Turnabout, as they say, is fair play.
The Swift Current Broncos were opportunistic while posting a 5-3 Western Hockey League win during their last visit to Red Deer Feb. 22. On Friday, before a recorded crowd of 4,935 at the Enmax Centrium, the Rebels made the most of their scoring chances while skating to a 4-1 victory.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game on our part, but we stayed with it,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose team was a step behind the visitors in the opening frame and were outshot 34-24 overall.
“Our start wasn’t exactly what we wanted,” Sutter continued, “but we kept going and kept going and got scoring opportunities and capitalized on them.”
The win moved the Rebels into a seventh-place tie with Brandon — 6-3 losers at home to Edmonton — in the Eastern Conference and kept them two points ahead of the ninth-place Prince Albert Raiders, who downed the visiting Calgary Hitmen 5-2.
Graham Black gave the Broncos their only lead of the evening when he potted his 31st of the season midway through the first period. Following a turnover behind the Red Deer net, Black took a feed from Jake DeBrusk, worked out front and scored into a gaping net as Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak thought the play was going the other way.
The goal held up until the final minute of the period when Wyatt Johnson one-timed a feed from Presten Kopeck past Eetu Laurikainen, beating the Broncos netminder high to the glove side.
“I got a nice pass out of the corner from Presten and just tried to get it on net,” said Johnson, who also assisted on a later goal by Adam Musil. “It was nice to see that one go in. To that point, they were hemming us in a bit, but we rebounded. It wasn’t the greatest win but we got it done.”
Aspen Sterzer, stationed in front of the Swift Current net, notched the eventual winner at 17:56 of the second period, deflecting a shot by Grayson Pawlenchuk off the crossbar and in.
Just 67 seconds later, Musil fired a bouncing puck past Laurikainen to give the Rebels a two-goal cushion after 40 minutes.
The final frame was the Rebels’ best. Despite outshooting their hosts 11-8 in the period, the visitors never really looked like a team that was going to find its way back.
“We did a really good job of protecting the lead in the third period and making sure our details were good,” said Sutter.
“That was our mindset going into the third — that we needed to keep going forward and keep going at them,” added Johnson. “It paid off for us in the end.”
Rebels captain Conner Bleackley sealed the deal when he cashed his own rebound — giving him 29 goals for the season — with seven minutes remaining.
The trio of Musil, Johnson and Scott Feser, who picked up an assist, was arguably the Rebels’ best forward unit Friday.
“That line was really good tonight. They were probably our best line in the first period and I thought the line with Chorns (Cole Chorney), Evan (Polei) and Vukie (Mpofu) also gave us some good shifts until the other guys got their legs going, got their brains thinking the right way and started playing better,” said Sutter.
“Obviously Patty made some good saves for us and our defencemen did what they had to.”
Bartosak was stellar, as has been the case basically the entire season. He finished with 33 saves, including a great pad stop on DeBrusk following a Broncos’ two-on-one break in the second period.
The Rebels were zero-for-four on the power play and two-for-two on the penalty kill. Red Deer has been short-handed just four times in the last three games, all victories.
“Our penalty count has been down over probably the last four or five games,” said Sutter. “We’re the type of team that will kill off three or four penalties in a game. It’s when we get into that five or more (penalties) that we put ourselves behind the eight-ball. We get undisciplined and that’s kind of where our game goes astray.
“But if we keep our focus and play the game the right way we do a good job with the discipline part of it.”
l Bartosak was selected as the game’s first star, followed by Johnson and Musil . . . Polei recorded a decision in a second-period scrap with Dakota Odgers, and when the Broncos forward decided he wanted another shot at the Red Deer forward just 11 minutes later, he again came out on the losing end, every more decisively . . . The Rebels return to action tonight against the Tigers at Medicine Hat, then close out their regular-season schedule with a home date Wednesday with Kootenay and a home-and-home set with Edmonton March 15-16 . . . Red Deer is technically ahead of Brandon due to having recorded two more wins. Both clubs have four games remaining.