The Red Deer Rebels were weary and looked a little leery of the Regina Pats during the early stages of Saturday’s Western Hockey League clash at the Enmax Centrium.
But despite the fact they were competing for the fourth time in five nights and playing their seventh game over an 11-day stretch, the Rebels pulled it together over the final 30 minutes and change and recorded a 5-3 win before a recorded congregation of 5,405.
“I thought in the second period, especially the last 12 minutes, we started getting some more puck possession time, did a good job on our forecheck and created some turnovers,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
One such turnover pulled the Rebels even at 2-2, as rookie forward Reese Johnson pounced on an error inside the Regina blueline and blew a high shot past Pats netminder Tyler Brown at 18:35 of the second period. A mere 13 seconds later, defenceman Brett Cote scored from just inside the point to give the home side a one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
“It was a big goal by Reese, a big goal for us, and seemed to swing the momentum somewhat in our favour,” said Sutter. “We had a solid third period too.”
The final frame didn’t open in Red Deer’s favour, as Pats captain Braden Christoffer, from the side of the net, cashed a rebound just 53 seconds in with Rebels rearguard Nelson Nogier serving a holding penalty.
But Haydn Fleury’s point shot glanced off a Regina skate and past Brown at 7:20 and the goal stood up as the winner. Riley Sheen sealed the deal with an empty-net tally with 1:22 remaining, beating defenceman Connor Hobbs to a loose puck and finding the net with a backhand from along the goal line.
Adam Musil’s early man-advantage goal, off a nifty pass from Cote, gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes despite the fact the visitors enjoyed a 10-7 advantage in shots and a slight edge in the play.
But the Pats scored twice within a 17-second span early in the middle frame, as Chase Harrison beat Rebels goalie Taz Burman through the pads and fellow defenceman Colby Williams connected on a point shot.
“We kind of sat back a bit in the first period,” said Fleury, named the game’s first star. “I don’t know if it had something to do with the recent travel or what. But we found our legs in the second and started getting after them.
“When you look at the travel we’ve went through recently . . . it just shows the character and the compete level we’ve been playing with. The will not to lose is very high right now.”
The victory was the Rebels’ third in succession and fifth in their last seven outings.
“This was our seventh game in 11 nights and we’re 5-1-0-1 in that time with some tough travel,” said Sutter, whose club concluded a three-games-in-four nights trip with a 2-1 shootout win Friday over the Kootenay Ice after playing at Medicine Hat and Swift Current earlier in the week.
“It was a good character win for us tonight. We knew coming in that this is a tough team we were playing, a well-coached team, and that we’d have to play smart.”
The Rebels got solid outings from their veterans Saturday, with the likes Fleury, Cote and Sheen standing out.
“Sheener played great, over the last three games he’s found his game again,” said Sutter. “He just got off track a bit, but in the games in Swift Current, Cranbrook and tonight, he was very solid for us, as were a lot of other guys too.
“The last few games they’ve started to get more into the gear we’d like to be in.”
The Rebels return to action Wednesday against the visiting Saskatoon Blades.
“We’re trying to build momentum for playoffs,” said Fleury, whose club has already clinched a post-season berth. “You look at teams like Calgary and Medicine Hat, they’re coming on strong right now so we need to get our game as high as it can be.”
• Burman made 23 saves to post his eighth win of the season. He came up especially big in the third period, blocking an in-close deflection and making a glove stab on a shot by Pats rookie Sam Steel. Brown made 29 stops, including 16 in the final frame.