The Centrium resembled the OK Corral on Friday night.
The Red Deer Rebels were OK with that, considering the outcome — a wild and thrilling 6-5 Western Hockey League win over the Medicine Hat Tigers in front of 5,008 spectators.
“We had one more goal than the opposition, so that’s a good thing,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, with a slight grin. “It was a game where the flow went both ways.”
While the Tigers never led in the contest, they refused to go away and in fact fired 41 shots at Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak and pulled to within a single marker when Elgin Pearce connected with 31 seconds remaining.
“I was pretty excited to hear the (final) buzzer go,” said Molson Cup first star Rhyse Dieno, who blamed himself for the Tigers final tally.
“I kind of coughed one up at the end to make it 6-5. My head was kind of down but I’m glad the boys finished strong.”
The Rebels snapped a 3-3 tie with two goals in the first 69 seconds of the third period. Turner Elson buried a centering pass from Brooks Maxwell just 35 seconds into the frame and Wyatt Johnson connected at 1:09 with a shot that was headed over the net but glanced off the glove of goaltender Cam Lanigan and in.
That spelled the end for Lanigan, who made a handful of dandy stops but otherwise had a rough outing.
The Tigers’ Trevor Cox made it 5-4 at 7:18, leaving the stage for Maxwell to notch the eventual winner nearly 10 minutes later. The Raymond product raced down the right side and ripped a shot over Tigers back-up Marek Langhamer.
Pearce made it interesting in the final minute with Langhamer on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, but it was too little, too late for the visitors.
“We got those two quick ones in the third period and certainly got a break on one of them, but there are areas we need to continue to improve on,” said Sutter. “They are things we work on daily and as you do them you need to have the confidence to believe in yourself and your teammates and go out a find a way to win.”
The Rebels led 2-0 after one period on goals from Brandon Underwood, whose snapshot from inside the blueline somehow got past Lanigan, and Conner Bleackley, who one-timed a feed from Cory Millette.
Curtis Valk got the Tigers on the board early in the second frame, but Millette restored the Rebels’ two-goal cushion midway through the period.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as defenceman Dylan Busenius beat Bartosak through a crowd with a shot from the blueline at 15:45 and Valk potted a power-play marker at 18:09, setting up an eventful final period.
“That’s my favourite kind of game,” said Dieno, who picked up three assists, of the old-fashioned, wide-open shootout. “It seemed like the puck was getting to the net for both teams tonight.”
The victory was Red Deer’s sixth straight and the Rebels will be gunning for seven in a row when the Saskatoon Blades — 4-0 winners at Calgary on Friday — visit the Centrium tonight.
“It’s not always going to be pretty and it’s not always going to be perfect, and a lot of nights it’s not perfect,” said Sutter. “But you just stay with it and be a mentally strong group and prevail.”
The game marked the debut of Slovakian forward Filip Vasko, whom Sutter acquired from the Kelowna Rockets on Thursday.
Vasko, quick on his feet, showed flashes and earned passing marks from the Rebels bench boss.
“I thought he was good,” said Sutter. “He’s strong with the puck, he’s good down low and he has some skills. He’s a player who adds a skill level to our team and is capable of playing in our top nine (forwards).”
Lanigan stopped 19 of the 24 shots he faced, while Langhamer blocked six of seven shots over the final 18 minutes and change.