Rebels shoot down Hitmen
The Red Deer Rebels went from being the hunted to the hunters, all in the space of one period on Saturday evening at the Centrium.
Manhandled through most of the second period by the Calgary Hitmen, yet — thanks mainly to the excellent work of netminder Patrik Bartosak — still locked in a 1-1 draw at the intermission, the Rebels found a new life and turned the tables on the visitors in the third stanza.
In the end, the Rebels prevailed 4-3 in a shootout after twice erasing one-goal deficits in the third and forcing a scoreless overtime frame.
“We shook the lines up just a bit in the third just to make a change, to try something different,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We had a real good start to the game tonight. I thought we were a real good team for 30 minutes — the first 10 and the last 20. During the middle part of the game, the last 10 minutes of the first and especially in the second period, we were hurting ourselves. We were turning the puck over and we just kind of got into that passive mentality again where we were backing off and giving too much time and space in the defensive zone and just weren’t assertive with the puck.
“I liked the way we responded in the third period. We shook things up a bit and I thought we created a lot of energy and played a real good third period.”
The Rebels struck first before a home crowd of 5,122, defenceman Brady Gaudet beating Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger cleanly with a slapshot from the Red Deer side of the redline 4:20 into the contest.
“To be honest, I didn’t see the goal,” said Gaudet. “I was actually turning around to go off on a line change. I was just hoping to get to the redline and get it in and then I heard some hootin’ and hollering and turned around and the puck was in the back of the net.
“It was pretty cool. That doesn’t happen every night, for sure. It was very exciting. It’s not how you dream of scoring goals but I’ll take anything I can get.”
The lead held up until Zane Jones connected at the 52-second mark of the second period, sliding a puck past Bartosak. The goal inspired the visitors, who dominated the next 19 minutes while outshooting the Rebels 17-6.
“We got down a bit and the guys were not energized,” said Red Deer captain Turner Elson, in reference to the dressing room mood after 40 minutes. “We realized we needed some energy and then came out with a lot of it and it really showed on the ice.”
Indeed, the Rebels were dominant in the third and Elson was a big part of the turnaround, scoring twice as the Rebels outshot their guests 17-6. But the comeback wasn’t easy as the Hitmen also potted two goals and led twice.
Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester cashed a power-play rebound at 3:15 and Elson replied at 5:51, picking the far corner from the right faceoff circle after taking a pass from rookie Wyatt Johnson.
But again Calgary moved in front, as Jake Virtanen scored on a wrap-around at 13:38. And again the Rebels responded, with Elson ripping a rebound past Driedger just 37 seconds later.
“I liked the way we responded in the third by the way we came out, but also how we responded when we faced adversity,” said Wallin. “We were down twice in the third and we just stuck with it.
“Giving up that third goal was tough, but we really dug in. We didn’t allow it to get us down and we went right back on the next shift and got the goal back. We kept our foot on the gas through that third period and we have to find a way to play like that consistently through 60 minutes and be a good team.”
Neither team connected in the five-minute overtime and both clubs sent seven shooters to the ice in the shootout, which ended when Bartosak stopped Elliott Peterson just after Gaudet had scored. Conner Bleackley also had a shootout goal for the Rebels, while Brooks Macek was the lone Calgary marksman.
“It was a gutsy effort. We didn’t always play to our best abilities, but we had 30 minutes out of that game that was the best hockey we’ve played most of the year,” said Elson. “It really worked out for us and that’s how we have to play for 60 minutes every game.”
Bartosak stopped 38 shots through 65 minutes. Driedger made 33 saves.
“Patrik really stepped up for us,” said Elson. “He’s a great goaltender and he knows how to play pucks into the corner and stops almost everything. He was very good today.”
Wallin gave Johnson plenty of ice time in the third period and was impressed with the performance of the 17-year-old Saskatoon product, who was playing just his second WHL game after being out with a concussion.
“I thought he was outstanding. He earned the extra time and he took advantage of it,” said Wallin. “He’s proven already in two games that he’s a heck of a hockey player, just very complete. He works very hard, has a lot of grit, is a good skater and he thinks the game well. He made some good plays tonight and created energy.”
The Rebels head west on Thursday and open a five-game trip the next night at Spokane. Red Deer will continue the U.S. Division run with games in Tri-City, Portland and Everett and will conclude the nine-day jaunt with a Nov. 9 stop at Kelowna.