PRINCE ALBERT — Outside of a handful of defensive and short-handed hiccups, the Red Deer Rebels were breathing relatively easy Tuesday night.
The Rebels coughed up a pair of power-play goals and were too generous on one other occasion, but otherwise controlled the play while skating to a 4-3 Western Hockey League win over the Prince Albert Raiders before 2,219 fans at the Art Hauser Centre.
“I thought we played pretty well,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We made a couple of mental errors that we can’t make that put us down to a five-on-three and we turned the puck over on their (Raiders’) third goal. Other than that, we were pretty solid five-on-five.”
The Rebels led 1-0 after 20 minutes on defenceman Nelson Nogier’s third goal of the season, but the Raiders responded with back-to-back extra-man markers in the second period. With Red Deer short two men, Jesse Lees beat Rebels netminder Rylan Toth at 9:56, and Reid Gardiner potted his 24th of the season on a five-on-four advantage 66 seconds later.
Conner Bleackley pulled the Rebels even at 13:56 of the middle frame, beating Raiders goalie Rylan Parenteau to the short side while attempting to cut wide across the crease, and Grayson Pawlenchuk restored the visitors’ lead with his 16th of the season two and a half minutes later.
Raiders forward Jordan Tkatch scored on a deflection 1:52 into the final frame, setting the stage for Adam Helewka’s 18th of the season — and the winner — at 12:25. It was Helewka’s fifth point — and second goal — in two games with Red Deer since being acquired from the Spokane Chiefs.
“When you have guys like the players we’ve added over the last little while, you’re never out of the game,” said Sutter, in reference to Helewka and linemate Jake DeBrusk. “If you’re down a goal you feel like you can win because you have the guys who can put the puck in the net.
“These guys also understand the game and the responsibility of playing defensively. And when they have the puck they make plays and make everyone around them better. The reality is we have other guys who have played their best hockey of the year for us over the last few games.”
Pawlenchuk, selected as the game’s first star, is one of those players.
“He got a big goal for us tonight and did a really good job of getting into good situations,” said Sutter. “He was just solid. He played like we expect Pawly to play and the last three to four games he’s been one of our better players.
“He had a good start to the season, then his play dropped off. But the last three to four games he’s been one of our better players again.”
Toth turned aside 26 shots as the winning netminder, while Parenteau made 33 saves.
The Rebels conclude their two-game road trip tonight versus the Saskatoon Blades, then return home for Friday and Saturday engagements with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Vancouver Giants.