The Red Deer Rebels took on the host Calgary Hitmen Saturday evening and looked a lot like the club that carried the play against the visiting Kootenay Ice 24 hours previous.
Except this time the Rebels garnered a positive result, downing the Hitmen 4-1 on the heels of a 5-3 loss to the Ice in their Western Hockey League regular-season opener Friday at the Enmax Centrium.
“The result was better and yet it was kind of a carry-over from how we played Friday night,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Sunday.
The Hitmen outshot their guests 8-4 in the opening period and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on a power-play goal by overage import forward Pavel Padakin.
But the Scotiabank Saddledome gathering of 10,321 was denied another Calgary tally the rest of the way as the Rebels dictated the pace of play through most of the final 40 minutes.
“Our first period wasn’t totally what we were hoping for, but once we got our feet under us we really played well the last two periods and created a lot of offence,” said Sutter. “We played a real fast-paced game. We played quick and the time of puck possession was good for us.
“We should have won the night before and it didn’t turn out for us. Last night we were rewarded.”
Rookie forward Jeff de Wit got the Rebels on the board at 6:45 of the middle stanza, his wrist shot from the high slot beating a screened Hitmen netminder Mack Shields. Evan Polei notched his first of two goals — and the eventual winner — 10 minutes later when his centering pass deflected off the stick of Calgary defenceman Kirk Johnson and past Shields.
Polei upped the count to 3-1 early in the third period, converting a feed from linemate Brooks Maxwell. Shields left the game at that point with what appeared to be an upper-body injury.
“My indication early is that it wasn’t anything too serious,” Hitmen first-year head coach Mark French told the Calgary Herald.
Rebels defenceman Kolton Dixon added more insurance at 11:57 when his point shot hit the stick of Hitmen rearguard Michael Zipp and beyond the reach of Hitmen back-up stopper Evan Johnson.
Shields made 19 saves before being replaced by Johnson, who turned aside four of the ive volleys faced over the final 15 minutes and change as the Rebels held a 23-12 advantage in shots during the last two periods.
After Rebels netminder Taz Burman struggled in Friday’s loss, starting Rylan Toth against the Hitmen was a no-brainer and the rookie came through in impressive fashion while making 19 saves.
“He made some big saves for us at key times,” said Sutter. “He kept us close in the first, he made some big saves that kept the game 1-0 going into the second period. Then we got our legs under us and really started playing well in the second and third periods.”
The Rebels are idle until Saturday when they host the Ice for the second time in nine days. The Rebels will then head out Oct. 1 for their annual early-season East Division trip that opens the following night at Moose Jaw.
“We have one game over the next 10 days, so we’ll have lots of practice time to continue to work on things,” said Sutter. “We want to make sure that we’re doing things right over this period of time so that we’re getting better in areas in which we need to improve.”
• Red Deer was zero-for-five on the power play. Calgary was one-for-five . . . With eight players still away at NHL training camps, the Hitmen lineup featured seven rookies. The Rebels were minus the services of defenceman Haydn Fleury and forward and captain Conner Bleackley, who are at the NHL training camps of the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche, while import defenceman Hugo Jansons is out with an upper-body injury and forward Brayden Burke and import rearguard Mario Grman were healthy scratches.