Saskatoon Blades too sharp for Rebels
Blades 4 Rebels 3
The Red Deer Rebels have lost sight of the little things that define a successful hockey team. Friday’s WHL contest at the Enmax Centrium was a shining example of that, as the hosts stumbled their way to a 4-3 loss to the Saskatoon Blades in front of 4,975 fans.
“Our intent to compete and play hard is fine, it’s just the intelligence part of the game . . . we just really struggled with the details tonight,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“You have a pretty decent first period and kill off some big penalties and then you give up two goals that should never happen at the start of the second period. You tie it up and then you get beat on just an easy one-on-one play, they score and you lose your goalie. Then you tie it up again and take a tripping penalty in your own zone when the puck should have been outside the blueline seconds before that. We have to continue to work on the details, but our guys have to realize that their sharpness with and without the puck isn’t where it needs to be.”
The tripping call to Haydn Fleury with just over two minutes remaining in the third period proved costly, as Nikita Scherbak beat Taz Burman from the faceoff circle just 21 seconds later to give the Blades the two points.
Burman replaced Patrik Bartosak early in the third period when the Rebels starting netminder was run over by Red Deer product Collin Valcourt, who scored on the play — the puck dribbling just past the post and in — a split second before he make contact with Bartosak.
Valcourt was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct, but not only was the goal allowed to stand, the Rebels failed to score on the extended power play and in fact were nailed with a too-many-men bench infraction.
“We take that penalty because one guy takes the wrong guy,” said Sutter. “That’s just (a lack of ) sharpness on the ice. They know their power-play units, we work on that. It’s the same guys who take the same guys. You ask the individual and he says it’s inexcusable. Well, it is, but how do you correct that?
“Our focus just isn’t very good. It’s very erratic. I don’t like to be negative, but our awareness has to be a lot better.”
The Rebels opened the scoring on the power play as Brooks Maxwell beat Blades netminder Troy Trombley with a screened point shot at 13:05 of the opening period.
But the Blades struck for two goals in the first two and a half minutes of the second stanza, Ryan Graham roofing a rebound and former Rebel Cory Millette connecting on a fluke play, his attempted pass glancing off Red Deer defenceman Kolton Dixon and past Bartosak.
From there, Conner Bleackley whipped a wrist shot past Trombley front directly just 32 seconds after Millette’s goal and the teams went into the second intermission tied 2-2.
Valcourt’s goal at 2:49 of the third period restored the Blades’ lead, but Bleackley potted his second of the night — and ninth of the season — at 13:55, taking advantage of a turnover in the offensive zone and scoring on another well-placed wrist shot.
The visitors took advantage of the late Red Deer penalty, however, and left the Centrium with the win.
The Rebels were guilty of numerous turnovers, most unforced, and their veteran defencemen were front and centre in that regard.
“I thought our defence really had a tough time tonight. We had a lot of turnovers as a group and yet our veteran players have to lead the way for us,” said Sutter. “Brady (Gaudet), Faf (Devan Fafard) and Doetz (Kayle Doetzel) have to be better. They’re guys who have been in the league a long time. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody, you get what you deserve. Again, I’m not questioning our work ethic, our work ethic is fine, it’s just that our hockey sense is not good. We’re good and we’re sharp with it in practice, but then we lose our focus.”
The Blades entered the contest with the league’s top power play, but didn’t connect with a man advantage until late, when it really mattered. The visitors enjoyed an extensive power play in the first period when the Rebels were nailed with a high-sticking penalty and two successive delay-of-game infractions, but couldn’t cash in.
“I think we weren’t moving our feet and sticking to the simple plays that have made us effective,” said Blades defenceman and captain Graeme Craig, a Red Deer native who assisted on Scherbak’s winner. “But at the end we got a much-needed goal and that’s all we can ask of our power play.”
While the Rebels suffered their fourth straight loss — all at home — and fell to 6-8-0-0, the Blades improved to 7-6-0-2 and are 7-1-0-2 in their last 10 games after opening the season with five consecutive setbacks.
“Of those first five games, we could have won two or three of them if we had a little better goaltending and made fewer mistakes,” said Craig. “Since we’ve turned it around our goalies have been outstanding. Everyone is getting the gist of the league and we’ve been working our balls off.”
• Bartosak suffered what Sutter said was an “upper-body injury” and his status was unknown after the game . . . Sutter will serve as head coach of Team WHL for Super Series games against Team Russia Nov. 27 at the Centrium and the next night in Lethbridge. He will be assisted by Kootenay Ice coach Ryan McGill, who will also be an assistant to Team Canada bench boss Sutter in the World Junior Championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Sweden.