The Red Deer Rebels went toe-to-toe with a heavyweight contender on Saturday night and rallied from blow after blow delivered by the Regina Pats before a 4-3 overtime loss in WHL action.
The Pats are winners of 13 of their last 14 and 11 in a row for a reason, but the Rebels hung around with the top team in the CHL for 63 minutes in front of a raucous and season high 6,297 fans at the Centrium.
“The third period was a wild one. We get a four minute power play and score two goals and go up in the lead. Then the very next shift they come back and score,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“Obviously it’s a very good hockey team you’re playing. Very highly skilled team. I thought we did some really good things. We look at the two goals we gave up, the second and third goals were turnovers and not being smart with the puck. Not playing the right way. You can’t question our effort, it was outstanding tonight.”
Former Rebel Josh Mahura broke the spirit of the hometown fans at 1:56 of overtime when he slid a backhand five-hole on Riley Lamb. Before that point, Lamb was absolutely spectacular making a season high 47 saves.
“He was outstanding, you look at the saves he made, he played a heck of a game. That’s what we need from our goaltenders,” Sutter said.
“Hopefully he’s grown as a player. He’s had some ups and downs this year, being a first-year player in this league. He’s responded well. I think the last two to three weeks, just his mental mindset and his attitude towards what it takes to be a goaltender has been significantly better.”
The Rivers, Man., native was named first star for his efforts, but still thought he could have been a bit better on Saturday.
“Felt alright, stopped a couple pucks I guess,” Lamb said with a laugh. “The defence was really good they let me see everything and it was really straight forward.”
The win was Lamb’s first in a game he started since Jan. 13.
Austin Pratt opened the scoring on a two-on-one with 35 seconds left in the first period and fired a wrist shot past Tyler Brown to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead. It was Pratt’s first goal in 13 games and 12th of the season.
Red Deer nearly carried a 1-0 lead into the third, but a questionable penalty on Evan Polei proved costly when Connor Hobbs blasted a point shot past Lamb with just 14 seconds left in the second.
Only 26 seconds into the third, Regina took a 2-1 lead when Adam Brooks scored his 31st goal of the year.
The Rebels were given a gift in the form of a double-minor a few minutes later, and Michael Spacek capitalized nine seconds into the advantage with a wrist shot that went soaring over Brown’s blocker.
Colton Bobyk scored on a one-timer in the second half of the double minor that gave Red Deer a 3-2 lead. That only lasted 17 seconds. Austin Wagner split the Rebels defence and tied the game at three.
Penalty trouble didn’t exactly hurt Red Deer on Saturday, but giving the WHL leading power play seven opportunities isn’t ideal. The Rebels penalty killing unit managed to kill off six of seven power plays on the night.
Sutter conceded that the one-point would help the team heading into a week-long road trip through the U.S. and B.C.
“We played hard and that’s all you can ask for from the group – play hard and stick together and we’ll get out of this. We’ll take the point here tonight and we’ve got a tough road trip coming up, so we better be ready for that,” Sutter said.
The first game of the trip is Tuesday in Seattle.