CRANBROOK — Maybe, just maybe, the Red Deer Rebels are finally ready to embrace the system installed by the coaching staff and the style of play needed to be successful.
The Rebels, just two nights after being thumped 6-2 by the Kelowna Rockets, won their second game of a lengthy Western Hockey League road trip Friday, 3-0 over the Kootenay Ice in front of 2,908 fans at Western Financial Place.
“Our overall game was very good. It’s not just that we won, it’s how we played,” said Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter. “Everybody was dialed into playing with structure and the way we want to play. We had everybody engaged tonight, which is important.”
Rookie forward Cole Chorney’s second goal of the season at 7:23 of the first period stood up as the eventual winner.
The clubs battled through a scoreless middle frame before Rhyse Dieno connected on the power play at 6:36 of the third period and newly-minted captain Conner Bleackley potted his ninth of the season four minutes later.
The Rebels fired 28 shots at Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin, while Patrik Bartosak faced just 19 in the Red Deer net.
“When we play it the right way and do things right, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Sutter of his club’s ability to keep the shots-against under 20. “It works. It’s just a matter of the kids being focused and prepared and making sure they do things the way we want as coaches.
“Tonight they were focused, and yet when you have everything in place you also have to be an extremely hard-working team, and tonight we worked.”
While he wasn’t busy, Bartosak was sharp after giving up four goals and being pulled in the first period of Wednesday’s setback at Kelowna.
“Our goalie had a bounce-back game tonight,” said Sutter.
The Rebels, who took four of the eight minor penalties — the clubs also split a pair of fighting majors as Wyatt Johnson dropped the gloves with Ryan Chynoweth — assessed by referees Brett Iverson and Trevor Shively, were one-for-two on the power play. The Ice were zero-for-two with a man advantage.
The Rebels, who improved to 8-11-0-1, can conclude their six-game trip at .500 with a victory tonight against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The ‘Canes dropped to 2-15-1-2 with a 6-2 home-ice loss to the Spokane Chiefs Friday.
“We’ve been through a lot of travel and the game tomorrow be our sixth in nine nights,” said Sutter. “Closing out with a win has to be our focus from now until tomorrow night.”
l With the chances of veteran defenceman Matt Dumba returning from the Minnesota Wild looking less likely every day, Sutter appointed 17-year-old Bleackley team captain earlier Friday. Defenceman Haydn Fleury, who was named first star of the game, and forwards Lukas Sutter and Brooks Maxwell will serve as the Rebels alternate captains . . . Rebels forward Dominik Volek, who picked up two assists, and Bartosak were named second and third stars . . . Red Deer’s next home game is next Friday versus the Moose Jaw Warriors.