Rebels 5 Giants 3
The Red Deer Rebels came alive in the second period and in the process gave their Western Hockey League hopes a boost Friday at the Enmax Centrium.
The Rebels potted two goals in the middle frame and then added two more in the third to defeat the Vancouver Giants 5-3 before 4,556 fans, snapping a three-game losing streak while registering just their second win in their last 12 games.
“We got better in the last half of the game. We started simplifying our game and getting pucks in deep and forechecking,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We got shots on net and got scoring chances off them. We started spending less time in our own zone and when we do that we’re effective. It’s stuff we’ve been fighting with the last couple to three weeks and tonight the last half of the game I was happy with our overall game. We started skating and our puck management was much better.”
The Rebels were outshot 9-4 in the opening frame, but got to the intermission tied at one. Cain Franson opened the scoring for the visitors midway through the period when he circled the net and roofed the puck over a fallen Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak, but Wyatt Johnson replied for the Rebels with a deflection of Adam Musil’s shot from the high slot seven minutes later.
Former Rebels forward Joel Hamilton restored the Giants’ lead with a power-play tally 3:28 into the second period, connecting from the edge of the crease after Bartosak was unable to handle a shot by Jackson Houck.
Red Deer drew even 10 minutes later when Rhyse Dieno sidestepped a Vancouver defenceman and beat netminder Jared Rathjen with a bullet from the faceoff circle.
“It was a big win off the draw — we need those draws — and (defenceman Haydn) Fleury made an unbelievable pass through the seam,” said Dieno of his power-play tally. “Their guy thought he could block me, but I just walked around him and saw an opening and hit it.”
Conner Bleackley gave the Rebels a lead they wouldn’t relinquish at 18:18, taking a rebound of a point shot by Fleury and one-timing it past Rathjen from the edge of the circle, and Kayle Doetzel scored what proved to be the winner at 15:24 of the final frame, his wrist shot from the blueline finding the twine through a crowd.
The Giants pulled to within a goal when Franson potted his second of the night and 27th of the season at 18:18, redirecting a shot by defenceman Mason Geertsen.
But with Rathjen on the bench and the faceoff in the Rebels zone, Johnson won a draw and Brady Gaudet rang the puck around the end boards and up to Dieno, who promptly scored into the empty net from just over the Vancouver blueline to seal the deal.
“That’s all Johnny winning the draw and then the chip (by Gaudet),” said Dieno, whose empty-netter was his 50th goal of his WHL career, dating back to last year with the Rebels and earlier appearances with the Kamloops Blazers and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I just skated onto it and put it into the open net. I think anyone could have done that. It was all Johnny with the draw and then the chip, for sure.
“It was big win for us. We’ve been in a slump and definitely needed to change things up. We got down early but came back. We haven’t been putting the puck in the net and it was nice to get a couple, but if everyone is scoring and the team is winning I’d rather have that.”
The victory improved the Rebels’ home-ice record to 13-14-0-3.
“It was a solid effort from Patty (Bartosak) right through,” said Sutter. “We talked this morning about how we can’t dwell on what’s gone on with us in the past. That’s over and done with. We have to hit a reset button and get refocused and start enjoying doing things the right way and enjoying the game and being a team.”
The contest took on an angry tone with just 17.3 seconds remaining, with three fights breaking out following a double high-sticking minor to Geertsen. Both goaltenders skated out of the creases and were ready to join the scrum, but were directed back to their respective nets by the referees.
“The stuff at the end of the game . . . stuff like that happens and it was good to see the kids battling and sticking up for each other,” said Sutter.
l Forward Presten Kopeck, who was originally scheduled to be out of the Red Deer lineup until next month with an upper body injury, returned Friday and drew an assist on Bleackley’s goal . . . Despite their win, the Rebels remained tied with Prince Albert for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference when the Raiders pulled out a 6-4 victory over the host Tri-City Americans. Red Deer did, however, pull within two points of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who fell 5-4 at home to the Calgary Hitmen.