Goals were expensive for the Red Deer Rebels Friday night at the Centrium.
Despite outplaying and outshooting their guests, the Rebels couldn’t buy a goal until Brooks Maxwell connected on a power play at 12:29 of the second period. The Kootenay Ice, meanwhile, were shopping in the bargain bin, making the most of their scoring chances en route to a 5-3 Western Hockey League win in front of a recorded gathering of 4,845.
Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin played a huge role in the outcome, turning aside 38 shots. Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth stopped 11 of 15 shots before being replaced in the second period by Taz Burman, who blocked eight of the nine he faced the rest of the way.
“Their goalie saw a lot of the shots. We didn’t make it hard on him,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who wasn’t giving Hoflin all the credit while also being less than impressed with Toth.
“At one point I looked up at the clock and the shots on goal were 30-14 and we’re down 4-1,” he added. “That’s obviously not good enough. Tother needs to be better, he’s fighting it a little bit right now and he needs to get going.”
On a night when they couldn’t get their share of pucks past Hoflin, the Rebels were somewhat snake-bitten. For starters, Ice forward Levi Cable snuck behind the Red Deer defence on a play that appeared to be offside, broke in alone and beat Toth low to the glove side at 12:39 of the opening period.
The Ice were being outshot 10-0 in the second frame when Jaedon Descheneau batted a puck out of the air and past Toth at 8:16 for a 2-0 lead. Jon Martin banged home a loose puck in the crease three minutes later for a 3-0 cushion, before Maxwell finally got the Rebels on the board with a shot from the faceoff circle.
But the Rebels were victims of another bad break five minutes later when defenceman Brett Cote fell after being caught with an undetected high stick, and was caught up the ice when Martin potted his second of the night.
Kootenay’s fourth goal spelled the end for Toth, but Sutter was quick to blame some of his big guns for not bringing the needed intensity in a contest versus a red-hot Central Division rival.
“Tonight our best players weren’t our best players, and their guys were,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether it’s this level or pro hockey or midget hockey . . . it doesn’t matter.
“If your best players are going to get outplayed by the other team’s best players you’re not going to win very many games, and tonight we didn’t bring what we had to bring here in a big divisional game. It’s unacceptable, to be quite honest. For whatever reason we’ve let our emotional and intensity levels drop off here at home and it’s cost us.”
The Ice made it 5-1 early in the third period. Martin was denied by Burman after busting in alone, but Ryan Chynoweth buried the rebound.
Red Deer battled back with a pair of goals in the second half of the period as Riley Sheen worked out of the corner and fired a backhand past Hoflin, and Maxwell roofed a shot from close range. But it was too little, too late.
For the Ice, it was their 18th win in a 23-game stretch and pulled them to within two points of the second-place Rebels in the Central Division.
Still, assistant coach Jay Henderson voiced his displeasure with the fact his club was outshot 21-7 in the middle frame.
“Twenty one shots against . . . . that’s way too many for our liking,” said Henderson. “I thought Wyatt did a great job for us and kept us in the game and we executed on a few plays and scored some goals, but that’s still too many shots against.”
Regardless, the Ice found a way to pull out yet another victory in their impressive run.
“It’s a little different for us from the beginning of the year,” said Henderson. “The shots against are still a big concern, but at the beginning of the year we were getting outshot badly every night and weren’t scoring goals. It’s nice to be on the other side of that, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Henderson is unaware of whether Kootenay GM Jeff Chynoweth will attempt to bolster the team’s roster prior to or at the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
“I don’t know what’s in store for us that way,” said Henderson. “You have your fingers crossed . . . you always like to make your team better. I’m hoping he (Chynoweth) is on board for that, but we’re playing well right now and it’s always a concern if you mix up what you have.
“But we also have two guys coming back from the world juniors . . . two huge pieces for us.”
Henderson was referring to Canadian forward Sam Reinhart, who has 27 points in 15 games since being returned from the Buffalo Sabres, and Russian defenceman Rinat Valiev.
• The Rebels travel to Lethbridge today for a 7 p.m. meeting with the Hurricanes.