Considering the adversity the Red Deer Rebels faced on their four-game Western Hockey League road trip, a concluding 4-2 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday was especially satisfying.
“It was a tough trip in a lot of different ways,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter Sunday, in reference to a three-game suspension to defenceman Devan Fafard, injuries to rearguard Brady Gaudet and impressive rookie forward Grayson Pawlenchuk, and inconsistent play from his troops.
“There were times when we played well and times we didn’t play as well as we expected,” Sutter continued. “Last night was certainly the best game from start to finish that we played on the trip.”
With Pawlenchuk already missing due to a broken elbow he suffered in a 6-4 loss at Moose Jaw Friday, Gaudet was unable to go Saturday after taking a shot on the ankle the night before. Pawlenchuk underwent surgery Sunday morning and will be out six to eight weeks, while Gaudet is listed as day-to-day.
On a positive note, Fafard served the last game of his suspension Saturday and will return to the Red Deer lineup for Tuesday’s 7 p.m. clash with the visiting Everett Silvertips.
The Rebels dressed just 19 players — including four 16-year-olds — for Saturday’s contest played before 3,748 fans at Westman Place, yet led 1-0 after one period on Christian Stockl’s first goal of the season.
Both clubs scored twice in the second period, a frame in which the Rebels were assessed all four minor penalties called by referees Jeff Ingram and Kyle Kowalski.
“That’s something we have to continue to work on. Being a young team, we have to understand the reality of beating ourselves,” said Sutter. “The night before we gave up four power-play goal against Moose Jaw and last night we had four minors in the second period, three in the first eight minutes.
“We had the momentum and we lost it.”
Richard Nejezchleb pulled Brandon even with a power-play tally 1:35 into the second period, but Vukie Mpofu restored Red Deer’s lead 32 seconds later and Wyatt Johnson increased the margin to 3-1 at 4:37. John Quenneville got one back for the Wheat Kings before the period ended.
The clubs then battled through a scoreless third frame before Rebels forward Dominik Volek notched an empty-net goal with one second left to ensure the Rebels of a 2-2-0 record on the trip.
Like Stockl, Mpofu and Johnson each potted their first goal of the season.
“With the type of team we have, with a lot of younger players, we have to play a really strong team game and need everyone chipping in,” said Sutter. “Every player is an important part of this team.
“Our younger kids have all played well and our older guys, overall, as a group . . . last night’s game was the best they have played. As a coaching staff, we’re very pleased with how we finished the trip and how the kids played.”
Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak was named first star of the game after stopping 33 shots, including 17 in the second period. Curtis Honey made 25 saves for Brandon.
“Patty played well, he made the big saves when we needed them,” said Sutter. “And we were much better at defending too. Defensively, we played pretty well.”
• Just notes: Defenceman Mathew Dumba made his NHL regular-season debut with the Minnesota Wild Saturday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Anaheim Ducks. Dumba, who can still be returned to Red Deer this season, played 10 minutes and 22 seconds and was credited with one shot on goal and one hit. He was a zero in the plus/minus category . . . Forward Cory Millette, who was reassigned by the Rebels Friday, was an instant hit with the Estevan Bruins, scoring two goals — including the winner — in a 5-4 Saskatchewan Junior League victory over the Nipawin Hawks Saturday.