KELOWNA — The Red Deer Rebels were the better team through the final two periods of Wednesday’s WHL game versus the host Kelowna Rockets.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they were dominated in the opening frame and the bad start proved costly as the Rockets struck for four unanswered goals and then hung on for a 4-3 victory before a crowd of 4,621 at Prospera Place.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter decided to start back-up goaltender Taz Burman, who has seen very little playing time this season, and the move didn’t pay off as the 16-year-old allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced before being replaced by veteran Patrik Bartosak just 94 seconds into the contest.
“The two early goals were bad goals on Taz and kind of put us on our heels,” said Sutter. “They came at us and we didn’t seem to regroup until the intermission and then we got going. We dominated the second and third periods and if it wasn’t for their goalie we win that game going away.”
Kris Schmidt opened the scoring 36 seconds into the contest and Marek Tvrdon made it 2-0 a mere 58 seconds later. The Rockets then got goals from Austin Glover and Tyrell Goulbourne before the period ended.
With the Rebels having played the night before — losing 3-2 in overtime at Vancouver — and with games set for Friday and Saturday in Prince George, Sutter gave Burman the start against the Rockets.
“It was a 13-hour trip to Vancouver and Patty played there, and he can’t play every game,” said Sutter. “Taz had to go in there tonight and he had to give us good goaltending. I know he’s 16 and I know he hasn’t played a lot, but he just wasn’t technically sharp on the goals he’s given up lately, just like the first two against Tri-City (in a 4-2 loss to the visiting Americans Saturday).
“It’s hard for a 16-year-old but it’s hard for any back-up goalie, but you have to use your talent. On the first goal their guy had a full net to shoot at from a bad angle. And on the second shot, he (Burman) just froze.”
Still, even with Bartosak between the pipes, the Rebels didn’t get their act together until — as it turned out — it was too late.
“We didn’t respond the way we needed to (after the goalie switch),” said Sutter. “We had to make the goalie change but we still spend too much time in our own zone.
“But then we regrouped and we outplayed and dominated the top team in the league.”
Indeed, the Rebels outshot their hosts 13-9 in the second frame without scoring, then potted three third-period goals while enjoying a 14-9 advantage in shots.
“We’ve found ways to beat ourselves the last four games, now we have to build off the last two periods,” said Sutter.
– The Rebels were zero-for-four on the power play and killed off all three Kelowna man-advantage chances . . . Bartosak made 36 saves after replacing Burman, while Whistle finished with 32 . . . The three stars were (1) Whistle, (2) Schmidt and (3) Sterzer . . . The Rebels’ next home game is next Wednesday versus the Medicine Hat Tigers.