VANCOUVER — The big guns started firing Saturday and the Red Deer Rebels concluded their four-game WHL road trip with a break-even 6-4 win over the Vancouver Giants.
“You kind of figured it was just going to be a matter of time,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, in reference to the impressive offensive production from key veteran forwards Conner Bleackley and Wyatt Johnson, who combined to collect six points.
In fact, the line of Bleackley, Johnson and Lane Pederson erupted for nine points. And Brandon Hagel, who rotated in and out of the forward unit, contributed another three points with a goal and two helpers.
“Between Bleacks, Johny, Pedey and Brandon … they all had big nights,” said Sutter. “But we need that. We need scoring from different guys and last night their line, with Brandon included from time to time, was hot.”
Indeed, Pederson tallied twice and assisted on Johnson’s lone marker, and Bleackley — selected as the game’s first star — helped set up three goals.
The Rebels roared out to a 2-0 first-period lead while outshooting their hosts 19-3 before a crowd of 4,311 at Pacific Coliseum.
Johnson and Colton Bobyk supplied the opening-period goals and Hagel upped the count to 3-0 at 7:11 of the second period.
The Giants replied 45 seconds later when Jakob Stukel beat Rebels goalie Trevor Martin, pulled to within one when Jackson Houck connected during a power play at 12:27 of the final frame and drew even on a goal from Carter Popoff at 15:12.
That set up a wild finish, as Pederson restored the Rebels’ lead at 15:34, Ty Ronning responded for the Giants at 15:49 and Red Deer got the winner from Haydn Fleury at 17:37 and sealed the deal with Pederson’s second of the evening — an empty-netter — at 19:47.
“When you’re playing your fourth game in five nights you always worry about the third period of your last game,” said Sutter. “It wasn’t an easy day for the guys. We packed up and got away from the rink (in Victoria, where the Rebels beat the Royals 3-1 Friday night) and got on the ferry at 1 p.m. to go across to Vancouver.
“The players had only 45 minutes on the bus to get some rest between the ferry and (Pacific Coliseum). But they handled it well.
“The first period was the best first period we’ve played all year, it evened out in the second and I thought we looked somewhat tired in the third. I knew Vancouver would make a push then and they tied it up twice in the last seven to eight minutes. But our guys stayed with it and we got a couple of big goals after that. They didn’t get in a panic mode and that’s a credit to the kids.”
The Friday/Saturday triumphs were huge considering the Rebels opened the jaunt with losses at Kamloops and Kelowna, where they fell 5-4 despite outshooting the host Rockets 34-27.
“We got behind the eight-ball with those two losses,” said Sutter. “We got what we deserved in Kamloops but we deserved better in Kelowna.
“We had a mindset heading into the last two games that we would treat them like playoff games and try and tie the series and get back to .500 for the trip.”
Martin finished with 19 saves while recording his first win of the season. The Rebels fired 32 shots at Giants stopper Payton Lee.
The Rebels were slated to engage in a brief skate today at the Centrium and will get back to their regular practice schedule Tuesday to prepare for a home-ice date with the Saskatoon Blades Wednesday.