CRANBROOK — The Red Deer Rebels suffered from a lack of experienced energy Wednesday in a 4-1 Western Hockey League loss to the Kootenay Ice.
“We didn’t play well for two periods. We just weren’t sharp,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Goaltender Bolton Pouliot, who was lit up for six goals in a home-ice loss to Edmonton last Friday and was yanked five minutes into Sunday’s 6-5 setback to visiting Brandon after coughing up a soft goal, showed up to play Wednesday. But in Sutter’s eyes, he was the exception.
“Our goalie played well. Pouliot responded well from his most recent performance, but other than that we never had anybody at the level we need them to be at,” said Sutter.
The Rebels bench boss was clearly pointing a finger of blame at his more experienced skaters, the players he’s holding mostly accountable for the club’s current three-game losing streak.
“It’s concerning, and mostly because of how we’ve lost,” said Sutter. “In the last three games we’ve played one good period. Our compete level and our intensity and emotional levels aren’t where we need them to be, and that starts with your older players. They have to provide that leadership and understanding of what it takes to be successful.
“It’s weird, it’s been this way since we’ve come back from the Christmas break. We just haven’t been able to get back on track.”
The Ice led 1-0 after one period on Sam Reinhart’s 14 goal of the season and Luke Philp notched his 10th to give Kootenay a 2-0 edge after 40 minutes.
Rhyse Dieno potted his 10th of the season at 8:06 of the third period to pull the Rebels to within one, but Philp potted a power-play marker six minutes later and Jeff Hubic sealed the deal with his first of the campaign at 19:47.
The Rebels were minus the services of three injured players — including power-play defenceman Brady Gaudet — as well as forward Conner Bleackley and rearguard Haydn Fleury, both playing in the World Under 17 Challenge in Quebec, and No. 1 netminder Patrik Bartosak, with the Czech Republic at the WJC in Russia.
“We have some key guys out of our lineup, guys that we miss,” said Sutter. “But that’s no excuse for the guys who are dressed and they have to pull their weight and play up to their potential. You can’t play the game if you don’t put a commitment into it and work at it and try to get the most out of yourself.”
Pouliot made 34 saves and was named third star of the game. Philp was named first star and Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski picked up second-star honours with a 29-save outing.
“For two periods tonight our work ethic was very low,” said Sutter. “That’s the responsibility of the older players, the guys who have to step up. I’ve been hard on them, but it’s reality — your best players have to be your best players and again tonight they were not.”
The Rebels are facing a heavy weekend slate with home games Friday and Saturday versus the Vancouver Giants and Moose Jaw Warriors and a Sunday date with the Ice back in Cranbrook.
“We have to get this turned around,” said Sutter. “The players have to understand that there’s a fine line between winning and losing and you have to find a way to stay above that line. Winning breeds success and we had that, but for whatever reason the guys have dropped their guard and we have to get it back.”
l Bleackley picked up an assist for Team Pacific in a 4-3 overtime win over Team West in the World U17 17 Challenge Wednesday. Fleury contributed an assist in a losing cause.
Pacific finished round-robin play with three overtime victories and one loss. Team West was 0-4, with one loss coming in extra time.