for coaches to teach players the right way to play the game if their work ethic isn’t at a standard it needs to be, if their mental preparation to play the game isn’t where it needs to be.
“That was very clear in the first half of the game, then we woke up and started playing and doing some really good things. We showed that when we play with pace and energy, good things will happen. We started drawing penalties, got some power plays and a power play goal and the momentum changed.”
The Oil Kings struck a mere 32 seconds into the contest when Aaron Irving beat netminder Taz Burman with a low shot from the point. Edgars Kulda connected with a high volley from the low slot just over five minutes later and the visitors were up 2-0 after 20 minutes.
Edmonton kept pushing the pace in the middle frame and got a power-play tally from Brandon Baddock at 7:39 and an even-strength marker from Riley Kieser just 42 second later.
Brooks Maxwell got the Rebels on the board from a power-play scramble at 9:22 and Bleackley cashed his own rebound seven minutes later to cut the Oil Kings lead to two. But Edmonton defenceman Dysin Mayo beat Rylan Toth, who replaced Burman near the midway point of the contest, from the left faceoff circle with 11 seconds left in the period.
The late second-period goal could have been ultra deflating, but the Rebels shrugged it off and brought big-time heat throughout the final frame.
Asked if he had anything to say to his players during the second intermission, Sutter replied, with a grin: “There was a lot of things said tonight. Again, it’s a case of making them understand the importance of commitment, competing and working. It’s about getting involved and getting engaged in the game.”
Bleackley ignited the late rally with a power-play tally at 3:40 of the third period, whipping a 30-footer past Oil Kings second stopper Patrick Dea on a nifty set-up by Vukie Mpofu, who then scored from in close 11 minutes later to cut the deficit to 5-4.
From there, the goals came fast and furious, with Bleackley pulling the Rebels even at the 17- minute mark, Scott Feser — with the winner — connecting on a backhand 23 seconds later and Dominik Volek sealing the deal with a short-handed, empty-net tally at 19:45.
“Our start wasn’t good and after the game we talked about how we can learn from that,” said Feser. “But I guess it’s a good sign if you can pull together like that as a group this early in the season.”
Bleackley also picked up an assist for a four-point evening, while Mpofu and Volek each added a pair of helpers.
“Bleacks had a big game, but I thought everyone was better in the last half of the game,” said Sutter, who had extra praise for veteran forward Brooks Maxwell.
“He was the best player out there tonight, right from the get-go,” said the Rebels boss.
“Our younger guys should learn form him . . . watch how he plays every shift. Maxie might make some mistakes, but it’s not because he’s not competing, working or skating.”
The Oil Kings, who held a 40-32 advantage in shots, got 14 saves from starting netminder Tyler Santos and 11 from Dea.
At the other end, Burman stopped 22 of 26 shots and Toth turned aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
One of the two will serve as the back-up to Patrik Bartosak once the reigning CHL netminder of the year returns from the Los Angeles Kings camp.
“Both kids have been good (in the preseason), they’ve both given us a chance to win,” said Sutter. “There’s maybe a couple of goals tonight they would like back, but they also made some huge saves when the score could have gotten out of hand.
“I want to see Patty here before we have to make that goaltending decision. Once he’s here and we know he’s 100 per cent healthy, then we’ll decide (on the back-up position).”
The Rebels close out their exhibition schedule tonight with a 7 p.m. date with the Medicine Hat Tigers at Stettler.