SWIFT CURRENT — The Red Deer Rebels held down the fort in the first period, but didn’t have enough ammo down the stretch to avoid a 4-3 Western Hockey League loss to the Swift Current Broncos Saturday.
“We had an awful first period,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We were on our heels, we were soft. We were fortunate to be tied 1-1. Patty played great again.”
Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak, the first star of Friday’s 2-1 win at Medicine Hat, made 18 first-periods saves as the visitors were outshot 19-4 in the first 20 minutes.
Red Deer was a much-improved team over the final two periods, but Jay Merkley’s 12th goal of the season at 10:56 of the third period snapped a 3-3 tie and stood up as the winner. The goal came just 21 seconds after Conner Bleackley, with his 12th, pulled the Rebels even.
“After a poor first period, we got going in the second and third periods and were right in it,” said Sutter.
Colby Cave staked the Broncos to a 1-0 lead with a power-play tally 4:29 into the contest. Wyatt Johnson replied for the Rebels nine minutes later.
Merkley and Julius Honka gave the home squad a two-goal cushion with goals at 1:47 and 8:28 of the second period, but Rhyse Dieno got one back for Red Deer before the intermission, taking a feed from Dominik Volek and scoring a short-handed goal.
Johnson joined Bleackley and Dieno on a forward line after Brooks Maxwell was assessed a game misconduct after being engaged in an early second-period fight with Zac Mackay, who was also kicked out. Dieno and Bleackley each picked up an assist for a two-point evening.
“That line was really good for us,” said Sutter. “But I just thought we had some other guys who struggled. This was a big game for us, we had a chance to get right up into the top eight (in the Eastern Conference) and we didn’t do so.
“Again, it comes down to what we’re expecting from the player as coaches . . . the accountability and responsibility as far as how we need these guys to play.”
Defencemen Kayle Doetzel and Kolton Dixon were the Rebels top plus/minus players at plus-3 and plus-2. Bleackley and Adam Musil were the only other Red Deer plus players, with both finishing at plus-1.
Bartosak finished with 42 saves. Landon Bow stopped 20 shots for Swift Current in front of 2,152 fans at the Credit Union i-Plex.
The Rebels return to action Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the visiting Prince Albert Raiders.
l Sutter flew to Toronto Sunday morning for a Hockey Canada press conference today regarding the announcement of the national junior team’s final selection camp roster.
At the request of Sutter, the Canadian team head coach, only 28 players will be invited to the camp, a relatively meagre number in comparison with past years. The 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship is scheduled for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden.