Special teams cost Rebels
Cougars 6 Rebels 4
Broncos 3 Rebels 2 (SO)
ST. ALBERT — Even up, the Rebels were as good if not better than the two teams they faced Saturday and Sunday during a WHL preseason tournament hosted by the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The special teams play was a little uneven, however, as both the Prince George Cougars and Swift Current Broncos were somewhat superior in the power play and penalty kill departments while posting respective 6-4 and 3-2 victories over Red Deer at the Servus Credit Union Centre.
“I thought five-on-five we played very, very well in both games,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “The difference was specialty teams, which is understandable at this time of the year.
“We never had much time to work on those last week and we were using guys who some might and some wouldn’t be on either specialty team if we had our full lineup. But five-on-five we played very well. We were decent in our first game and I thought we played a real good second game.”
The Rebels outshot the Broncos 33-28 Sunday but dropped a 3-2 shootout decision when veterans Cavin Leth and Coda Gordon beat Red Deer netminder Rylan Toth following a scoreless overtime. Meyer Nell was the lone Rebels shooter to get a puck past Swift Current stopper Landon Bow.
Taz Burman stopped eight of 10 shots in the Red Deer net before being replaced by Toth, who pitched a shutout while facing 17 shots through the final 30 minutes of regulation time.
“They both played OK,” said Sutter of the two netminders who are expected to start the regular season with the Rebels.
Scott Feser opened the scoring with a goal a mere 51 seconds into the contest. Glenn Gawdin answered with a power-play tally seven minutes later and Red Deer rookie forward Jeff de Wit notched his second goal in as many nights — a man-advantage marker — late in the period.
Gordon pulled the Broncos even at 8:56 of the second frame and the score held until the shootout.
The Broncos were one-for-six on the power play; the Rebels were one-for-seven.
Special teams played a much larger role in Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Cougars, who were four-for-seven on the power play and nine-for-11 on the penalty kill.
The Rebels, who trailed 2-1 after one period and 4-3 after 40 minutes, got man-advantage goals from Nell and Adam Musil, while de Wit and Grayson Pawlenchuk — 18 seconds into the game — also tallied.
De Wit picked up three points (2-1) over the two games while skating on a line with Pawlenchuk at left wing and Musil at centre. The Rebels’ first-round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft is a natural centre, but won’t line up in the faceoff circle this season.
“He’s 16-years-old and finding his way through all of this,” said Sutter. “He’s going to go through some bumps through the season and yet the most important thing is his development and him taking the steps he needs to take.
“We have to be patient with him and put him in different situations where his development can flourish. It’s no different than Adam and Pawlenchuk last year, the only difference is we’re going to be a deeper team this season. He’s probably going to play a lot of right wing this season, so we thought it would be good for him in these first two games to play with those guys and I thought he played well and that line was very good.”
Veteran Chase Witala led the Cougars with a hat-trick performance. Jansen Harkins, Shane Collins and Jordan Ross — into an empty net at 19:50 of the third period and during a Prince George power play — also scored for the winners.
Matt Kustra and Ty Edmonds combined to make 28 saves for the Cougars. Dawson Weatherill, who’s not eligible to play full-time in the WHL until next year, blocked 22 of 27 shots for the Rebels and was reassigned to the Red Deer midget AAA Optimist Chiefs following the game.
“I thought both Dawson and Jake (forward Leschyshyn) both handled themselves very well, Dawson in the one game he played and Jake in both games,” said Sutter of the 15-year-olds. “For young kids, they did a very good job.”
Leschyshyn, the club’s first-round pick in this year’s bantam draft, was reassigned to the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers after Sunday’s contest. Also reassigned were 16-year-old forwards Reese Johnson of Saskatoon and Zach Gladu of Medicine Hat.
Just notes: Goaltender Patrik Bartosak, who was outstanding during his three-year run with the Rebels which ended in March, will participate in practice sessions this week at the Centrium before attending the camp of the Los Angeles Kings . . . The Rebels return to preseason play Friday and Saturday at Kennewick, Wash., taking on the host Americans and the Portland Winterhawks in the Tri-City tournament. Red Deer’s last two exhibition games are slated for Sept. 12 versus the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium and Sept. 13 against the Medicine Hat Tigers at Stettler.