Hurricanes 2 Rebels 1
There was a time, and to the players and coaching staff it must seem like long ago, that the Red Deer Rebels were trending in the right direction.
Way back when, the Rebels were headed north. But in recent weeks they’ve reversed direction.
Friday’s Western Hockey League game was a prime example, as the upstart Lethbridge Hurricanes handed the Rebels a 2-1 defeat before a recorded gathering of 4,992 at the Enmax Centrium.
The Rebels weren’t outplayed by any means, but a pair of first-period turnovers led to both Lethbridge goals and the hosts couldn’t find a way to come all the way back.
“I thought we played a really good first 10 minutes. We played with speed and drew some penalties,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “But our power play was kind of the difference in the first period, in a negative sense. We had three power plays and gave up a goal.”
The ‘Canes opened the scoring 16:25 into the contest when a Red Deer turnover led to a two-on-one break from inside the Rebels blueline and Jamal Watson’s 21st goal of the season.
Just over a minute later and with Red Deer operating on their third power play of the night, the puck was turned over at the Lethbridge blueline and Florian Baltram buried a rebound after Rebels netminder Ryan Toth stopped a shot by Watson.
“They (Hurricanes) had three quality chances in the first period,” said Sutter, referring also to a breakaway by Watson on which he fired the puck over the net. “(Brett) Cote, (Haydn) Fleury and (Brooks) Maxwell throw pucks away and two of those turnovers end up in our net.
“Our older players know better, they know they can’t be playing that way. It just happens that some of those older players are our best players.”
The Rebels carried the play through most of the middle frame but couldn’t get the puck past ‘Canes netminder and Red Deer product Jayden Sittler, who stopped all 13 shots he faced in the frame, finished with 26 saves and was named second star of the game.
“I was telling the kids that was probably the best second period we’ve played in the last two and half to three weeks, just how we controlled the play,” said Sutter.
Former Rebels defenceman Devan Faford nearly gave the ‘Canes a 3-0 lead in the first minute of the third period when he pounced on yet another giveaway at the Lethbridge blueline, broke in alone and rang a shot off the post.
The Rebels finally solved Sittler during a power play roughly four minutes later, as Colton Bobyk’s wrist shot from the point was deflected in by Presten Kopeck. But the hosts mustered only seven shots in the period and despite some late pressure, couldn’t find the equalizer.
“In the third period we never had the push we needed to have,” said Sutter. “We got one (goal) back and we needed to have more of a push to try and generate and create more, and yet we spent the first four minutes of the period in our zone.”
For the Hurricanes, who have gradually picked up steam since GM/head coach Peter Anholt replaced the former regime in December, the win was their fifth in their last six games.
“I think we’re getting some goaltending, that where it all starts with us,” said Anholt, who gave 16-year-old phenom stopper Stuart Skinner the night off and promptly got a standout performance from Sittler.
“Most nights we’re getting outshot, although we didn’t give up as many shots tonight as we have been, so maybe we’re making some strides forward in that regard. The kids play hard and they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do, and that gives us a chance.”
With Sittler on board — he was acquired from the Victoria Royals in January — the ‘Canes don’t have to rely on Skinner on a nightly basis.
“He’s been a great pick-up,” said Anholt. “The one things about Sitts is he competes so hard so the team plays hard in front of him because of that. He’s just been a pleasure, a good partner for Stuey. He gives him some confidence and a security blanket, you might say.”
The Rebels will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak when they host the Prince George Cougars tonight. The Cougars upset the host Medicine Hat Tigers 4-2 Friday.
“We’re going through a situation right now where we’ve experiencing a bit of adversity, but if we handle it the right way and everyone stays focused we’ll get ourselves out of it and we’ll be a better team for it,” said Sutter. “But we need everybody going. Your best players have to be your best players and in reality that wasn’t the case tonight.
“We have to find a way to get these guys back to where they were three to four weeks ago and get them dialed in. Their hearts are in the right place, they’re great kids, but they’re going through a bit of adversity right now and we have to help them through that.”
• Toth made 17 saves while suffering his 14th regulation-time loss of the season . . . As well as Sittler played, he also had his posts on his side as former ‘Cane Riley Sheen struck iron in each of the first and third periods . . . On a positive note, the Rebels didn’t lose any ground in the Central Division standings. Besides Medicine Hat’s loss, the Calgary Hitmen, who were riding a nine-game winning streak, were shocked 4-2 by the visiting Saskatoon Blades and the Moose Jaw Warriors downed the Kootenay Ice 5-2 at Cranbrook.