STETTLER — It was akin to a baseball team getting to the opposing starting pitcher and then taking advantage of the bullpen.
In this case, however, the Rebels didn’t ‘get’ to Medicine Hat Tigers starting goaltender Evan Johnson Saturday night, but when Tigers coach Shaun Clouston decided to switch stoppers for the second period, the Rebels lit up 16-year-old reliever Rylan Rommelaere with five middle-frame markers.
The second-period explosion paved the way for a 6-3 Red Deer win in the final Western Hockey League preseason game for both teams played before a big crowd at the Stettler Recreation Complex.
“It was good to battle back. I thought we worked really hard tonight,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club trailed 2-0 after one period and led 5-3 after 40 minutes.
“There were mistakes, I guess, by our goalie and their goalie.”
Rommelaere allowed five goals on 10 shots, although tallies by Grayson Pawlenchuk and acting captain Presten Kopeck were big-time legitimate, with both players ringing rapid shots off the crossbar and in.
Pawlenchuk potted two goals in the second period, including the eventual winner, while Jack McClelland and Josh Mahura also beat Rommelaere, who was replaced by Johnson at the start of the third period.
Rebels netminder Trevor Martin was caught out of his net late in the second period while attempting to play the puck and the gaffe led to the Tigers’ third goal by Matt Staples, who faced nothing but open net with the puck on his stick.
Sutter credited Martin for leaving his crease in an attempt to aid his defencemen.
“It’s something (goaltending coach) Taylor Dakers has been working on with our goalies. We want them to play pucks,” said Sutter. “The way our system is, there’s going to be a lot of pucks dumped in and the goalies have to help out our defence by stopping pucks behind the net.
“We’ve been working on that the last couple of weeks and they have to get better at it.”
Kopeck potted the Rebels’ third goal — a power-play marker at 5:10 of the third period — taking a nifty feed from Ivan Nikolishin and beating Johnson with a quick shot from the right faceoff circle.
“That’s what we wanted — to end our preseason on the right note going into the regular season,” said Kopeck. “The boys battled hard tonight. We were down two after the first period, but we were on a mission and came on strong and got it done.”
Added Sutter: “We were good the last half of the game, not just because we scored some goals, but because our structure was better and we played better. But our work ethic was there all night.”
While the Rebels shot the lights out in the middle stanza, Sutter was particularly impressed with his club’s third-period play.
“That third period was the best third period and probably the best period overall we’ve played all exhibition,” he said. “We talked about that after the second period, that it wasn’t necessary to go out and score more goals, but just make sure that we play the game the right way.”
The Rebels not only closed out their exhibition schedule on a successful note, but were able to finish the preseason slate with a winning record.
“We went 3-2 in exhibition while playing short-handed through all of it,” said Sutter, who has eight players attending NHL camps. “But as you go along, especially in some games, it’s good to play short because things get weeded out quicker … you can see which guys can handle it which guys can’t.
“Tonight a lot of guys had their best game.”
Martin finished with 31 saves, including a third-period reflex beauty on Steve Owre, who was robbed at the side of the net. Johnson stopped 19 shots over 40 minutes.
David Quenneville and Max Gerlach accounted for the Tigers’ first-period goals.
The Rebels open their regular-season schedule Saturday against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings.