Unlike their previous two home games, the Red Deer Rebels were OK in the first period of Sunday’s WHL meeting with the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors.
As for the second period . . . well, that was another story, as the visitors not only held their ground but scored once to assume a lead they never relinquished en route to a 4-3 victory before a recorded crowd of 4,704 at the Enmax Centrium.
“In the first period we battled back even though we gave up the power-play goals against. We battled back and were looking forward to the second period,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt. “But then we just sort of disintegrated in a hurry . . . from our execution to our reads and some of the things we got away from after the first period.”
Jack Rodewald scored the first of his three goals on the evening 4:21 into the contest, placing a power-play rebound past Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak. Vukie Mpofu replied for the Rebels four minutes later, finishing a three-way passing play that involved Rhyse Dieno and Conner Bleackley, but Rodewald struck again at 13:21, taking a pass down low and stepping around Bartosak one second after a Red Deer penalty expired.
Matt Bellerive evened the count at two with man-advantage tally in the final minute of the opening frame — one-timing a pass from Dieno while cruising in the high slot — but Tanner Eberle gave the Warriors a permanent lead 2:54 into the second period while parked all alone at the edge of the crease.
“There has to be consistency night in and night out,” said Truitt. “We had a good first period and then came back in the second and were chasing.
“In the third we got within one, but we didn’t carry the momentum enough.”
Indeed, the Rebels weren’t up to the task down the stretch, despite cutting the deficit to 4-3 on a power-play marker by Lukas Sutter with still 12 minutes remaining. Even with Bartosak on the bench and Moose Jaw killing a penalty in the final two minutes, the home side failed to mount much of an attack.
Rodewald completed his hat trick with a power-play goal 50 seconds into the final frame for a 4-2 Moose Jaw lead.
On a positive note, 16-year-old forward Brayden Burke was impressive as an emergency call-up and assisted on Sutter’s tally.
“I played him an awful lot here tonight and I thought he was unbelievable,” said Truitt. “He showed excitement and poise with the puck. He’s explosive. He’s a very good player and I’m looking forward to seeing him full-time here.”
While the ninth-place Rebels failed to make up any ground in the Eastern Conference on the eighth-place Prince Albert Raiders and in fact fell two more points behind the seventh-place Kootenay Ice, who edged the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers 4-3, the Warriors’ victory aided their faint playoff hopes.
“I thought we played well. This has been a tough rink for us to win in over the years,” said Moose Jaw head coach Mike Stothers, whose club suffered losses to Edmonton and Calgary Friday and Saturday. “It’s been a tough road trip, this was our third game in basically two and a half days. Everybody played well and worked hard tonight.”
Stothers believes the Warriors can still make a push for the post-season despite the fact they are currently 12 points out of the final playoff spot.
“This was a much-needed win,” he said. “We still believe that we can make the playoffs, although it’s going to be a long, hard road. In order to do so we have to win some head-to-head matchups with teams like Red Deer and that was our goal tonight. We were fortunate enough to win and now we have to see what the next game holds in store for us.”
l Rebels forward Rhyse Dieno left the game with a lower-body injury during the second period and didn’t return . . . The Rebels boarded the team bus following the game and will open a four-game road trip Tuesday at Brandon. The Rebels will welcome back Dominik Volek, Adam Musil and Meyer Nell for the game against the Wheat Kings, while newcomer Presten Kopeck could make his Rebels debut at the same time. Kopeck, acquired in the December deal that sent the rights to defenceman Matt Dumba to Portland, has fully recovered from hernia surgery. Volek was with the Czech Republic at the world juniors and Nell and Musil played in the World Under 17 Challenge . . . Red Deer’s road trip will also include stops in Regina, Moose Jaw and Swift Current Wednesday, Friday and Saturday . . . The Rebels’ next home game is Jan. 17 versus the Calgary Hitmen.