SWIFT CURRENT –— The Red Deer Rebels were in synch from start to finish Saturday and closed out their four-game WHL road trip with a convincing 3-0 win over the Swift Current Broncos.
“We competed for a complete 60 minutes last night,” Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said Sunday. “We didn’t give up a lot defensively and that’s a credit to everybody, from the forwards working hard to the defence making good plays, And obviously Patty (netminder Patrik Bartosak) was good when he needed to be.
“I thought that was one of our best complete 60-minute team efforts of the season.”
Defenceman Haydn Fleury scored the only goal the Rebels would need 3:54 into the contest viewed by 2,215 fans at the Credit Union i-plex. From there the club’s two newest additions chipped in with a goal apiece as Aspen Sterzer connected late in the second period and Presten Kopeck beat Broncos netminder Eetu Laurikainen with five minutes remaining in the game.
“Those were really good moves by the organization in getting both of those guys,” said Truitt. “Sterzer is off to a hot start with us, which is great, and both he and Kopeck are two great players who really complement (centre Conner) Bleackley on a line right now. They’re two hard-working players and that line seems to have some chemistry going.”
Sterzer, acquired from the Kamloops Blazers Thursday, has contributed two goals and two assists in two outings since joining the Rebels for their third game of the trip — a 4-3 win over the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday. Kopeck, who came over from the Portland Winterhawks in the Matt Dumba deal in December, has a goal and two helpers in four games as a Rebel.
Forward Rhyse Dieno, who played on a line with Bleackley before suffering a lower body injury Jan. 5, is expected to return in short order and might find himself on a different forward unit.
“Who knows how it’s going to work when Dieno comes back, but the way things are going now I wouldn’t expect to see much of a change, on that line anyway,” said Truitt.
Bartosak stopped 34 shots Saturday to post his third shutout of the season and lower his goals-against average to 2.89. Laurikainen made 35 saves.
After dropping the first two games of the road trip at Brandon and Regina, the Rebels’ goal was to finish the trek with a break-even record and possibly move into a playoff spot. They accomplished both by moving into a seventh-place tie with the Prince Albert Raiders in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s something we talked about. After losing the first two games we wanted to be .500 on this trip,” said Truitt. “We got the one in Moose Jaw and then we had this opportunity which was accompanied by a possible playoff position.
“We just wanted to concentrate on making sure our effort was at a high level for each period. We weren’t looking at anything further than just one period at a time. The message was, let’s just recharge and reset ourselves for each period knowing that this was our fourth game in five nights with a lot of travel. The guys just really caught on to that and did an excellent job.”
The Rebels return to action Friday against the visiting Calgary Hitmen. The Lethbridge Hurricanes are at the Centrium 24 hours later.