Rebels split weekend games
CRANBROOK — One step forward, another step back.
Less than 24 hours after snapping a four-game Western Hockey League losing streak with a spirited effort and ensuing 4-3 win over the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors, the Red Deer Rebels were outplayed over the final 40 minutes Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the host Kootenay Ice.
“We got off to a decent start in the first period and then things kind of went downhill a little bit,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt. “We didn’t compete as hard as we needed to to put us over the top. We needed better performances from everybody.
“It’s a collective thing and we have to make sure we’re on our toes for 60 minutes, not 20.”
After a scoreless first frame in which the Rebels outshot their hosts 12-11, Red Deer captain Turner Elson opened the scoring at 8:18 of the middle stanza, beating netminder Mackenzie Skapski with a screened, rising shot to the short side from just inside the Kootenay blueline. But the visitors were outshot 37-11 over the final 40 minutes while surrendering a second-period goal to Sam Reinhart and a pair of third-period markers to Erik Benoit.
Matt Bellerive potted his ninth of the season for the Rebels with 3:28 remaining, but it was too little, too late.
On a positive note, Bolton Pouliot turned in a solid 45-save peformance for the Rebels after a weak outing two nights earlier in a 5-4 shootout loss to visiting Vancouver.
“He played well for us tonight, he gave us a chance,” said Truitt. “It was good that he was able to respond in that manner and come up with some big saves when we needed him to.”
Skapski turned aside 21 shots for the Ice.
Rookie netminder Grant Naherniak, who will likely be returned to the midget AAA Moose Jaw Generals this week when Rebels No. 1 netminder Patrik Bartosak rejoins the club from the world junior hockey championship, posted his first-ever WHL win Saturday at the Centrium.
“It felt pretty good. I thought I got the monkey off my back finally,” said the 16-year-old, who finished with 27 saves. “I bounced back from one rough day in my (first WHL) start. I really think I picked it up today to get the win.”
Down 3-2, the Warriors pulled even when Jordan Messier scored from a scramble at 17:53 of the third period with Elson serving a questionable roughing penalty. And when defenceman Devan Faford was nailed with a delay-of-game infraction at 18:05, the situation looked bleak for Red Deer.
However, defenceman Mathew Dumba took matters into his own hands while killing the penalty, carrying the puck into the Moose Jaw zone, creating a turnover and beating netminder Justin Paulic to the top corner with a highlight-reel shot.
“I had faith in the guys that they’d kill it off,” said Naherniak, when asked if he was worried when the Rebels were dealt the two late penalties. “They did a good job and Matty scored there at the end of the game. The guys also blocked a lot of shots which really helped me out.”
And when the final buzzer sounded, just seconds after Naherniak held his ground with a couple of saves amid Moose Jaw pressure . . .
“I felt like I’d won the lottery,” he said. “I had the biggest smile on my face and I was full of excitement.”
“We battled hard and it was great to see Grant play as well as he did tonight,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “It was an exceptional game on his part. He made some big saves for us at key times.
“It was a pretty even, intense game and the last five minutes was a long five minutes with the minor penalties. The short-handed goal was a great individual effort on Matty’s part.”
Elson, Tyson Ness and Dominik Volek notched earlier goals for Red Deer. Tanner Eberle and Justin Kirsch also scored for Moose Jaw, while Paulic made 29 saves.
“That was probably the most complete game we’ve played since Christmas,” said Sutter. “It’s been a battle to get back on track.”
• Forward Conner Bleackley and defenceman Haydn Fleury, who assisted on Elson’s goal, were back in the Rebels lineup Sunday after playing in the World Under 17 Challenge.
Bartosak is expected to rejoin the club for Wednesday’s game in Swift Current, the first of three stops on a brief trip into Saskatchewan.
• Truitt was unsure of whether Dumba will attend the Minnesota Wild training camp this week.
“I’m sure Brent will be contacting Minnesota in the next day or two,” he said.