The Red Deer Rebels regained their swagger during the weekend and are hopeful that they’re headed in a positive direction with a mere two weeks remaining in the Western Hockey League regular season.
For sure, they know they’re headed to the playoffs.
The Rebels got a pair of goals from Turner Elson and a flawless 52-save performance from Patrik Bartosak to defeat the Swift Current Broncos 3-0 Saturday before 5,459 fans at the Centrium. Coupled with the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ 7-1 loss at Kelowna, the victory clinched a post-season berth for Red Deer.
The positive result, which followed Friday’s 4-1 win over the host Kootenay Ice, moved the Rebels into sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Prince Albert Raiders. More importantly, the back-to-back conquests helped sooth the pain of tasting defeat in each of their previous two games.
“Every game is big at this time of the year, but these last two were significant in the sense that we needed to get our game back on track. We wanted to play well last night on the road and tonight we wanted to establish the way we need to play at home,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“To get the four points is significant.”
The Rebels got the only goal they needed when Elson opened the scoring at 8:08 of the second period, firing a rebound over the shoulder of Broncos netminder Eetu Laurikainen with the hosts on the power play. The Red Deer captain made it 2-0 six minutes later, connecting on a backhand with the Swift Current stopper down and out.
“We got a couple of key goals at key times and the best player on the ice was our goaltender,” said Sutter. “He played extremely well and yet their goalie made some huge saves too.”
Indeed, both Bartosak and Laurikainen were spectacular.
The Red Deer goaltender and Czech Republic native robbed Graham Black on a first-period breakaway and then stopped Ryon Moser on the doorstep a few minutes later, and in the second and third periods made sparkling pad saves on Chance Lund and Levi Bews.
Meanwhile, Bartosak’s Finnish counterpart kept his club in the game with a series of stellar stops, saving his best for Elson and Tyson Ness. He denied both during early second-period breakaways, made the save of the night with a diving glove stab on Elson and extended his pad to take a late goal from Ness.
“He had a great game, he’s a great goaltender,” said Bartosak. “He’s a European, so what can you say?”
Bartosak’s efforts lowered his goals-against average to 2.24 — third-best in the league — and upped his save percentage to a league-best .935. He posted his fourth shutout of the season while recording his 30th win.
“Obviously, it was a good game, the boys helped me a lot in front of me,” said Bartosak. “I felt great today. I felt like we were going to win this game and were going to get two points.”
Elson noted that Bartosak’s Saturday outing has been the norm this season.
“There’s nothing bad to say about that kid, he’s an unbelievable goaltender,” said the overage forward. “He finds ways every game to stop pucks. We don’t know how he does it, but he finds a way and he’s just a great goaltender, the best in the league.”
The Rebels sealed the deal when Matt Bellerive connected at 2:32 of the third period, his shot deflecting off Laurikainen’s glove and in.
Elson’s goals were his 22nd and 23rd of the season.
“(Brooks) Maxwell and (Rhyse) Dieno were just working hard,” Elson said of his linemates. “Our line is working hard right now, we’re finding each other. Our power play was also putting pucks to the net tonight and I got my stick on some of them.”
As Sutter noted, with eight regular-season games remaining — including a Tuesday date with visiting Kootenay — the Rebels have to stay focused down the stretch
“It’s something that we just need to stay with,” he said. “This is the time of the year where we want to be good at what we do, including the details of our game. It’s not the outcome that you focus in on through your preparation. It’s the process throughout the day and this weekend we’ve done that well.”
Added Elson: “We’re getting ready for the playoffs and both of these weekend games had a playoff atmosphere. They were hard fought games.”
• Mike McBain, a former Rebels defenceman and the first player ever selected by the franchise in the bantam draft (1992) was recently sentenced to prison for four to 15 years for sexually assaulting a girl over a four-year period.
“I’m more sorry than words can describe,” McBain told judge David Barker in a Las Vegas courtroom. “I take full responsibility for what I did.”
McBain played for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 1997 to 1999 and also competed in England for two years before joining the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. He was the team captain for a portion of the five seasons he was with the Wranglers and in 2008 retired as a player to become an assistant coach with the club.