SASKATOON — Prince Albert to Saskatoon is a relatively short drive when compared to the length of the average Western Hockey League road trip.
But somewhere between the two cities, which are a mere 133 kilometres apart, the Red Deer Rebels lost the drive they exhibited in Friday’s 4-0 win over the Prince Albert Raiders.
One night later, they were humbled 4-2 by the Saskatoon Blades, a team not considered to be in the same class as the Raiders. In the eyes of Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter, his club just didn’t perform with the same desire as was the case 24 hours earlier.
“We just didn’t have the same emotion level that we had the night before,” said Sutter. “To be quite honest, it wasn’t close to the way we were in Prince Albert in a lot of different ways.
“We weren’t sharp and didn’t execute well. Saskatoon played a pretty good game, but I just didn’t think we’d have that big of a drop-off from the night before.”
The Rebels, who slipped to 13-6-0-0 and are still tied with the Raiders for top spot in the Eastern Conference, never led in the contest, although they got back on even terms on two occasions.
Ryan Graham opened the scoring for the hosts at 17:34 of the opening period, but defenceman Colton Bobyk — with his seventh of the season — replied for the Rebels just over two minutes later, cashing a feed from Presten Kopek.
Cameron Hebig restored the Blades’ lead at 8:26 of the middle frame, but once again the Rebels were quick to reply as Evan Polei notched his ninth goal of the season just 32 seconds later.
Former Rebel Mason McCarty potted what proved to be the winning marker with 28 seconds left in the period, and former Calgary Hitmen forward and Blades newcomer Terrell Draude scored an insurance tally at 14:42 of the third, tipping Brycen Martin’s floater from the point past Red Deer goalie Trevor Martin.
Despite aiming 14 shots at Blades netminder — and the game’s first star — Brock Hamm in the final frame and forcing him to make 33 saves overall, Sutter wasn’t impressed with his club’s lack of gusto as compared to the game up Highway 11.
“I expected we might fall of somewhat because of the emotion of the game Friday, but I just didn’t think we would drop off like we did,” he said.
The Rebels boss credited Hamm for making “some big saves at certain times.”
“But he saw everything,” said Sutter. “We never got a lot of traffic in front of him.”
The Rebels travelled to Brandon Sunday, where they will face the Wheat Kings Wednesday afternoon.
The players, with the exception of three, will enjoy a three-day break between games. Meanwhile, forwards Conner Bleackley and Ivan Nikolishin and defenceman Haydn Fleury will play in the WHL portion of the CHL Canada/Russia Super Series tonight and Tuesday in Kelowna and Kamloops.
The trio will fly back to Brandon Wednesday, arriving there at 1 p.m. local time. The puck drops three hours later at Westman Place.
The Rebels will conclude their five-game road trip with games Friday and Saturday at Regina and Moose Jaw. Red Deer’s next home game is Nov. 20 versus Saskatoon.