The Red Deer Rebels closed out their six-game Western Hockey League road trip on a losing note Saturday night at Kennewick, Wash., but got a great review from GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
The Rebels bench boss was particularly impressed with his club’s third-period performance in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tri-City Americans, an effort that spoke volumes about the nine-day trip in general.
The Rebels outshot their hosts 12-8 in the scoreless third period Saturday after giving up a tying goal with just five seconds remaining in the second stanza.
“The coaching staff talked after the game about how our work ethic and compete level was as good in the third period of the sixth game of the trip as it was in the first period of the first game,” Sutter said Sunday.
“It was a 2-1 game when we took a penalty in the offensive zone when we never had the puck. It happens, and we weren’t able to kill it off. They scored with just a few seconds left in the period and could have gotten momentum from that, but the kids got right back at it and had a real good third period.
“I thought we did a lot of good things in the third.”
Maxwell James staked the Americans to a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. From there, Rebels forward Scott Feser potted his fifth of the season at 1:48 of the second period and Tyler Sandhu, with his fifth, gave the visitors a 2-1 lead just over 11 minutes later.
With Rebels captain Conner Bleackley off for slashing, Tri-City winger Taylor Vickerman scored the last regulation-time marker at 19:55 of the second frame. Beau McCue scored the winner, beating Red Deer netminder Rylan Toth at 2:34 of overtime.
Toth finished with 25 saves. Americans netminder Eric Comrie blocked 23 shots.
Despite the setback, Sutter couldn’t find any negatives during a trip that included visits to Cranbrook, B.C., and five U.S. cities and yielded three wins and a single loss in regulation time, plus a shootout loss and an overtime defeat, each of which produced a single point.
“To go on a road trip like that, with the amount of travel involved, and to get eight out of 12 points . . . that’s a pretty successful trip,” he noted. “The kids stayed with it all the way. We went through some adversity in games and we just kept playing and trusted our structure and our systems. We did a really good job, I’m pretty pleased with how we played on the road.”
Sutter’s positive overview also included Saturday’s contest.
“We played well last night,” he said. “There wasn’t a single game on the trip that we were out of, every game was right there for us. And to have us play as well in the third period last night as we did in the first game was encouraging.”
The Rebels returned home without any major injuries.
“We have some guys who are banged up and bruised and still didn’t miss any time,” said Sutter. “We don’t play again now until Friday (versus the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes) so we’ll give some guys some days off this week.”
Two players who won’t likely be at practice until Thursday are Bleackley and defenceman Haydn Fleury, who will suit up with Team WHL versus Team Russia in Subway Super Series games tonight and Tuesday at Saskatoon and Brandon. Bleackley and Fleury flew to Saskatoon after being dropped off at Calgary International Airport Sunday morning as the Rebels were en route to Red Deer.