The Red Deer Rebels recovered from a slow start in Saturday’s 6-2 win over the visiting Swift Current Broncos; they weren’t so fortunate Tuesday.
The Rebels coughed up five unanswered goals in a brutal first period, and although they were the better team the rest of the way, the disastrous start was too much to overcome.
The end result was a 9-5 Western Hockey League loss to the Calgary Hitmen before a recorded audience of 4,168 at the Enmax Centrium.
“The first period was terrible, a reflection of the same kind of start we had the other night,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We had to take a timeout six minutes into that game and instead of doing that tonight I thought I’d change our goalie.
“Obviously that didn’t work.”
The Hitmen connected on their first two shots, with Beck Malenstyn and Chad Lang pulling the trigger barely three minutes into the contest. Rebels starting netminder Rylan Toth was yanked in favour of Taz Burman at that point, but the visitors struck for three more before the first intermission, two by Connor Rankin and another by Adam Tambellini.
Both teams had 10 shots in the opening frame, yet the visitors went into the first break with a huge lead.
The hosts got one back when newcomer Riley Sheen, acquired from the Lethbridge Hurricanes Monday, connected at 5:05 of the middle stanza, but Rankin completed his hat trick three minutes later when the puck bounced off his body and past Toth, who was back in net when the period started.
Brook Maxwell cut the deficit to 6-2 late in the second frame and Presten Kopeck, on the power play, and Sheen, with his second of the night and fifth of the season, got the Rebels back into the contest with goals in the first seven minutes of the third period.
“We battled and got ourselves back into it, but as soon as we got close they’d come down and create some pressure in our end, get a shot on net and it would go in,” said Sutter.
Calgary’s seventh goal was a reflection of the way the night went for the Rebels, as defenceman Jake Bean wristed a point shot that drifted past a half dozen bodies and found the top of the net, putting a large dent in Red Deer’s momentum.
Red Deer, though, didn’t fade away and Brett Cote made it a 7-5 game with a power-play point shot, but Terrell Draude notched an empty-net goal at with 1:10 remaining and Malenstyn scored his second of the night 22 seconds later.
Toth stopped 13 of the 18 shots he faced and Burman blocked five of the eight directed his way during his 17-minute stint.
“There was no fire here tonight. You have to play with a level of passion in a divisional game and we just didn’t play that way,” said Sutter.
“Defensively we were horrendous. We didn’t get saves, but you can’t put it on the goalies. They (Hitmen) had some top-notch, quality scoring chances. You look up at the clock and see three goals on four shots, but they were all quality chances.
“We didn’t do a good job defensively tonight, our defence really struggled. To a man, they all had a terrible night. We also had a few forwards that way and I think both of our goalies would have liked to have some (goals) back.”
On a positive note, Sheen, with two goals and an assist, was highly impressive in his Rebels debut and was arguably the best player on the ice.
“Unfortunately we played like we did as a group but you could see the importance of having a player like that on our team,” said Sutter. “He’s tremendously gifted, tremendously skilled. We made a trade to make our team better. He’s going to bring that skill set that we needed and he’s also a guy who can quarterback our power play”
l Hitmen netminder Mack Shields finished with 31 saves . . . With the win, Calgary moved a point ahead of Red Deer and into a second-place tie with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Central Division . . . The Rebels are idle until Friday when they host the Moose Jaw Warriors. Red Deer travels to Lethbridge Saturday to face the ‘Canes.