Photo by ASHLI BARRETT/Advocate Staff

REBELS VS THUNDERBIRDS--sports-- Ivan Nikolishin of the Red Deer Rebels and Keegan Kolesar of the Seattle Thunderbirds battle for possession of the puck during Tuesday night WHL action at the Enmax Centrium.

Rebels rally to down T-Birds

This could become a habit for Ivan Nikolishin. Just two days after potting the clinching goal in a 6-5 shootout win over the host Medicine Hat Tigers, the Russian winger sniped a game-winner Tuesday against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

This could become a habit for Ivan Nikolishin.

Just two days after potting the clinching goal in a 6-5 shootout win over the host Medicine Hat Tigers, the Russian winger sniped a game-winner Tuesday against the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The 19-year-old cut across the low slot and beat former Rebels netminder Taz Burman at 16:52 of the third period, capping a late come-from-behind effort that resulted in a 4-3 WHL victory in front of 4,836 fans at the Centrium.

This time, Nikolishin credited a visit by two family members for the drive that helped produce his three-point performance.

“I think a lot of the game is mental. My dad and sister were in Red Deer two days ago and I think they gave me a lot of emotion,” said the former Everett Silvertip, who also picked up two assists. “That’s why I play with a lot of emotion today. But credit goes to the team. We played really well in the third period. We just played really hard and that’s how we got the win.”

The clubs were knotted 1-1 after 20 minutes, with Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury connecting with a rising wrist shot from just inside the blue line and Gustav Olhaver replying for the T-Birds following a turnover deep in the Red Deer zone.

The second period belong to the visitors. Seattle got a go-ahead goal from Alexander True just 1:18 into the stanza and a second marker from Nick Holowko, who took a feed from Mathew Barzal and ripped a one-timer past netminder Rylan Toth from 20 feet out.

The T-Birds outshot their hosts 14-5 in the middle frame and were deserving of their 3-1 lead.

“We definitely didn’t play very well in the second period and talked a lot in the dressing room (during the intermission),” said Nikolishin. “Then we played really well in the third. We came back and it’s a really good win. It feels really good.”

An early third-period bout featuring Red Deer’s Kayle Doetzel and fellow overage defenceman Jared Hauf, who stopped numerous right hands with his chin, seemed to spark the home side, and a holding-the-stick penalty to T-Birds forward Ryan Gropp at 6:15 set the course for the Rebels rally.

Conner Bleackley, from close range, scored with a quick release during the ensuing power play, and Evan Polei drew the Rebels even just under six minutes later, rushing down the right side and ripping a shot that clanked off the cross bar and behind Burman.

The stage was set for Nikolishin’s winner.

“Obviously it was a huge third period,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “I thought we had a really good first period, too, but in the second we got off our game.

“It started in the first two and half minutes when we had three neutral-zone turnovers, including one when we had a bad line change and they came down and scored. Things seemed to snowball and we didn’t play like we need to play and they gained the momentum.

“Then in the third we took it back because we worked. We competed, we got more physical and we were finishing checks. We were moving pucks up the ice and putting pucks on net.”

The Rebels outshot their guests 9-4 in the final frame and found their scoring touch just in time.

“Defensively we were stopping and starting and playing the way we want to play in our own zone,” said Sutter. “We had the puck more in the third and when we had chances we scored on them.

“Obviously it’s a huge win for the kids, but again, it’s another of those games that we have to learn from. We have to get better at certain things.”

Too often, the Rebels have struggled while short-handed this season, but they were five-for-five on the penalty kill Tuesday.

“We’ve had some tough times with it. But we were more aggressive on the penalty kill tonight and did a really good job of blocking shots. Again, your best penalty killer has to be your goalie and Tother rose to the occasion for us.”

Toth finished with 23 saves, while Burman stopped 19 shots while suffering his third loss of the season.

The Rebels head out Thursday morning on a five-game road trip that starts Friday in Prince Albert. Nikolishin said the sweet taste of victory will still be lingering when the players depart.

“This win definitely gives us momentum,” he said. “The bus will be happy, that’s for sure.”

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