KAMLOOPS — One of the Red Deer Rebels’ biggest question marks came through with a definitive answer Wednesday as Rylan Toth blocked 38 shots in a 3-2 Western Hockey League win over the Kamloops Blazers.
“Our goalie won us a game here tonight. He played outstanding,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Sutter also gave top marks to forwards Conner Bleackley and Riley Sheen and his defensive corps — in particular Brett Cote, Haydn Fleury and Kayle Doetzel — but wasn’t impressed with the two-way effort of most of his forwards.
“I thought Bleacks and Sheener were very good and I thought our defence was decent, but some of our forwards struggled,” said the Rebels bench boss.
“We just didn’t create any forecheck, we didn’t cycle pucks and we didn’t win battles. Outside of Bleacks and Sheener, I didn’t think our forward group was very good tonight.”
Bleackley and Sheen staked the Rebels to a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the first period with their 25th and 16th goals of the season, respectively, before Blazers forward Cole Ully potted his 26th before the intermission.
Bleackley notched his second of the evening — a power-play marker at 9:27 of the second period — and Ully responded with his second of the night at 6:37 of the final frame. Despite being outshot 13-3 in the third period, the Rebels hung on to post their 28th win of the season.
“Your goalie needs to steal you one once in awhile and tonight he did, but from a coaches’ perspective you don’t want your goalie having to steal games at this time of the year,” said Sutter. “You’re taking a step back that way.”
In Sutter’s view, the Rebels didn’t play much better than was the case in a pair of home games last weekend — 4-0 and 6-5 (shootout) losses to Edmonton and Prince Albert.
“We didn’t play that well at home last weekend despite being able to get the proper (line) match-ups,” said the Rebels boss. “We played the same way tonight and normally that would have nailed us in the butt, and if not for Tother we would have been nailed big-time tonight.
“Like I told the players, no one is perfect, but a sign of perfection is doing things the right way. That’s what being perfect is and we’ve been getting away from that.
“When you’re doing things right, you’re giving up 20 some shots a night. You’re defending the right way while also creating a lot offensively. But we’ve gotten away from doing the right things and we have to get back to having that attitude of doing things the right way all of the time.”
Red Deer directed 23 shots at Blazers netminder Connor Ingram.
The Rebels resume their three-game road trip with a Friday date with the Vancouver Giants, then take on the Victoria Royals 24 hours later. Red Deer’s next home game is Feb. 13 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.