SWIFT CURRENT — An uneven performance doesn’t normally end with a positive result, but the Red Deer Rebels pulled out of Swift Current on Tuesday night two points richer.
The Rebels recorded a second consecutive character win, getting a late goal from Brooks Maxwell — his first of the season — and downing the Broncos 3-2 in a WHL game viewed by 1,964 fans at the Credit Union i-plex.
“We came out a little slow for the first five minutes and then for the next 10 we really took over,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We were assertive, we were moving our feet and moving the puck well.”
The Rebels traded goals with their hosts in the opening frame, with Red Deer rookie rearguard Haydn Fleury notching his first WHL goal at 6:45 and Graham Black replying for the Broncos seven minutes later.
After holding a 12-7 advantage in shots through 20 minutes, the Rebels fell off in the second period and were outshot 14-7.
“In the second period we were back on our heels a bit,” said Wallin, whose squad nonetheless got an unanswered goal from Matt Bellerive and led 2-1 after 40 minutes.
The Broncos again pulled even when Tanner LeSann beat Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak at 6:10 of the third period. But the Rebels carried the play the rest of the way, killed off a late penalty and earned the win on Maxwell’s goal with 2:30 remaining.
“We really gutted it out and obviously the late goal was huge,” said Wallin, who got a flawless performance from his penalty killers as the Broncos’ power play — No. 1 in the league heading into the contest — was zero-for-five.
“Our penalty kill really came through and did a great job for us,” he added. “We didn’t allow them much and had some great blocked shots.”
Bartosak and Swift Current goaltender Eetu Laurikainen each made 29 saves.
The Rebels concluded their East Division trip with seven of a possible 12 points, posting three wins, suffering two losses and another setback in a shootout.
“All in all it was a pretty good trip. We played six games in eight nights and the guys handled it well,” said Wallin. “Our early schedule was something that Brent (GM Sutter) discussed with the coaching staff. We set the trip up for a lot of hockey, we wanted to get a read on the type of players we have and their character. We really gutted it out these last couple of games (including a 4-3 shootout win on Sunday at Moose Jaw), the guys played hard and found a way to get it done.
“We played well throughout the trip. Our work ethic and compete level just continued to rise, now we have to continue to push forward and build off of it.”
l Veteran forward Turner Elson returned to the lineup on Tuesday as the Rebels’ new captain, replacing Adam Kambeitz who was traded to the Saskatoon Blades the day before.
Elson was injured during the second game of the season at Edmonton and missed seven games before getting the green light in Swift Current.
“Turner was back tonight and didn’t miss a beat,” said Wallin. “He looked good, he was skating well and it was just good to have him back in our lineup.”
The coaching staff and GM Sutter decided that Elson was the proper choice to replace Kambeitz as the official on-ice leader.
“He’s a four-year guy and a heart and soul type of player,” said Wallin. “He’s guy who brings it every night, he plays with his heart on his sleeve. He’s a guy who is well respected in the dressing room and knows what it’s all about. We all felt that he’s the right guy for the job.”
Serving as alternate captains are Mathew Dumba, Brandon Underwood and Kayle Doetzel, who is out four to six weeks with a broken jaw. Joel Hamilton has worn an ‘A’ in Doetzel’s absence.
• Rookie forward Christian Stockl, acquired from the Blades along with a third-round bantam draft pick, made his Rebels debut on Tuesday. He assisted on Bellerive’s goal and got a passing grade from Wallin.
“We played him at centre ice (between Bellerive and Tyson Ness) and I thought he handled that really well,” said Wallin. “He’s played right wing through most of his career but we wanted to give him an opportunity to play centre because of his skill level and his vision. He’s a guy who moves the puck well and distributes it well.
“He looked very comfortable there tonight. He was very solid in our end and made some heads up plays. I was impressed.”
• Doetzel suffered his injury during the Rebels’ 5-3 win at Saskatoon. Defenceman Riley Boomgaarden has been cleared to play after missing the last two weeks with a lower body injury suffered in practice, while forward Wyatt Johnson remains out indefinitely with a concussion.
Meanwhile, the club recalled blueliner Kevin Pochuk from Virden of the MJHL last weekend. He’s played the last four games and will remain with the Rebels for the remainder of the season.
• The Rebels return to action on Friday against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.