PRINCE GEORGE — A lack of energy resulted in a lack of success for the Red Deer Rebels in their final game of a Western Hockey League road trip Saturday.
The Rebels, playing their fourth game in five nights, were mauled 7-1 by the Prince George Cougars before 2,156 fans at the CN Centre. Red Deer lost all four games on the B.C. Division road trip and — as a result of a 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver Tuesday — picked up just one of a possible eight points.
“Not making any excuses, but I thought we looked tired last night,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following the club’s 7:45 a.m. arrival in Red Deer Sunday.
“You dissect the trip before you start and because the first six points are so important you’re worried about the fourth game with the amount of travel involved.
“We just didn’t have the energy we needed to have. Full marks to Prince George because they played well and we knew they were already playing well with five wins in a row. We just didn’t have the emotional level that we needed to have to give ourselves a chance.”
Following their meeting with the Rebels Friday night in which the Cougars needed an empty-net goal to nail down a 5-3 win, the hosts sealed the deal Saturday with three unanswered second-period goals for a 4-0 lead.
Todd Fiddler, Troy Bourke and Brad Morrison each notched two goals for Prince George. Zach Pochiro also tallied for the Cougars, while Adam Beukeboom faced only 18 shots while posting his second straight win over the Rebels.
Aspen Sterzer scored for Red Deer 26 seconds into the third period, but the Cougars pulled away with three unanswered goals en route to their sixth straight victory.
Red Deer starting netminder Patrik Bartosak made 25 saves through 40 minutes before being replaced by rookie Taz Burman, who blocked five of the eights shots he faced in the final frame.
The Rebels return to the ice today to prepare for a Wednesday meeting with the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.
“We have to hit the reset button,” said Sutter, whose club has lost six straight after winning five in a row.
“Obviously we expected to get more than just one point on the trip. It isn’t something we’re happy about, but when you look at it, a lot of these kids are going through so many things for the first time. As a young team we’re seeing not only how important these games are, we’re also seeing the emotional level and how tough these games are at this time of the season. We have to be able to get up to that level on a regular basis.”
Even as the team was in the midst of a five-game winning streak, Sutter and fellow coaches Jeff Truitt and Steve O’Rourke could see that not everything was positive.
“We saw things that we were addressing with the players with two games left in that run,” said Sutter. “There were things we needed to get better at, that we needed to correct, but as a group we just didn’t seem to want to react to that.
“Then you go out on the road and go up against teams that are playing well. It was like a real eye-opener for these guys. The positive thing about it is the experiences these young players are going through should be beneficial to them down the road, and yet at the same time we also know we have to win games. We have to take care of our own business, we can’t be looking to other teams to do it for us.”
The Rebels hold down the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, although their lead over ninth-place Prince Albert was reduced to five points when the Raiders edged the visiting Tigers 3-2 Saturday.
“We’re still in control of that final playoff spot, but we don’t want to just finish in eighth,” said Sutter. “Our goals is to push up and finish as high in the standings as we can.
“But we need to have a total focus for a 60-minute game and we have to understand how hard we have to play inside of those 60 minutes. We have to make sure that the structure to our game is solid and that’s probably something that we’ve gotten away from. As a group, we haven’t been a structured as we need to be for a full 60 minutes.”