So far, so good.
The second coming of Brent Sutter as head coach started with a bang as the Red Deer Rebels ripped off a pair of weekend wins, including Sunday’s 6-1 romp over the Prince Albert Raiders before a crowd of 4,580 at the Centrium.
“We have a new voice and a different mentality about going and going all of the time. The guys have bought into it and I think it’s a good thing so far,” said Rebels captain Turner Elson.
The Rebels were certainly in an energetic mood on Sunday, directing 50 shots at the Raiders net and winning most of the battles along the boards.
“They (Raiders) were in their third game in three nights and we wanted to make sure we came out hard at them,” said Elson, the day after a 2-1 win over the visiting Swift Current Broncos. “That’s what we did tonight and we were rewarded for it. We got a lot of pucks to the net and went there.
“They were tired and we just went to the net and battled hard. We didn’t let anyone say no to us when we wanted the puck.”
The Rebels fired 20 shots at Raiders netminder Luke Siemens in the opening period and had a 2-0 lead at the intermission.
Wyatt Johnson opened the scoring at 11:46, burying a goalmouth feed from Cory Millette on a two-on-one break. Millette created a turnover just outside of the Rebels blueline and threw a toe drag on a Raiders defender before passing to Johnson.
Matt Bellerive doubled the lead at 18:02 when he beat Siemens with a high shot from the faceoff circle following some excellent work down low by Rhyse Dieno and Joel Hamilton.
“Our focus since we played last night was we knew we were playing a team that was playing three in three nights,” said GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who replaced Jesse Wallin as bench boss on Wednesday.
“The Raiders are obviously a good hockey club and we wanted to make sure that we dealt with the day the right way and came here with the mindset that we needed to play hard and compete hard and do the details of the game the right way. It was a good effort on our part. It’s points, and you have to win at home to have success.”
Shane Danyluk pulled the visitors to within one early in the middle frame, hammering a shot past netminder Patrik Bartosak after the puck bounced out front from a scramble, but rookie Haydn Fleury restored Red Deer’s two-goal lead just over a minute later. Fleury ripped home a shot from the point with Siemens down and out following some heavy pressure.
Newcomer Rhyse Dieno notched his second goal in as many games with the Rebels before the period was out. With Red Deer on the power play, he took a pass from Joel Hamilton and with a quick release from the low slot.
“I’m feeling pretty confident. Brent put me on the first line and that boosted my confidence, and playing with guys like (Brooks) Maxwell and Turner really helps out,” said Dieno, who added an assist and with a goal on Saturday has three points in two outings.
“I thought I could have a few more tonight with some bounces. We got 50 shots on net. That’s quite a few shots in this league but it would have been nice for a couple of more to go in.”
Indeed, only a lack of puck luck and the stellar play of Siemens kept the Rebels from sealing the deal much earlier.
“We’ve been stressing to the guys about just pushing the play and attacking with assertiveness,” said Sutter. “When you’re in the zone, have a purpose of wanting to get pucks to the net and wanting to get to the net, and when you have those opportunities you have to bury them.
“At the same time we want to be a team that’s also responsible when we don’t have the puck. They always say the best defence is a good offence, but it works the other way too. If you have the puck a lot it helps, especially when you’re playing a very good team like Prince Albert.”
Tyson Ness made it 5-1 midway through the third period with a shot from the faceoff circle that struck the crossbar and beat Siemens, who was replaced at that point by Rylan Parenteau and finished with 41 saves.
Parenteau, who surrendered a goal to Conner Bleackley 77 seconds later, stopped three of the four shots he faced the rest of the way.
The Raiders, who sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 15-7-0-2 record and were coming off Friday and Saturday wins at Lethbridge and Edmonton, were zero-for-six on the power play. The Rebels, who improved to 12-11-1-1 and are fifth in the conference, were two-for-five with a man advantage.
“Our specialty teams were good tonight,” said Sutter. “Our penalty killing has been good for most of the year.
“Its important to stay out of the penalty box and not take bad penalties. You don’t want to be taking more than two or three minor penalties a night, you have to be a disciplined team. The way the game is played today you have to understand and know that every night your focus needs to be on discipline, on doing things right and making sure you’re not beating yourself by taking bad penalties.”
• Elson notched the winning goal at 7:32 of the third period on Saturday.
Chance Lund scored a first-period goal for the Broncos and Dieno potted an equalizer in the second period before a Centrium gathering of 5,755.
Bartosak and Broncos netminder Eetu Laurikainen each made 25 saves in the close-checking contest.
“The guys played hard,” said Sutter, following the game. “We talked about being a mentally tough team here tonight and being very much engaged. It was about the process through the game. If you take care of that and not worry about the end result, eventually you’ll get what you want.”