Hitmen 5 Rebels 1
Jesse Wallin’s mood was as cold as the temperature outside the Centrium following Tuesday’s Western Hockey League mismatch.
The Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach pretty much said it all with his first comment following a 5-1 loss to the Calgary Hitmen before a recorded gathering of 4,022 that was actually closer to 2,500.
“I thought that was probably our worst game of the year,” said Wallin, whose club was outplayed almost from start to finish.
“We were brutal outside of the last eight minutes of the first period when we got our feet moving and got going a bit.”
The Rebels also showed some spark early in the middle frame, snapping a scoreless tie when defenceman Mathew Dumba took a nifty backhand pass from Turner Elson and beat Hitmen netminder Brandon Glover to the glove side from the high slot.
But the lead lasted all of 39 seconds, as Joe Kornelson buried a rebound past Red Deer goaltender Deven Dubyk after teammate Greg Chase had cut around a Rebels defender.
From there, it was all downhill for the home side. The Hitmen added another marker before the period ended and sealed the deal with three third-period tallies.
“We had the lead and then we just handed the game right back to them,” said Wallin. “Every one of their goals, we handed right to them.
“We allowed them to come through the neutral zone way too easily, we weren’t picking up guys coming through. Our forwards were quitting on the backcheck and our defencemen were getting beat one on one. There were a lot of soft, soft, soft plays tonight.”
Wallin was describing Calgary’s go-ahead goal to a tee. While Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester was cutting across the high slot, two Red Deer defenders went to Alex Gogolev, who still managed to steer a pass from Sylvester past Dubyk.
Chase Clayton upped the count to 3-1 early in the third period, sneaking a shot through Dubyk’s pads. Gogolev followed with his second of the night — converting a centering pass from Sylvester — at 9:47 and Chase potted his second of the season six minutes later following a turnover behind the Red Deer net.
The Hitmen, displaying big-time speed and a junkyard dog work ethic, were full value for their eighth consecutive win. The Rebels, meanwhile, resembled a non-playoff team, which they currently are albeit trailing eighth-place Brandon by just four points in the Eastern Conference standings with a game in hand.
“We have some guys who are playing with a lot of confidence,” said Calgary head coach Mike Williamson. “When we’ve been skating and working hard, that’s when we’ve had success and that’s what we did today.
“That’s how we have to play.”
The Hitmen are one of the league’s hottest teams at the moment, although Williamson said he expected more out of his club — which sits seventh in the Eastern Conference but is a mere four points out of second place — earlier in the season.
“We thought we would be better in the first 30 games that we were, but guys came back after the Christmas break with a great deal of focus and a team-first mentality,” he said.
The Rebels turned in their second stinker in succession, following Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Swift Current.
“We had nowhere near the sense of urgency and the compete level tonight that we needed to have,” said Wallin. “If you don’t have that, everything else falls apart.
“We played a real poor game tonight.”
The Rebels host the Prince George Cougars Saturday and take on the Hitmen Sunday in Calgary.