Rebels 2 Warriors 1
Red Deer Rebels captain Conner Bleackley hit a milestone Friday at the Enmax Centrium, but like a true leader he insisted the end result was more important.
“I actually knew when I scored that it was my 50th (of his WHL career),” said Bleackley, who notched both goals in a 2-1 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors in front of 5,081 fans.
But did he keep the puck?
“No, that one will go up on the win wall. To me, that’s better than 50 goals,” he added.
For the third consecutive home game, the Rebels failed to score first. Overage forward Jack Rodewald gave the visitors their only lead of the night 13:22 into the contest, but Bleackley answered just 36 seconds later when he cruised into the high slot and buried a feed from Riley Sheen.
The goal brought on a flurry of winter wear from the stands as it was the Rebels’ annual touque-toss night.
Bleackley then potted his second of the evening, his 10th of the season and his 50th as a Rebel dating back to the 2011-12 season when he played 16 games as a 15-year-old. The eventual winner, a power-play tally, came at 2:30 of the middle frame when Tyler Sandhu intercepted a clearing attempt in the high slot and found Bleackley alone at the side of the net.
The Rebels carried the play most of the evening, and although they didn’t run up the score their defensive effort was a darn sight better than in Tuesday’s 9-5 home-ice loss to the Calgary Hitmen, in which they coughed up five unanswered first-period goals.
“Our start tonight was obviously better but I think we still have a bit more to go,” said the Rebels captain. “But I think our game as a whole was pretty good. Any time you can limit a team to 20 shots and one goal . . . that’s kind of what we’ve been keying in on after giving up nine the other night. “Hopefully we can do more of that going forward and set ourselves up for the second half (of the season).”
The Rebels directed 29 shots at Warriors netminder Justin Paulic while Rebels goaltender Ryan Toth faced 19. While Toth wasn’t busy Friday, he came up with a handful of top-notch saves, robbing Torrin White on a second-period breakaway and making a stop on an in-close deflection late in the contest.
“It was a tight game, a close-checking game,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “I thought we had some pretty decent looks at times. For the most part both teams played very similar at certain times of the game.
“We needed to have a (positive) response after the other night. It really wasn’t what happened the other night, it was how we were going to respond to what happened. We wanted to tighten things up tonight and be better on both sides of the puck and we certainly were that.”
Sutter like the Rebels’ all-around game.
“We were better defensively and I thought we did a really good job in the offensive zone,” he said. “We created some scoring chances and made some plays. We probably didn’t finish as much as we would have liked, but that being said, it was a big win.”
The win pushed the Rebels into third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings who were 6-2 losers at Calgary Friday. Red Deer trails the second-place Hitmen by a single point.
The Rebels displayed their offensive balance Friday as all four lines created scoring opportunities.
“It’s really how we want to play, we want to be a four-line team,” said Sutter. “There are times when you have to shorten your bench, but for the most part we do want to roll four lines and use six defencemen. When we play the way we want to play, we’re playing a high-tempo game. And they (Warriors) do too. Moose Jaw plays very similar.”
The Rebels travel to Lethbridge today to face the Hurricanes, and are then idle until Thursday when they host the Kamloops Blazers.