Rebels 5 Thunderbirds 1
With six forwards out of their lineup Friday, the Red Deer Rebels needed some of their foot soldiers to step up against the sizeable and speedy Seattle Thunderbirds.
Vukie Mpofu and Scott Feser answered the bell in a big way as the Rebels shrugged off a weak first period performance and went on to post a 5-1 Western Hockey League win over the T-Birds before a recorded gathering of 4,836 at the Enmax Centrium.
Mpofu doubled his season output with his third and fourth goals of the season and Feser set up the first two Red Deer tallies. Netminder Patrik Bartosak also did his part, as usual, turning aside 29 shots, including 14 in the opening 20 minutes.
“Those two generated a lot of energy,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt, in reference to Mpofu and Feser. “I thought Scotty Feser was outstanding tonight, he was moving his feet and making the little plays that are necessary to get out of our zone and keep pucks deep in their zone.
“And I thought Vukie did a great job of being taking shots and being opportunistic. We’ve asked him to shoot more because he is a scorer. Last year in midget AAA he was a scorer (winning the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League points title). We want him to score more and I think his confidence is growing.”
Mpofu, a rookie winger who has moved onto the top line with Rhyse Dieno and Conner Bleackley due to an injury to Brooks Maxwell, gave the Rebels a
3-1 lead midway through the third period — capping a three-way passing play with his linemates — and connected again just under two minutes later on a fine individual effort. Tied up at the side of the net, the Saskatoon native found a way to get the puck past T-Birds netminder Danny Mumaugh to pretty much seal the deal.
“It feels nice to get a win and obviously you always want to contribute,” said Mpofu. “I’m just hoping I will continue to improve and contribute offensively more consistently through the rest of the year.
“It’s great to play with those guys, they’re so creative and they see the ice so well. Whenever you’re open they get you the puck and there’s a lot you can learn just watching those guys in practice and what they’re able to do with and without the puck. I’m having a really fun time playing with them.”
Matt Bellerive potted the Rebels’ final goal, firing into an empty net from along the wall with 1:34 remaining.
The game didn’t start well for the Rebels, as the visitors dominated play and opened the scoring on Branden Troock’s 20th of the season. Outshot 15-7 in the first period, Red Deer picked up the pace in the second and took over in the third.
“I think we just kind of said enough is enough,” said Mpofu. “We were tired of having our goalie having to bail us out. We had to give him some support and we had to play more physical. We stepped up physically in the second half of the game and from there we were able to dictate the game.”
Cole Chorney pulled the Rebels even 6:44 into the second period, going hard to the net and cashing a feed from Feser, and Earl Webb — with his first-ever WHL goal — scored the eventual winner eight minutes later. Webb was also set up by Feser, who was a buzzsaw all evening.
“Over the last month or so that I’ve been here I’ve got a chance to play and I’ve been trying to take on a role, kill penalties and do the little things right,” said Feser, a Red Deer minor hockey product who has split this season and last between the Rebels and Camrose and Okotoks of the AJHL.
“Fortunately it paid off individually for me and I kind of helped the team get a big win tonight.”
The victory — the Rebels’ sixth in their last seven games — helped ease the sting of Monday’s 4-3 home-ice loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“It was a tough loss the lother night against a team so close to us in the standings,” said Feser. “It was great to get the huge two points tonight against a strong team like Seattle.”
Still, Truitt wants to see a more determined early push from his squad from here on in.
“I really didn’t like our first period at all. It was kind of like the other night (against Brandon) when we didn’t get going early,” he said. “In the first half of the second period I thought we got a little better, in the second half of the period we took things over and in the third we did exactly what we need to do.
“But like I told the guys, 30 minutes doesn’t do it. We have to make sure that our starts are better, that we take over games rather than trying to chase and keep coming back. We have to make sure our first periods are better.”
The Rebels failed to gain any ground in the Eastern Conference standings as the Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats and Kootenay Ice, who are all just ahead of ninth-place Red Deer, all recorded victories Friday.
Red Deer hosts the Moose Jaw Warriors Sunday at 5 p.m.
• Rebels forward Adam Musil and Team Pacific defeated Russia 7-3 in a World Under 17 Challenge semifinal Friday and will take on the United States in tonight championship game at Sydney, N.S.
Meanwhile, Rebels forward Meyer Nell picked up an assist to help Team West defeat Germany 4-3 in the ninth-place game.