The Red Deer Rebels didn’t extend any holiday greetings to the Kootenay Ice Tuesday night at the Centrium.
The Rebels, playing their final Western Hockey League game prior to the Christmas break, exhibited a killer instinct in the first period with five unanswered goals, and although they didn’t score again the outcome was never in doubt over the final 40 minutes.
“It’s always nice for these kids to have a victory before they go home for the break,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following a 5-1 victory that was witnessed by a recorded gathering of 4,308.
“We obviously had a very good start,” Sutter continued. “We caught a team that was playing its fourth game in five nights. You have to take advantage of that and we did.”
Indeed they did, lighting up rookie Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin for five goals on 16 shots.
Rhyse Dieno potted his seventh of the season at 3:38 — converting a goalmouth pass from Turner Elson — and Christian Stockl, with his second of the season and first as a Rebel, notched the eventual winner at 6:04, skating out of the corner and bearing Hoflin high to the short side.
From there, Tyson Ness set up Wyatt Johnson at 12:03, Kevin Pochuk buried a perfect two-on-one feed from Jesse Miller 95 seconds later and Elson scored at 15:22 with a wrist shot from the high slot.
Game, set and match.
“We came out strong and Bolton (netminder Pouliot, who turned in an excellent 27-save performance) held us in there at some points,” said Elson. “We got pucks to the net and we were bearing down on our chances. We hadn’t being doing that as of late and finally got rewarded for all of our hard work.”
Mackenzie Skapski replaced Hoflin at the start of the second period and was outstanding the rest of the way, stopping all 23 shots he faced. His presence also sparked the Ice, who held an 11-9 edge in shots through the middle frame while getting a goal from Erik Benoit.
“We took a couple of penalties in the second period we didn’t want to take and gave them some life,” said Sutter. “Other than that, we played a solid game. We came out with two points and we can keep moving along here.”
Miller, in his first game back since suffering a concussion last month, was one of the Rebels’ brightest lights Tuesday, picking up a pair of assists — his first two points of the season.
“He was real solid tonight. Jesse needs to be a productive guy for us and that’s something we have to continue to work on with him,” said Sutter. “We don’t want him to be just a good skater who works and competes hard.
“We need to work with him to want to become a better offensive player. A prime example of that was in the third period when he created a three-on-one with his speed and then took the puck behind the net instead of to the net. But he’s a young guy who’s still learning the major junior game. Overall, for this being his first game back in awhile, he played hard and played well.”
The Rebels head into the holidays solidly positioned in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, six points up on both the Saskatoon Blades and Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Blades fell 3-1 at Swift Current Tuesday, while Lethbridge lost 3-2 to the visiting Regina Pats.
As Elson pointed out, the Rebels are looking forward to heading home for a week before reporting back for a Boxing Day practice. And they’re heading out in a positive frame of mind, which wasn’t the case following a 6-1 home-ice loss Saturday to Kelowna.
“Tonight’s win was a big momentum boost and we have to continue on like that after Christmas,” said the team captain. “We didn’t want to lose two in a row. Good teams don’t lose two in a row. Brent wouldn’t have been too happy with that.
“It’s nice to get a break now. The guys are tired, their legs are a little shot. It will be good to go home and have fun with our families.”
The Rebels return to action Dec. 27 versus the host Oil Kings, then entertain the defending WHL champs the following night at the Centrium.
• Advocate’s three stars: (1) Elson . . . Rebels on-ice leader scored a goal and set up another . . . (2) Miller . . . Picked up a pair of helpers and combined his speed with effective physical play; (3) Tyson Ness . . . Red Deer forward was steady throughout and set up the third goal.