The Red Deer Rebels looked past the Medicine Hat Tigers Saturday and then watched as their smallish opponents skated past them.
“I don’t look at it as a step back. I just don’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be. You could sense that the kids were just wanting to get the exhibition season over with,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who watched his team conclude its Western Hockey League preseason schedule with a 4-0 loss to the Tigers Saturday night at Stettler.
“I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but you could see where we weren’t sharp and we didn’t respond to certain things that occurred during the game. A lot of that was due to a mental letdown going into the game. The kids have had a heck of an exhibition season, they’ve played well and our practices have been really good.
“But the exhibition season is over and like I told them after the game, a new season starts next Friday. We got to see some things last night that we need to get better at and there were some positives out of it too.”
After a scoreless opening period, the Tigers struck for a pair of goals in the second frame and never looked back. Defenceman David Quenneville, who carries 175 pounds on his five-foot-seven frame, opened the scoring 53 seconds into the middle stanza and import centre Markus Eisenschmid tallied five minutes later.
Centre Mason Shaw, who checks in at five-foot-seven, scored the Tigers’ third goal at 5:57 of the third period and Matthew Bradley notched the game’s final marker with 6:29 remaining.
Nick Schneider turned aside 24 shots while posting the shutout. Rebels netminder Rylan Toth made 33 saves.
“We weren’t as physically engaged as we needed to be,” said Sutter. “You don’t want to get caught in a speed and skill game against a team like Medicine Hat. They’re small and speedy and they play that type of game.
“Last year we played them in Stettler and it was just the opposite — we gave it to them pretty good (8-5 victory). This year they gave it to us pretty good.”
The Rebels, in short, were outplayed through most of Saturday’s outing.
“The end of the exhibition season is always the toughest game to play,” said Sutter. “The kids were looking forward to the regular season a week down the road.
“I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s the way that we played.”
The Rebels dressed only 16 skaters Saturday due to injuries to import defencemen Mario Grman and Hugo Jansons. Grman suffered a foot injury when he blocked a shot during Friday’s 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium, while Jansons was hurt in practice last week and has an upper body injury that could keep him out of the lineup for eight to 10 weeks.
The Rebels open their regular-season schedule Friday against the visiting Kootenay Ice, then visit the Calgary Hitmen 24 hours later.