With Western Hockey League teams now well into the second half of the regular season, games are starting to resemble what fans will be watching in late March and beyond.
The Red Deer Rebels and Moose Jaw Warriors hooked up in a tight, intense battle Wednesday evening, an outing that was scoreless until Rebels forward Ivan Nikolishin connected at 1:19 of overtime, taking a feed from Adam Helewka and beating goalie Zach Sawchenko with a low slot.
The Rebels’ performance was very much in contrast to their showing Saturday night at the Centrium, where they fell 6-5 in overtime to the Vancouver Giants. Needless to say, Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter was pleased to see his charges churn out a defensive gem before 3,112 fans at Mosaic Place.
“We’ve been talking about how we have to tighten up defensively because we’re heading into playoff-type hockey,” said Sutter, following the 1-0 victory. “We have to get accustomed to that, to not playing such high risk hockey and turning pucks over.
“We kept our turnovers to a minimum tonight and now we have to build off that.”
The Rebels denied the Warriors less than a handful of scoring chances while outshooting their hosts 38-25, including 18-7 in the second period.
“We had some opportunities but we didn’t capitalize,” said Sutter. “We didn’t give up a whole lot and Tother (Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth) made the saves when he had to. He was solid and I thought their guy was really good, too.
“It was kind of like a playoff game with a lot of close checking. I just thought our entire game was solid.”
Both teams were zero-for-three on the power play.
The Rebels are in Brandon Friday for the second game of their three-game road trip. The Wheat Kings will be out for revenge after suffering a 10-0 loss to Red Deer Jan. 2 at the Centrium.
“We have to go in there and play well,” said Sutter. “We know they’re going to be fired up after the last game. They’re going to be ready to play so we have to make sure we match their emotion and go out and play our game.”
With the victory, Red Deer remains two points back of the Central Division and Eastern Conference leading Lethbridge Hurricanes, who were 5-2 winners Wednesday at Swift Current, where the Rebels will conclude their trip Saturday.
• The three stars were (1) Sawchenk0, (2) Toth, who posted his fifth shutout of the season, and (3) Nikolishin.