MEDICINE HAT — The Red Deer Rebels knew they’d have their hands full going up against the high-flying Medicine Hat Tigers Tuesday night.
They were correct, and yet the Rebels made life too easy for their hosts.
“We weren’t mentally engaged in the game at all tonight. We had a lot of very, very average players,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following a 4-2 Western Hockey League loss to the Tigers in front of 4,006 fans at the Medicine Hat Arena.
“We dropped our guard. We never played with the emotion and intensity that we’ve been playing with to have success this season.”
The Rebels trailed 4-0 before Presten Kopeck connected at 11:53 of the third period. Wyatt Johnson added a power-play marker seven minutes later, converting a feed from Grayson Pawlenchuk, but the two goals were too little, too late.
The Tigers led 1-0 after 20 minutes on Cole Sanford’s 15th of the season, and got unanswered second-period tallies from defencemen Ty Stanton and Tommy Vannelli. Rearguard David Quenneville made it 4-0 at 3:57 of the final frame before the Rebels replied with a pair of late goals.
Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer made 23 saves for his 10th win of the season. Rylan Toth stopped 35 shots for the Rebels.
“We never had a full load here tonight,” said Sutter. “Mentally, we weren’t sharp. We took a lot of penalties and our battle level along the boards wasn’t where it has to be. We had no forecheck at all tonight. We never got on top of them.”
For the Rebels, it was their first setback regarding a lack of work ethic and energy since mid-October.
“We knew how they (Tigers) were going to play,” said Sutter. “We didn’t respond the way we needed to respond. It was the worst game we’ve played in our last 12 to 14.”
The contest was the first of six in succession — with the exception of a Nov. 29 date with the visiting Swift Current Broncos — the Rebels play against division rivals Medicine Hat and the Calgary Hitmen.
“This is a big run for us,” Sutter noted. “We’re playing some big divisional games over the next couple of weeks and we can’t play like we did tonight.”
• The Rebels, who return to action Friday against the Tigers at the Enmax Centrium, were one-for-six on the power play and six-for-six on the penalty kill . . . The Tigers were awarded all three game stars — (1) Vannelli, (2) Trevor Cox, who had two assists, and (3) Blake Penner . . . The Rebels play three games in three days this weekend, starting with the visiting Tigers Friday and continuing with a home-and-home with the Hitmen — Saturday at the Centrium and Sunday afternoon at the Saddledome.