CALGARY — So long, King Kong.
The Red Deer Rebels finally posted their first Western Hockey League win on Saturday, slipping past the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 in overtime before 7,765 fans at the Saddledome and in the process ridding themselves of a rather cumbersome guest.
“It’s a huge monkey off our back, for sure” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, whose squad was 0-6 in exhibition play and 0-3 to start the regular season. “I think (losing) was starting to become a weight on their (players’) shoulders, so to get that one out of the way is big.”
The Rebels got a sterling 39-save performance from Bolton Pouliot and two goals from Charles Inglis, including the overtime marker.
The game didn’t start well for the visitors as Brady Brassart and Cody Sylvester notched power-play goals to stake the Hitmen to a 2-0 first-period lead. The struggling Red Deer penalty kill was zero-for-two in the opening frame and is dead last in the 22-team league with a efficiency rate of 59 per cent.
“Really, it was just more of the same, just mental errors in our details,” said Wallin. “We let a puck go through the seam on the first goal and then just got beat one-on-one on the second goal. We let a guy walk right through two of our defencemen and in on goal.”
Undaunted, the Rebels ignited their comeback with a goal from Tyson Ness 2:49 into the second period.
“We responded well to our first-period mistakes,” said Wallin. “Rather than hang our heads, and it would have been an easy time to kind of let down, we refocused and picked ourselves up.
“I thought that in the second and third periods our compete level started to approach where it needs to be. We raised our compete level, started winning more battles and getting stronger on the puck. As a result we were able to create some opportunities for ourselves and dug our way back into the game. It was a step in the right direction.”
Inglis knotted the contest at 2-2 at the three-minute mark of the third period with a sharp-angle shot that beat Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger, then connected on a power play at 2:31 of the extra frame, grabbing a loose puck in front of the net and rifling a shot over Driedger’s glove.
For Inglis, it was his second consecutive two-goal game after sniping a pair in Friday’s 5-4 loss to visiting Medicine Hat. His resurrection as a gunner coincided with last week’s acquisition of defenceman Brandon Underwood, the club’s fourth overage player.
Red Deer has until Oct. 10 to decide with three 20-year-olds to keep and Inglis is making a case for being one of the three.
“He’s doing now what’s expected of him,” said Wallin. “I thought he had a very sub-par preseason and this (20-year-old situation) has woken him up. He recognizes that there’s not room for four (overage) guys and in the last two games he’s certainly picked up his play and he’s making a charge to try and stay here. That’s what we need him to do. He’s a guy we brought in here to provide offence and he has to do that for us.”
Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson didn’t like his club’s effort, coming just 24 hours following a 4-1 win over the Oil Kings at Edmonton.
“Friday night we played great and stuck to our systems,” Williamson told the Calgary Sun. “Tonight, from our goaltender out, we didn’t look as focused or prepared. It sure looked like Red Deer wanted that hockey game a lot more than we did.”
• The Rebels directed 26 shots at Driedger . . . The team leaves for Prince Albert today for a Tuesday meeting with the Raiders that will kick off a six-game trip through the East Division . . . The Rebels next home game is Oct. 12 versus Medicine Hat.