The secondary foot soldiers were front and centre for the Red Deer Rebels in Saturday’s 4-3 Western Hockey League win over the host Lethbridge Hurricanes.
“It says a lot about their growth and their development,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, in reference to his third- and fourth-line forwards coming up huge in the contest.
“They’re getting better by playing a lot. They get better each game.”
Wyatt Johnson scored the winner at 1:20 of overtime to lift the Rebels past the ‘Canes in front of 2,962 fans at the Enmax Centre, one of three Red Deer bottom-six forwards to beat Lethbridge netminders Christopher Tai — who started — and Corbin Boes, who came in midway through the first period with his club trailing 2-1.
Evan Polei beat Boes with his first goal of the season at 12:56 of the first period for a 3-1 Red Deer lead, just two minutes after assisting on Cole Chorney’s third of the season. Polei, a six-foot-one, 225-pound left winger, has become a valuable member of the Rebels’ bottom-six forwards in recent games.
“He’s a power-forward type of guy and he scored a great goal last night,” Sutter said Sunday. “Every shift he was on the ice he was creating something. He also stuck up for a teammate and got into a heck of a fight.
“Again, it’s about getting more accustomed to the league and developing. He understands what he is as a player. He’s an up-and-down winger who has to play a power game and be physically engaged, and that’s something we continue to work with him on.”
The ‘Canes led 1-0 on Tyler Wong’s goal 5:49 into the contest, but Rhyse Dieno pulled the Rebels even less than three minutes later and Chorney and Polei put the visitors up 3-1 before the first intermission.
Lenny Hackman and Brady Ramsay, on the power play, pulled the ‘Canes even with unanswered second-period goals, setting the stage for a scoreless third period and the overtime tally by Johnson, who buried a rebound from in front of the Lethbridge net.
Hackman’s goal followed a pair of Red Deer five-on-three power plays during which the visitors were unable to cash in.
“We played really well up to the second five-on-three. We didn’t score and they came right back down and scored 20 second later,” said Sutter. “That kind of put us on our heels a bit. Then we took a penalty right after and they scored again.
“They had the momentum going into the third, but we got back to playing our game again.”
Boes and Tai combined to make 31 saves, while Patrik Bartosak turned aside 31 shots for the Rebels.
Sutter left for Ottawa today and will miss Wednesday’s game against the visiting Kootenay Ice. The Rebels bench boss, on a scouting mission as head coach of the Canadian national team for this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship, will attend Subway Super Series games tonight and Wednesday featuring Team Quebec against Team Russia in Gatineau and Sherbrooke, and Team Ontario versus Russia Thursday at Oshawa.
Sutter will return to Red Deer for Friday and Saturday games at the Centrium against the Regina Pats and Prince George Cougars.
Team Russia will face Team WHL in Super Series games Nov. 27 and 28 at the Centrium and in Lethbridge.