The Red Deer Rebels concluded a three-game Western Hockey League road trip on a losing note Saturday, but GM/head coach Brent Sutter said his team performed like a winner.
“I thought our game got better and better as the trip went on,” Sutter said Sunday. “We weren’t great in Prince George (in a 4-3 shootout win Wednesday over the Cougars), but then we played much better in Seattle (in a 6-3 win Friday) and the game in Kamloops was probably our best game as far as paying attention to detail and doing things well.”
Despite turning in a determined effort against the Blazers, the Rebels came out on the wrong side of a 5-3 count. JC Lipon snapped a 2-2 tie with his second goal of the evening and 30th of the season in the second period and Red Deer was never able to get back on even terms.
“We made a couple of mental mistakes in the second period and then we seemed to run out of gas,” said Sutter, who watched his squad surrender a goal to Marek Hrbas five minutes after Lipon’s second marker.
Despite playing their third game in four nights with extended travel, the Rebels sucked it up during the second intermission and rebounded somewhat in the final frame.
“I really liked the way the kids responded in the third period. We talked about not letting (fatigue) be an excuse for us going into the third period and we seemed to find another gear and made it interesting,” said Sutter. “It went right down to the wire and we had an opportunity with goalie pulled and just didn’t make the play happen.
“But overall we got four of six points on the trip and that’s huge.”
Rhyse Dieno, Wyatt Johnson and Dominik Volek scored for the Rebels. Volek’s goal at 18:12 of the third period cut the Blazers’ lead to 4-3, but Brendan Ranford notched an empty-net marker at 19:58.
Chase Souto also beat Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak, who finished with 29 saves. Cole Cheveldave turned aside 24 shots for the Blazers.
Bartosak was named second star of Friday’s outing at Seattle, where he made 45 saves against the Thunderbirds.
“He played really well the entire trip,” said Sutter, who went with his No. 1 stopper in all three games.
Dieno paced the Rebels with three goals, including an empty-netter, while first star Mathew Dumba had a goal and an assist. Rounding out the Red Deer attack were Tyson Ness and Brooks Maxwell with a goal apiece.
Riley Sheen, Robert Lipsbergs and Andrew Johnson potted power-play goals for Seattle. Brandon Glover stopped 33 shots in the T-Birds net.
“We got into penalty trouble. They had seven power plays, including one long five-on-three during which they had eight shots,” said Sutter. “Five-on -five we did a pretty good job. Their (T-Birds’) power play is good, they move the puck well and they got some quality shots. But is always the case, your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender and (Bartosak) certainly was that.”
The Rebels, who sit fifth in the Eastern Conference — one point back of Saskatoon and five up on Swift Current and Lethbridge, who are tied for sixth — host Prince George Wednesday and entertain the Victoria Royals Friday.
“As the season winds down every game becomes a big game, in fact the biggest game to date,” said Sutter. “We need to keep pushing, we have goals we want to reach and we want to keep getting better every game.
“We’re coming off a successful trip and now it’s just a matter of moving forward. We have nine of our last 15 (regular-season) games here and we have to take advantage of home ice.”
l Rebels forward Matt Bellerive suffered an injury to his left wrist/arm Saturday and sat out the third period, but Sutter suspects he’ll be ready for Wednesday’s contest.
“He should be fine. I think he experienced a bit of a stinger,” said Sutter. “If this had been the playoffs he probably would have returned in the third.”