One night after being the victims of questionable officiating, the Red Deer Rebels, it appears, were again run over by the zebras 24 hours later.
The Rebels were the recipients of two power plays in Friday’s 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Swift Current Broncos and one more in a 3-2 shootout loss to the host Medicine Hat Tigers. The power-play totals in the two games? A whopping 15-3 in favour of the visitors.
Already on the hook for a hefty fine for his comments regarding referee Steve Papp following the Friday contest, Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin wasn’t open to doling out more cash when asked about Saturday’s loss, although he wasn’t likely impressed with the work of referees Ryan Bonnett and Matt Kirk.
Third-period penalties to Aaron Borejko (hooking), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (interference) and Adam Kambeitz (tripping) allowed the Tigers to mount an attack after being thoroughly outplayed through the first 40 minutes.
The infractions handed to Borejko and Kambeitz, who watched from the penalty box as Emerson Etem scored the equalizer with 4:25 remaining in regulation time, were obvious, but the call on Nugent-Hopkins was off the mark.
On the play in question, the Rebels rookie was hooked by Wacey Hamilton, then pulled off balance as Hamilton grabbed Nugent-Hopkins’ pants. The Red Deer forward then hooked Hamilton to regain his balance and was fingered as a result.
Whatever, the Rebels’ penalty killers were splendid, allowing just one man-advantage marker in a contest in which they deserved a better fate.
“I was very pleased with our game. We went into their building and played a real solid road game,” said Wallin, whose squad built a 2-0 lead after two periods while outshooting their hosts 19-12.
Then came the ill-fated final frame, when a soft defensive play in the Rebels’ end resulted in a turnover and a Tigers’ goal by Matt MacKay at 12:43
Three minutes later, while killing a penalty, Turner Elson circled back for the puck in the Red Deer zone, and as he turned to fire it up ice, he lost an edge. The puck rolled off his stick and into the slot, where it was buried by Etem.
“It wasn’t even a mistake, just a tough break,” said Wallin. “It was disappointing to play that well and come out on the wrong end. That’s the way we need to play, and if we continue to play that way we should get the result we want more often than not.”
Alex Petrovic gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead at 13:12 of the opening frame and Kambeitz, with his seventh of the season, made it a two-goal margin at 5:36 of the second period.
Following a scoreless overtime session, Rebels netminder Darcy Kuemper stopped the Tigers first man up in the shootout, MacKay, but was then beaten by Bretton Cameron and Tristan King. At the other end, both Landon Ferraro and Willie Coetzee came up short against Medicine Hat goaltender Tyler Bunz.
Kuemper made 26 saves in regulation time, two fewer than Bunz.
“They made a push in the third period, but outside of that we gave them very little,” said Wallin.
“At the same time, we had good control of the puck in the offensive zone and created opportunities off the cycle. For the majority of the night I was really pleased with how we played. It wasn’t a matter of not being able to hang on, it was just a tough break that led to the tying goal.”
The Red Deer setback, coupled with Medicine Hat’s 5-2 win over visiting Edmonton Sunday, gave the suddenly fourth-place Tigers a three-point bulge over the sixth-place Rebels, who have two games in hand. The slumping Kootenay Ice — 6-0 losers to the visiting Calgary Hitmen Saturday — are in fifth spot, two points up on Red Deer and one back of the Tigers.
The Rebels close out their regular-season schedule with games in Lethbridge and Cranbrook versus the Ice Tuesday and Wednesday, a home date with Kootenay Friday and a visit to Calgary Sunday.
Despite Saturday’s loss, Wallin said the Rebels can build off their performance.
“That was the message after the game,” he said. “It’s disappointing and it hurts to come out on the wrong end like that. I liked our game and if we play that way we’ll have success most nights.”
• The ninth-place Prince Albert Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention with a 6-3 loss Saturday at Regina.