Being blown out by the lowly Lethbridge Hurricanes four days earlier was a humbling experience.
The Red Deer Rebels couldn’t let it happen again, especially on home ice.
Minus the services of top-six forwards Rhyse Dieno, Dominik Volek and Matt Bellerive, the Rebels were outshot 44-37 by the ‘Canes in front of 4,597 fans at the Enmax Centrium Saturday, but pulled out a 3-2 WHL win thanks to a stellar outing from netminder Patrik Bartosak and Meyer Nell’s shootout goal.
The victory somewhat atoned for a 6-0 loss at Lethbridge Tuesday.
“Playing a team that’s way below you in the standings, those are two points you can’t afford to lose,” said Rebels captain Conner Bleackley. “That was an embarrassing loss on Tuesday. Tonight wasn’t pretty but we found a way to win and that’s the important thing.”
With Dieno out with an upper-body injury, Volek overseas trying out for the Czech Republic national junior team and Bellerive sitting out his eighth consecutive game with an upper-body aliment, the Rebels needed bigger minutes from their supporting cast, including forward Earl Webb, who was summoned from the Calgary Mustangs of the AJHL. That became particularly crucial when Brooks Maxwell left the game after the first period with an injury and didn’t return.
“Some guys were stepping up, like Nell going down and scoring that shootout goal. That was huge,” said Bleackley. “Us top six guys, including myself, Suttsy (Lukas Sutter) and (Wyatt) Johnson . . . we were playing a lot of hard minutes because Lethbridge will keep coming at you all the time. It’s just good that we did get away with the two points.”
That was in doubt when Reid Duke deflected Tyler Bells’ point shot past Bartosak at 16:13 of the third period. The Lethbridge goal came less than three minutes after Sutter had given the Rebels a 2-1 lead on a successful penalty shot.
“They get the equalizer late in the third and you think it’s a test of your character to find out if you’re going to come back or not,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt. “We found a way in the shootout.”
Nell was the Rebels’ sixth man up in the shootout and put a nifty move on Lethbridge goalie Teagan Sacher before scoring on his backhand.
“We know he’s a skilled guy, we know he can shoot and good on him for getting the win for us,” said Truitt.
Bleackley opened the shootout with a goal and Tyler Wong, the ‘Canes’ third shooter, connected to keep it going. Otherwise, Bartosak was perfect in the game extension, as he was nearly flawless during the previous 65 minutes.
“He was outstanding again,” said Truitt. “In Cranbrook last night he held us in during the second period (of a 4-0 victory over the Kootenay Ice) and he did the same thing for us tonight.”
Of Bartosak’s 42 saves, none were better than the diving stab he pulled off in the second period while Brady Ramsay was firing at a gaping net.
“That’s the reason he’s here,” added Truitt. “He’s a 20-year-old, a drafted guy who holds us in games when we’re missing a few guys. He was the difference tonight.”
Bleackley gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 14:56 of the opening period, his shot from between the blueline and faceoff circle catching the far corner. But the visitors answered a mere 59 seconds later as Reid Nemeth broke down the left side and beat Bartosak from the top of the circle.
The score held up until Sutter’s penalty-shot marker, thanks partly to Bartosak — and Sacher, who finished with 34 saves — and big minutes from some of the Rebels’ lesser lights.
“I was really happy with guys like (Adam) Musil, Nell, (Cole) Chorney and Earl Webb,” said Truitt. “They really stepped up and played some valuable minutes for us in key situations. Hats off to them, they had to dig in as well in an important game and they did that.”
l The Rebels close out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule Tuesday against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers. Truitt couldn’t say whether Maxwell will be available for the game. “It’s kind of an upper body thing. We’re just being cautious right now,” he offered.