The Red Deer Rebels got caught watching the puck in the danger zone and didn’t get a lot of help from goaltender Taz Burman while dropping their Western Hockey League season-opener Friday at the Centrium.
The Kootenay Ice roared back from a 3-2 deficit after 40 minutes to virtually steal a 5-3 victory over their hosts in front of 5,382 fans.
“It’s the first game and obviously there are some things we have to work on and get better at,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Defensively, the Rebels could have been somewhat better. Offensively, there was plenty to like.
“We did some really good things, we created some offence. I thought we generated some really quality scoring chances,” said Sutter.
Indeed, the Rebels outshot their guests 31-24, but Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin, in his third WHL season, outshone the relatively inexperienced Burman.
The Rebels struck first when Brooks Maxwell took a fine feed from Adam Musil at the Red Deer blueline, took off on a short-handed breakaway and beat Hoflin with a great move five minutes into the contest.
The visitors answered just past the midway point of the opening frame as Austin Vetteri chipped in a rebound, and moved in front at 16:16 when Bryan Allbee directed a long-range shot that Burman mishandled. Zak Zborosky, on the doorstep, batted home the loose puck.
The go-ahead goal came just seconds after Hoflin robbed Meyer Nell and Rebels rearguard Kayle Doetzel struck the post while looking at a wide-open net.
“In the first period we got caught turning pucks over just outside their blueline and not getting pucks past their defence,” said Sutter. “But then we got going and had a really good second period.”
Defenceman Brett Cote drew the Rebels even late in the middle with a low laser from the top of the faceoff circle and Nell cashed the rebound of a Cote shot two minutes later to give Red Deer a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.
But that was it for the home side. The Ice, meanwhile, struck three times in the final frame to run the Rebels’ season-opener.
Zborosky, parked at the edge of the crease, had a shot deflect off him and past Burman a mere 17 seconds into the period. From there, Jon Martin potted the eventual winner with five minutes remaining, squeezing a puck through Burman’s pads, and Luke Philp, with a blind shot, scored an empty-netter with 21 seconds left.
“All their goals were scored from around our net. We didn’t do a very good job of boxing out tonight, we weren’t strong around our net,” said Sutter. “And Taz . . . there’s a couple there he should have had.”
The Rebels coaching staff was well aware of the possibility that goaltending could be a work in progress this season, especially with Burman getting little playing time behind 2013 CHL netminder of the year Patrik Bartosak last winter and second stopper Rylan Toth being a WHL rookie.
“It’s a long year and we have to be patient with our goaltenders, and we know that,” said Sutter. “We have to develop these young kids.”
Sutter reiterated that he wasn’t putting all the blame on Burman.
“You’re up 3-2 going into the third and turn the puck over five to 10 seconds into the period at the offensive blueline,” said the Rebels boss.
“ They come down and generate a scoring chance off it and score a goal. We didn’t give up a lot of scoring chances but the ones we did killed us.
“You have to bear down with a lead, there’s a lot of tight games in this league and you have to find ways to win games in the third. You can’t make those detailed mistakes that ultimately cost us.”
The Ice were only too happy to take the two points and get back on the road.
“It was an ugly win obviously, but we’ll take it,” said Kootenay assistant coach and former Rebels forward Jay Henderson. “We have a lot of areas we need to improve in and it was nice to get the win. They’re tough to come by in this league.”
The Ice are in Edmonton tonight and play seven of their first eight games away from Cranbrook.
“So obviously we have to be a good road team this year, especially out of the gate,” said Henderson. “That’s going to be important and it’s nice to get that first win out of the way.”
The Rebels will look for their initial victory of the season when they travel to Calgary today to engage the Hitmen in a 7 p.m. contest at the Saddledome. Red Deer’s next home game is Sept. 27 against the Ice.