The long weekend turned out to be extra long for the Red Deer Rebels.
After watching his club blow a 4-1 lead and fall 6-4 to the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t about to give his troops a break and instead scheduled practice sessions for each of the next two days.
The Rebels struggled mightily at the Centrium last season and have won just one of four home games this fall. Simply unacceptable, insisted Sutter.
“Our play at home was an issue with us last year and it came down to being the reason why we missed the playoffs last spring,” said the Rebels bench boss. “It comes down to bad habits and understanding how we have to play for a full game, just not bits of it.”
One night after the Rebels suffered a late lapse in a 5-1 loss to the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers, Sutter witnessed an even more dramatic meltdown Saturday. Taking advantage of some shoddy goaltending by rookie Logan Thompson, who was making his WHL debut, the Rebels ran out to a 4-1 lead in the second period before imploding in a big way.
The Wheat Kings scored four times before the middle frame was out — including three goals in a span of just under two minutes — to assume a lead they never relinquished, then got an empty-net marker with 68 seconds remaining in the contest.
In the loss to the Tigers, the Rebels never recovered from a fluke goal in the third period and then coughed up two more down the stretch. Despite getting down 2-0 after one period, the home side battled back before collapsing in the final six minutes and change.
“We rebounded after the first period and then played well for 35 minutes,” said Sutter of Friday’s game. “Then we have a goal scored against us and it’s like the end of the world and all of a sudden it’s a 5-1 hockey game.
“Then Saturday night we’re in control of the game halfway through the second period and it happens again.”
The Rebels were sloppy defensively during the Wheaties’ onslaught and had goaltending problems of their own as Rylan Toth was victimized for three goals — including a soft wrist shot by Jesse Gabrielle and two volleys from high in the faceoff circle — and reliever Taz Burman surrendered the eventual winner on a backhand by Jayce Hawryluk.
Peter Quenneville and Tyler Coulter accounted for Brandon’s other second-period markers and Coulter made it a two-goal evening with an empty-net goal scored just 11 second after Sutter pulled Toth — back between the pipes in the third period — in favour of an extra attacker just 11 seconds earlier.
Adam Musil gave Red Deer a 1-0 lead with the team’s first shot of the game — a high wrister than handcuffed Thompson — 5:51 in, and Evan Polei doubled the lead when he tipped home defenceman Brett Cote’s power-play slapshot just under six minutes later.
Rookie defenceman Kale Clague got the visitors on the board when his point shot beat Toth 50 seconds into the second period, setting the stage for the Rebels’ final two tallies — by Grayson Pawlenchuk and Wyatt Johnson — that were followed by a flurry of Brandon goals.
Toth was solid in the first period and again in the final frame, but his second-period yips proved costly.
“Maybe ‘Tother’ wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be on a couple of those goals, but at the same time you have to respond the right way and help your goalie out,” said Sutter. “We’re a young team, but also an experienced team now because we’ve been through it for a year. We needed to have a response to a situation like that.
“We’ve given up way too many goals in the last five games. We’ve given up 24 goals and scored 10, and there’s a reason why we’ve only scored 10 goals. We just don’t have the puck enough and our puck management isn’t very good. We’re spending too much time chasing the puck or not making smart decisions with it.
“That was evident Saturday night where we just started turning pucks over and weren’t as good as we needed to be in our end during that bad stretch and it cost us.”
Sutter didn’t like his team’s lack of third-period vehemence with the game still on the line.
“It was a one-goal game and we needed to have a response in the third period,” he said. “But we had two shots after the 10-minute mark. There wasn’t enough intensity and fire to regroup and get it back.
“Those are habits and things we need to correct and they’ve certainly been addressed again these last couple of days. I’m not happy at all with our home record and that our consistency at home hasn’t been good enough.”
The Rebels can start reversing their tepid home-ice trend when they host the Victoria Royals tonight.
“We have to regroup, we have to hit the reset button and start over, but there has to be some urgency in our game,” said Sutter. “Right through our lineup, there has to be more of an edge, more fire.
“Our team game has to get better. We have to establish an identity of how we play on a nightly basis, not just a game here and a game there.”
• The Rebels will be without Brayden Burke for at a minimum of eights weeks after the rookie forward suffered a lower body injury in practice last week.
Import rookie defenceman Hugo Jansons, meanwhile, is back skating with the Rebels although Sutter hasn’t set a date for his return to action. Jansons hasn’t played a regular-season game due to an upper body injury.