Rebels 4 Oil Kings 2 (Saturday)
Rebels 5 Hitmen 4 (OT) (Sunday)
They could have easily folded it in.
With three games left in an arduous, exhausting and abbreviated WHL season and one of the top teams in the WHL rolling into town, the Red Deer Rebels had all the excuses in the world to not show up.
But, when Ethan Rowland slid the puck into the empty net with three seconds left, the bench erupted – like the weight of a 13-game losing streak that spanned a better part of a month and a half, was finally lifted.
“It feels great to finally get a win under our belt after however many losses it was,” said Ben King, who had two goals in the 4-2 win, the Red Deer’s first over the Oil Kings since Dec. 29, 2018.
“The boys were happy, the staff was happy, hopefully now we can keep it going and get some more.”
Edmonton was missing two of their top scorers in Dylan Guenther and Jake Neighbours for Saturday’s contest, meanwhile, Red Deer got a big boost with the return 21-year-old Josh Tarzwell, who had been out since April 9 with a lower-body injury.
“It’s big. He’s a 20-year-old, veteran. Just brings another element. He’s a big, strong guy and he pushes some offence. Just having him on the bench, he’s a good teammate,” said Rebels assistant coach Ryan Colville.
“He’s an uplifter. Gives us a little bit more balance. It’s huge to have him back.”
Things got started off on the right note for the home side, as King picked apart the Oil Kings with great speed through the neutral zone to open the scoring just 40 seconds in.
He broke into the Edmonton zone and fired a wrist shot before potting his own rebound past Sebastian Cossa for his team-leading ninth goal of the year.
Ben King BIG rebound guy 😎 @Rebelshockey
— The WHL (@TheWHL) May 2, 2021
The veteran was back at it again 3:27 later, scoring his second of the night on the power play.
“It helps. That team, once they get one they get rolling. So for us to just get a few and get the lead and get our game going before them, it really helps,” King said.
Edmonton started to rally from there and Logan Dowhaniuk cut the deficit with his third of the year, scooping up a loose puck in front of Chase Coward.
Midway through the second, Chris Douglas scored what turned out to be the game-winner. In his 248th WHL game, the Richmond, B.C. product restored the two-goal lead shorthanded.
Edmonton wouldn’t go away, as Dowhaniuk launched his second of the night on a power play in the second, his fourth of the year, all of which have come against the Rebels.
The Rebels took five penalties in a row after that and killed all of them off. For one of the league’s worst penalty kills, it was a huge lift.
“Just keep playing our way, blocking shots. We ran into some penalty trouble which was kind of nerve-wracking. We killed it. A lot of big blocks at the end,” King said.
“(Blake) Gustafson probably had 10, 20 blocks. He was first star in my mind. Guys are just putting their body on the line and that’s what it takes to win.”
Rebels netminder Chase Coward turned aside all eight Edmonton shots he faced in the final frame, including a five-bell pad stop with 4:22 to go. He made 24 saves for his first career WHL win.
“He made a few big saves,” said Colville.
“He made a glove save there in one of the kills. He was great. Just steady, not a lot of rebounds. Made some huge saves for us.”
Even if it was just the third win of the season for a Rebels club that struggled has struggled this year, it showed something to Colville.
“I felt so good for the guys. There’s been plenty of games this year where we didn’t deserve to win and we didn’t play well. There’s also been plenty of games where we haven’t had the bounces or the calls,” Colville said.
“I felt like our guys deserved a better fate and I think they definitely, definitely earned this one. I’m not sure there is a guy on that bench that didn’t play a part in the win.”
Red Deer continued its winning ways Sunday, topping the Calgary Hitmen 5-4 in overtime. Kalan Lind and Arshdeep Bains both picked up two goals, and Josh Tarzwell scored the overtime winner for the Rebels. Coward stopped 29 of 33 shots in the win.
Red Deer will host Calgary in the final game of the season Tuesday at the Westerner Park Centrium.