The new-look Red Deer Rebels snapped a two-game WHL losing streak Saturday at the Enmax Centrium.
‘New look,’ as in a completely different team from the squad that dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the visiting Regina Pats 24 hours earlier, and also in terms of the Rebels’ forward lines.
“It was a complete game for us here tonight,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following a convincing 5-1 win over the Prince George Cougars. “Right from start to finish, we got a really good effort from everybody. We got saves when we needed them — our young goalie played well — and we played with structure and the way we want to play as a team.
“When you look at your games at home, it certainly was one of the most complete we’ve had this season.”
Rookie Taz Burman made a rare start in the Red Deer net and came up with 40 saves, although very few were of the difficult variety as the Cougars were held to the outside for the better part of the contest.
“I had a gut feeling, I guess,” said Sutter of giving Burman the start. “I told him this morning that he was playing. I was just trying to shake things up a bit . . . give us a different look. We addressed some things this morning concerning how we need to change at home and the way we need to do some things. I thought we’d get a fresh look there (in goal) and I thought he responded really well.”
Evan Polei’s third goal of the season at 19:07 of the first period gave the Rebels a 2-1 lead and stood up as the eventual winner. Red Deer captain Conner Bleackley opened the scoring 4:17 into the contest and Marc McNulty notched the Cougars’ lone goal just under nine minutes later.
Dominik Volek buried a power play rebound for a 3-1 Rebels lead at 7:40 of the middle stanza and then notched his team-leading 12th goal of the season at 16:41, making his way to the net and stepping around Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds.
Rhyse Dieno, who assisted on Bleackley’s marker, closed out the scoring early in the third period, sliding a rebound under Edmonds.
“We needed that at home. We needed to put a 60-minute effort together after last night,” said Dieno. “The boys responded well to last night’s loss.”
While they allowed 41 shots, the Rebels were strong in front of their rookie stopper.
“We blocked shots, which is a big part of the game, and I thought we did a good job around the front of our net,” said Sutter. “There weren’t any second and third opportunities. We were strong on pucks in our zone and there weren’t many turnovers.”
Added Dieno: “He (Burman) was making the stops that we needed at the right times. We tried to limit the shots and when he had to make a stop he did that.”
Besides starting Burman, Sutter also made some changes to the club’s top two lines, moving Lukas Sutter onto a unit with wingers Volek and Matt Bellerive, who left late in the contest with an apparent leg injury, and placing Bleackley at centre with Dieno and Brooks Maxwell.
“Again, it was a gut feeling this morning,” said Sutter. “I just felt like we needed to change things up and get Lukas back into his normal position of centre ice. Maxie and Bleacks together give us some speed, and along with Diens, you have three guys who can shoot the puck.
“Dom and Beller played well too. Again, we put together some different lines and I thought that helped. It was just a feeling you have as a coach. You have a gut feeling for your hockey team and you know that at certain times you need to have a different look and maybe bring a little different environment to the dressing room as far as getting the guys to think a bit differently.”
Lukas Sutter also looked good with his new linemates, particularly in the faceoff circle.
“He was really good on the draws tonight and having that left-handed guy on the faceoffs is huge,” said the Rebels bench boss. “I thought he looked more comfortable tonight. It was certainly Lukas’ best game since he’s returned from his injury and just because he was skating and felt more comfortable, he wasn’t getting caught along the walls as much in his own zone, having to stop and start.
“He was more in the flow of the game down low. He’s a really good defensive player and tonight I think it helped us to move him to centre ice.”
The victory was well-timed, considering how poorly Rebels played in Friday’s setback and in a home-ice loss to the Kootenay Ice Wednesday.
“We showed that our team has the character to respond from a loss and it shows we can actually play a 60-minute game at home,” said Dieno. “Anything less than tonight’s effort would have been a disappointment.”
The Rebels concluded a three-game homestand with the win and head out on the road later this week for Friday and Saturday games at Medicine Hat and Swift Current. Red Deer’s next home game is Dec. 4 against the Prince Albert Raiders.