KELOWNA — The Red Deer Rebels never gave themselves a chance Wednesday night.
The Rebels, playing their fourth game in six nights, coughed up four unanswered first-period goals which proved to be the difference in a 6-2 Western Hockey League loss to the Kelowna Rockets before 4,621 fans at Prospera Place.
“Our guys were on their heels for the first 12 to 13 minutes and looked like they were playing scared,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “They admitted it after the first period when I asked them what the problem was.
“They were playing tentative and no one was taking charge . . . no one was taking the bull by the horns to get it turned around.”
Rourke Chartier opened the scoring 3:09 into the contest and defenceman and team captain Madison Bowey extended the Rockets’ lead just over two minutes later. Less than two minutes had expired when rearguard Riley Stadel notched his eighth goal of the season — on the power play — and Damon Severson, another defenceman, made it 4-0 at 13:35.
The fourth goal spelled the end for Rebels starting netminder Patrik Bartosak, who was replaced by rookie Taz Burman after stopping 11 of 15 shots.
After being owned in the opening frame, the Rebels potted the lone goal of the middle period when Brooks Maxwell struck for his fourth of the season.
“We started switching some things up to try and get going and we were better in the second,” said Sutter.
The visitors cut the deficit to two when Dominik Volek scored his sixth of the season just 2:15 into the third period, but Carter Rigby replied for the Rockets at 5:50 to douse Red Deer’s comeback hopes.
“We did battle back and made it a 4-2 game, and then we just made a bad mistake. Our defenceman doesn’t make the tape-to-tape play, we turn it over and it’s in our net,” said Sutter. “Those are the types of things we’re dealing with and a lot of it has to do with mental breakdowns.
“Our defence had a hard time tonight with pressure, they didn’t recognize where the pressure was coming from and as a result were turning pucks over. After we got accustomed to the pace of the game we were better, but we still made some bad decisions. The coaching staff has worked with the players on these things. We’ve identified and broken things down by video, but we’re having a hard time executing.”
Zach Franko closed out the scoring at 8:14 of the final frame with Red Deer two men short.
The Rebels directed 18 shots at Kelowna goaltender Jordon Cooke, while Burman finished with 27 saves.
“Patty didn’t have a good start to the game and Taz went in and played well. He was calm,” said Sutter. “It was good for him to get in and do that, but I wish it could have been under different circumstances.”
The game heated up in the final minute when the Rebels were assessed four of seven roughing penalties at 19:06, and Red Deer defenceman Kolton Dixon squared off with Dalton Yorke 28 seconds later.
The Rebels conclude their six-game road trip with a Friday stop in Cranbrook for a meeting with the Kootenay Ice, and a Saturday date with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.