Rebels 4 Tigers 2
It was only fitting that Evan Polei was sporting the Red Deer Rebels’ player-of-the-game hat — a fireman’s helmet — following Friday’s Western Hockey League meeting with the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.
After all, the Rebels forward put out a fire with probably the prettiest goal scored at the Centrium this season.
With the game knotted 2-2, Polei broke down the right side, cut around Tigers defenceman Ty Schultz and beat netminder Marek Langhamer with a high shot from extremely close range with just over four minutes remaining.
Polei’s goal, his 10th of the season, was the winner. Wyatt Johnson added an empty-net marker in the final minute to complete a well-deserved 4-2 Red Deer victory in front of 4,783 fans.
“Johnny (Johnson) worked really hard along the boards to get that puck out and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” said Polei. “ I turned the wheels on and beat their D-man wide.
“He (Langhamer) cheated a little bit, he thought I was going to pull it over and put it low. I think it actually went off one of their guys’ sticks because it slid off my stick a bit. But it worked out in the long run.”
Polei and linemates Scott Feser and Adam Musil were lights out for most of the evening, with each member of the unit contributing a goal in an overall high-energy performance by the hosts.
“Our line was amazing tonight, especially compared to Tuesday (in a 4-2 loss at Medicine Hat),” said Polei. “Brent (GM/head coach Sutter) sat us for a good part of the third period, we didn’t see too much ice. But we really bounced back today and worked hard as a line and got it done.”
The game didn’t start the way the Rebels had drawn it up, as Cole Sanford, all alone at the side the net, whipped a shot past Red Deer netminder Rylan Toth a mere 25 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Rebels held off the visitors for the next few minutes and then started to carry the play, although the Tigers’ lead held up until Adam Musil, in the low slot, one-timed a feed from Presten Kopeck that trickled over the line at 5:28 of the second period.
It was the first of two power-play goals for Red Deer, the second coming a mere 24 seconds into the final frame when Feser, stationed in the right circle, took a cross-ice pass from Meyer Nell and fired it past Langhamer all in one motion.
The Tigers got that one back seven minutes later, with Matt Bradley worked out of the corner and beating Toth high. That set the stage for Polei’s beauty and Johnson’s clincher.
“It was one of those games where we had to find our way early on,” said Sutter. “During the first five to seven minutes of the game we were kind of on our heels, but once we got on our toes we started playing more the way we want to play.”
Sutter wasn’t surprised that the six-foot-one, 219-pound Polei was able to notch such a picture-perfect goal.
“He had his feet moving, he did a good job of protecting the puck and he took it to the net,” said the Rebels boss. “Those are things we work with him on in practice — taking more pucks to the net and using his big frame and moving his feet. When he’s moving his feet he’s a pretty effective player, and he can shoot too.
“That was obviously a huge goal in a big game.”
Not only were the Rebels two-for-four with a man advantage, they were a perfect four-for-four on the penalty kill.
“I really thought that’s what created some momentum for them (Tigers), was when they got on the power play with those skilled guys they have,” said Sutter. “But our penalty kill did a good job of shutting down some areas and certain things they look for.
“And then we had Tother (Toth). The best penalty killer is always your goalie and he did a great job.”
Toth made 29 saves for his 11th win of the season. Langhamer blocked 30 shots and held his team in the game with a host of big-time stops.
The Rebels host the Calgary Hitmen tonight.