CALGARY — The Red Deer Rebels came out on the short end of their WHL meeting with the Calgary Hitmen Sunday at the Saddldome — falling 4-3 in overtime — but GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t crushed.
“We responded the right way tonight,” said Sutter, whose club rallied from a 3-1 deficit to get a late second-period goal from Mathew Dumba and a third-period tally from Brady Gaudet to get the game into extra time.
But a hooking call on Dumba with a mere five seconds left in the third led to Calgary’s winning goal, scored by Brooks Calder at 1:48 of overtime with seven seconds remaining in the infraction.
Tyson Ness, with a power-play marker 6:23 into the contest, staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead after one period. But the Hitmen answered back with three straight goals within a five-minute span of the second period — Cody Sylvester, Brooks Macek and Pavlo Padakin pulling the trigger.
Then, with Calgary’s Zane Jones off for roughing, Dumba connected at 17:43 to keep the Rebels within striking range heading into the third period.
“I thought our first period was fine, neither team had a lot of shots,” said Sutter, whose crew was outshot 6-2 in the opening 20 minutes. “But we weren’t great in the second, we got back on our heels and they gained some momentum off of it.
“We regained our composure late in the period and got a big goal to get closer, then played a heck of a third period.”
Indeed, the Rebels outshot their hosts 15-5 in the third and got a goal from Gaudet, with assists from Dumba — his second of the game — and Wyatt Johnson at 10:03.
But that was it for the visitors, who came up short on a late power-play opportunity and were then assessed a crucial penalty when Dumba was fingered for hooking at 19:45.
“It was a bad penalty to take. He (Dumba was tired) and he should have made a simple play. But he tried to force something and took a bad penalty,” said Sutter.
Chris Driedger made 22 saves for the Hitmen before 10,719 fans. Patrik Bartosak stopped 27 shots for the Rebels, who clinched fourth place in the Eastern Conference with Friday’s 4-2 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes and can’t finish any higher.
“I was happy with how we responded and how we battled tonight in a game with a lot of intensity and emotion,” said Sutter. “Calgary is fighting for seeding in the second (playoff) round, assuming they get there.
“We can’t finish any higher than fourth, but like I told the players, it’s important that we don’t let any bad habits get into our game and it’s important that we keep our intensity level where it needs to be for the rest of the (year).
“We just have to make sure we continue to do things the right way.”
The Rebels were off today and will resume practising Tuesday. Red Deer closes out regular-season play with a home-and-home with the Edmonton Oil Kings — Friday at the Centrium and Saturday at Rexall Place.
l Red Deer’s first two post-season games are set for March 22-23 at the Centrium. The Rebels’ first-round playoff opponent has yet to be decided.