Wyatt Johnson looks right at home as the newly-minted Red Deer Rebels captain.
The 20-year-old forward turned in a multi-point performance for the second consecutive game Wednesday at the Centrium, notching three goals and assisting on another as the Rebels routed the Saskatoon Blades 7-1 in a WHL contest viewed by a recorded gathering of 4,601.
“It’s nice to start getting on the scoresheet. The first 10 games didn’t go as we wanted, but it’s nice to start contributing,” said Johnson, who busted out of his offensive slump with a goal — his first of the season — and two assists in last Saturday’s 6-4 win at Vancouver.
“Obviously it was good to get a win. We had a lot of good players out there tonight and it transferred into a 60-minute effort.”
Johnson, who replaced linemate Conner Bleackley – who still wears a letter — as the Rebels’ captain during the recent four-game B.C. road trip, scored the tying goal and the eventual winner after the Blades opened the scoring on a short-handed marker by Nick Zajac 5:25 into the contest.
Johnson potted a beauty nine minutes later on a short-handed two-on-one with Presten Kopeck, executing a nifty toe drag before beating netminder Nik Amundrud. Johnson cashed a cross-ice pass from Bleackley while left alone at the side of the net and the Rebels early in the second period were well on their way to the one-sided victory.
Red Deer added two more in the period, with Ivan Nikolishin finding the top corner of the net with a power-play point shot and Johnson completing his hat trick.
The Blades took advantage of an unfortunate turnover by defenceman Haydn Fleury at the Saskatoon blueline to pot their lone goal. Zajac pounced on the puck, broke down the left boards and beat Rylan Toth from a shot from the faceoff circle.
“I thought we came out hard and played in their zone most of the game,” said Johnson. “We kind of got a little unlucky with the fanned pass (by Fleury) on the power play, but we regrouped from there and didn’t give them too much after that.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t impressed with the goal — which came on the visitors’ third shot — and replaced Toth with Trevor Martin, who stopped all 15 shots he faced the rest of the way. Martin wasn’t busy, but he made a nifty toe save on Josh Paterson in the first period and took a goal away from Nolan Reid with a sliding save in the final frame.
“Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the goal,” said Sutter. “You never want to make a goalie change that soon in a game, but at the same time you can’t leave anything for chance. I had to make sure that I gave the guys an opportunity to get through it and get going, and I thought they handled it really well.”
The Rebels completed their onslaught with three third-period goals, Michael Spacek scoring on a breakaway, Austin Pratt credited with his second of the season on a deflection and defenceman Colton Bobyk busting to the net and converting a feed from Grayson Pawlenchuk, who finished with two helpers.
Amundrud made 25 saves and while he was beaten seven times, he kept the hosts from hitting double figures with a large handful of excellent stops.
“We certainly got our rhythm going after being down 1-0,” said Sutter. “We played hard tonight against a team that played last night (a 3-2 overtime win at Edmonton) and they’re a younger group. But we played the right way, the way we’ve been preaching it. The kids did a lot of good thing here tonight.”
The Rebels boss was encouraged by the play of Johnson’s line, as Bleackley picked up a pair of helpers and Lane Pederson drew an assist.
“That line was really good in Vancouver, they were certainly the best line on the ice that night,” said Sutter. “We need to have four lines going with the way we have to play. It gives other players an opportunity to play in other situations, which is huge for their development. It was good to have a lead like that where you can mix lines and get some of the younger kids playing with some of the older guys.”
Fleury was assessed a major and a game misconduct in the second period for a check to the head and former Rebel Connor Gay was also hit with a maior and banished from the contest when he delivered a cross check to Fleury’s face just seconds later.
• Sutter swung a deal with the Tri-City Americans earlier in the day, acquiring forward/defenceman Braden Purtill in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2017 WHL bantam draft.
Purtill, an 18-year-old Winnipeg product, is in his third season in the league and has scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in 111 games. He was a third-round selection of the Americans in the 2012 bantam draft.
The Rebels host the Medicine Hat Tigers and Kootenay Ice Friday and Saturday.