It may be the festive season but the Red Deer Rebels weren’t in a giving mood Friday.
In fact the only gifts they were handing out where to themselves as they turned in a solid performance in downing the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 in Western Hockey League action before a recorded crowd of 5,623 at the Centrium, Friday.
It was the first win in four starts against the Eastern Conference leading Hitmen this season and it was well-deserved.
“They are a high-pressure team that can skate very well and play a heavy game,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt, who is handling coaching duties with head coach/GM Brent Sutter away with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
“I liked the way our guys responded from the get-go and we had to battle through it. They had some surges, but Patty (goaltender Patrik Bartosak) was strong.
“It was nice to see the secondary scoring with (Cole) Chorney and (Vukie) Mpofu contributing and (Rhyse) Dieno gets the winner,” added Truitt. “It was a real team effort . . . a lot of people contributed.”
Chorney opened the scoring at 8:43 of the second period when he rang a shot off the post, that rebounded back into Calgary netminder Chris Driedger and from there trickled back over the line. The goal was reviewed upstairs. It was the second time a goal had to be reviewed as the Hitmen thought they had scored at 10:50 of the first period, but after a long delay it was ruled kicked in by Greg Chase.
Elliott Peterson tied the game for the Hitmen at 10:14 of the second period, flipping home a rebound after Brady Brassart split the defence, making Bartosak make the initial save.
The Rebels looked to take command in the third period when Connor Bleackley ripped a snap shot over a sliding defender and high to the glove side of Driedger, exploding the water bottle. Dieno made it 3-1 at 16:25 as he cut past a defender in front and whipped a shot between Driedger’s legs at 16:25. Mpofu and Fleury assisted on both markers.
“To be truthful I closed my eyes and I was lucky it went in,” said Dieno with a laugh.
It was the first game back for the talented winger after being on the injured list with an upper body injury.
“I felt better than I thought I would,” he said. “We had a good practice yesterday (Thursday) and got the turkey out of us.”
Dieno also liked what he saw from the team prior to taking the ice.
“Everyone was calm before the game. The guys weren’t too high or too low. It didn’t matter who we were playing tonight. You’re going to see a new set of Rebels the second half.”
The fact the Rebels went into the Christmas break on a three-game winning streak, including an impressive win over Medicine Hat added to their mental strength.
“Any time you get a win before a long break it adds to your momentum,” said Dieno. “Now it’s important to keep going. We’ve found our stride and there’s no reason not to have our best game every night.”
Chase made it interesting for the Hitmen scoring on a wrap-around at 17:23, but the Rebels were solid defensively down the stretch. In fact the Rebels defence was solid despite facing an overall bigger Calgary team.
“As long as they move the puck it keeps the pressure away and we made the quick plays and did a good job in front of the net,” said Truitt. “They (Calgary) are big and strong and are tough to defend, and we asked a lot from the guys and they got the job done.”
Dieno wasn’t the only player to return from injury as forward Grayson Pawlenchuk was back after missing close to 12 weeks with a broken elbow.
“It will take a while for him to get back into the swing of things, but he had a good game for just jumping right back into it,” said Truitt.
“He’ll get even better as he plays more.”
The Rebels are still missing Brooks Maxwell, Christian Stockl and Matt Bellerive with injuries and have Adam Musil and Meyer Nell at the World U17 Challenge in Cape Breton, N.S., and Dominik Volek at the World Juniors with the Czech Republic.
They also played without backup goalie Taz Burman, who took ill in the afternoon. As a result the Rebels called up Rylan Toth from the Battlefords midget team to act as backup. He didn’t arrive until game time after playing in the Mac’s midget tournament in Calgary.
The Rebels are in Edmonton Sunday and return home Monday for a 7 p.m. contest against Brandon.