Share and share alike; that’s what good linemates do.
Red Deer first-line forwards Rhyse Dieno, Brooks Maxwell and Lukas Sutter were totally in synch Saturday night at the Enmax Centrium. Each player scored once and collected two assists as the Rebels downed the Kootenay Ice 6-3 in their Western Hockey League home opener.
“Last game was a bit of a feeler for us,” said Dieno, referring to Friday’s 4-2 win over the Ice at Cranbrook. “We kind of struggled a bit in Kootenay before finding our game in the third period. Tonight I thought we were great together and it looks like we’ll have a good year.”
The Ice were determined to gain a split in the season-opening home-and-home set and jumped out to a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the first period in front of 5,476 fans. Sam Reinhart was credited with the first goal after Rebels defenceman Brady Gaudet — during a Kootenay power play — inadvertently fired the puck into his own net at 6:47, and Kyle O’Connor cashed a feed from Colin Shirley two minutes later.
The Rebels, however, shrugged off the early charge by the visitors and pulled even on goals by Maxwell and Sutter at 10:36 and 14:03. Maxwell, going hard to the net, converted a great pass from Sutter, who in turn beat Ice goalie Mackenzie Skapski with one second remaining on an impressive Red Deer power play.
“We were pumped up with this being our home opener and then they (Ice) came out and scored two,” said Maxwell. “It would have been really easy to get down on ourselves, but we continued to work hard and we deserved this win. It showed the character of the guys.”
Added Dieno: “When you give up two goals off the hop you can’t get too low. You just have to stick to your game plan and it will all work out. We stuck to our game plan and started scoring goals.”
Gaudet staked the Rebels to their first lead of the evening when he connected from the left faceoff circle 3:51 into the middle frame, but the Ice drew even late in the period when Luke Philp deflected a feed from Reinhart over the shoulder of Rebels stopper Patrik Bartosak.
From there, it was all Rebels. Rookie Adam Musil cashed a rebound for his second goal of the season four minutes into the third period, Dieno broke free of coverage and connected 36 seconds later and Adam Bellerive sealed the deal with an empty-net marker in the final minute.
“This game was a lot like last night,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We got better as the game went on. We were better in the second period and in the third we did a lot of good things again.
“We capitalized on some opportunities and got some key saves at key times. But it’s early in the season and there’s lots of work to be done. I’m sure Ryan (Ice head coach McGill) is saying the same thing about his team.”
Sutter said he fully expected his top line to be effective Saturday.
“There are two 20-year-olds and a 19-year-old (Maxwell) on that line and we need that kind of play from them,” he said. “We need them to be our best players and they got some big goals for us tonight.
“We need those guys but they’re just a part of the group. We need everyone to pull their weight, do things the right way and be accountable in the process. Those three guys have to lead the way.”
While Musil scored for the second night in succession, fellow rookie forwards Grayson Pawlenchuk, who had a goal and an assist Friday, and Cole Chorney were also impressive. Chorney, in fact, rang a shot off the iron just prior to Conner Bleackley hitting a post.
“I’m been really happy with them,” said Sutter. “They do exactly what we’re asking as coaches. The biggest thing for them is to work hard and be committed to the structure and compete level we want to play at. Those young kids were very good again tonight.”
Bartosak and Skapski also had their moments. Bartosak made 29 saves and robbed Shirley with a pad stop in the third period, while Skapski turned aside 35 shots including a stunning glove stab on Sutter in the middle stanza.
The Rebels enjoyed a prosperous opening weekend and will take momentum into their next contest, a Friday date with the 0-2 Regina Pats at the Centrium.
However, as Sutter noted . . .
“For us, it’s one day and one game at a time,” said the Rebels boss. “It’s a long year and we have lots of work to do. We have to work on our specialty teams and just our overall game, but that’s all right. As you go through the process and gets win while you’re doing it, that’s a positive. We got better in each of these two games and that’s encouraging.”
• Sutter pared his roster to 26 players earlier Saturday by reassigning defenceman Kaleb Denham and forward Mathieu Lapointe, both 17, to teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Denham is joining the Grande Prairie Storm and Lapointe is hooking up with the Drayton Valley Thunder.
The 26-player roster includes defenceman Matt Dumba, who is expected to open the NHL regular season with the Minnesota Wild.