The Red Deer Rebels’ newly-acquired offensive star was a major hit in his debut Saturday night at the Centrium.
Skating on a line with Ivan Nikolishin and centre Jake DeBrusk, Adam Helewka scored once and added three assists as the Rebels blasted the Brandon Wheat Kings 10-0 in a WHL contest viewed by 5,742 fans.
Clearly, the 20-year-old didn’t require an adjustment period after being obtained from the Spokane Chiefs the previous day and after serving a six-game suspension for injuring an opponent in a fight that followed the final buzzer of a Dec. 12 contest versus Tri-City. He fit in immediately and was only too happy to contribute to a big win.
“It’s great to be part of this team, this organization,” said Helewka, following his second-star selection. “This is my first day here and I’m already loving it.”
Helewka admitted he was emotional at the news he was on his way out of Spokane.
“It was tough to say goodbye to all of the players and the staff and my billets,” he confessed. “I made some really strong relationships over the last almost three and a half years. It was tough to say goodbye, but at the same time I was super excited to come and be a part of this team going towards the Memorial Cup.”
The Rebels exploded for seven first-period goals to make the final result a mere formality.
Defenceman Nelson Nogier ignited the onslaught at 4:21. Brandon netminder Jordan Papirny got a piece of the blast from the top of the circle but couldn’t prevent what proved to be the winning goal.
From there, DeBrusk sniped his first of three markers on the evening, converting a give-and-go with Helewka at 6:07. Helewka found the back of the net at 13:19 for a 3-0 lead, Grayson Pawlenchuk tallied 37 seconds later and Brandon Hagel, DeBrusk, again, and Conner Bleackley rounded out the opening-frame eruption.
The first-period production fell one goal short of a team record that was established when the Rebels connected eight times in the opening 20 minutes en route to an 11-4 win over Prince Albert on Jan. 12 of 2002.
“We put a lot of pucks on net,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, in reference to the 19 shots faced by Papirny and Logan Thompson, who replaced his teammate following Red Deer’s fifth goal.
“I’m sure they (Wheat Kings) would like to have some of those (goals) back, but credit our kids for moving their feet and generating some offence. We had some speed in our game and obviously the big line created a lot tonight.”
After dominating in the early going, the Rebels were outshot 13-7 in the second period while serving the only two minor penalties of the stanza. But goaltender Rylan Toth, who finished with a 30-save shutout — his third of the season — turned aside every Brandon opportunity.
“I thought Tother made some key saves at certain times,” said Sutter, whose club held a 35-30 advantage in shots overall.
While Toth was earning his keep in the middle period, DeBrusk completed his hat trick, his wrister from the high slot catching the top of the net.
Nikolishin scored the Rebels’ ninth goal at 14:14 of the third period — a marker that was originally credited to DeBrusk — and Pawlenchuk potted his second of the night and 15th of the season 58 seconds later.
“That’s a good team we played. They had a tough night,” said Sutter.
As for his own squad …
“We played hard, we had energy, we had emotion, and that’s kind of what we want to see from our team,” said Sutter. “We can generate offence, but again we have to continue to do other things well, like managing the puck. At times tonight we were really good at that and at times we were probably a little sloppier than we wanted to be.
“But it’s a big win. Any time you can generate that kind of offence it’s certainly a confidence booster for your group.”
Sutter was more than impressed with Helewka’s debut.
“I think it speaks for itself what type of player he is,” said the Rebels boss. “It has been close to three weeks since he last played a game and I thought he really had his feet moving. He’s a big, strong body who protects the puck and makes plays.
“I (also) like his responsibility on the ice. He knows how to play the game.”
Helewka’s skills and assets aside, his acquisition and ensuing opening-game performance sparked the other Red Deer veterans, as Sutter had hoped.
“It’s a jolt, right?” said Sutter.
“We need to have more emotion, more intensity right from our dressing room out to the bench and on to the ice, and we certainly had that tonight.”
The Helewka-DeBrusk-Nikolishin unit combined for 13 points.
“Those players have amazing skill,” said Helewka of his new linemates. “Through just one game I think we’ve kind of found some chemistry together and I hope we have a great season ahead of us.”
The Rebels left today for a two-game road trip that consists of stops in Prince Albert and Saskatoon Tuesday and Wednesday. Red Deer will host Lethbridge and Vancouver Friday and Saturday.