The Red Deer Rebels had to react in a positive manner Wednesday after a disappointing performance in a 5-2 Western Hockey League loss to the host Calgary Hitmen the night before.
They delivered, and in impressive fashion, rallying from a 3-1 deficit with five unanswered goals in a 6-3 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders in front of a recorded gathering of 4,117 at the Enmax Centrium.
“We needed a response and certainly it was a 180 from last night,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “Our effort was solid right from start to finish. We played a pretty solid game right from our goaltender on out through our whole team.”
The Rebels’ back end was impressive and also chipped in offensively, as Haydn Fleury scored the eventual winner and Kayle Doetzel notched a highlight-reel goal, his first of the season.
“Really the difference was that our defence, overall as a group, really did a good job of moving pucks, making the right plays and smart decisions with pucks,” said Sutter.
“When you get pucks out of your zone you’re able to make those stick-to-stick plays, get speed through the neutral zone and create stuff.”
Rebels forward Wyatt Johnson opened the scoring at 16:09 of the first period on a gift courtesy of Raiders netminder Cole Cheveldave. The overage stopper left his goal to play the puck from the corner and up the boards, but Johnson intercepted the attempted clear and fired into an open net with teammate Lukas Sutter serving a hooking penalty.
The visitors bounced back from the short-handed marker just under a minute later. With the Raiders on a power play, Dakota Conroy beat Rebels goaltender Patrik Bartosak to the glove side from the edge of the faceoff circle.
The second period was scoreless until late, and then the floodgates opened. The Raiders potted two goals 37 apart, as Leon Draisaitl roofed a power-play shot from a scramble and Mike Winther took a feed from defenceman Josh Morrissey and connected from the side door.
“Their first of the two quick goals was obviously a power-play goal and on their next one we just got circling in our zone with the forwards,” said Sutter. “No one was stopping and starting and our positional play was very erratic. They were able to walk right into the slot and when you give a player like Morrissey the puck in the slot he’s going to make a pretty good play with it, which he did.”
The Rebels answered back in a hurry, with Doetzel making an end-to-end rush, cutting to the net and chipping the puck over Cheveldave’s glove to cut the deficit to one. Just 45 seconds later, at 19:12 of the period, Dominik Volek notched his team-leading 14th of the season, cashing a rebound from close range after a nifty play by defenceman Nick Charif to get the puck to the net.
“Really the turning point was Doetz’s rush. He scored a big goal for us and we gained momentum off that and seemed to carry it right through from there on,” said Sutter.
Fleury gave the Rebels a 4-3 lead a mere 42 seconds into the final frame when his wrist shot from the point eluded Cheveldave through a crowd, and Brooks Maxwell gave the home side a two-goal cushion at 11:45, finishing off a give-and-go with Rhyse Dieno while on a two-on-one break.
Red Deer captain Conner Bleackley closed out the scoring with an empty-net marker in the final minute.
“We had a higher compete level tonight, won a lot of one-on-one battles and in the defensive zone we were making plays,” said Fleury, comparing Wednesday’s performance to Tuesday’s outing in Calgary. “I thought that last night we were a bit sloppy with turnovers and it led to 40 shots against.
Tonight we were hard on their top players and didn’t let them have a lot of time and space.”
And then there were the offensive contributions from the Red Deer blueliners.
“Jeff (associate coach Truitt) was saying that was probably the best game he’s seen us play. I think we were getting the bounces and it was nice to see,” said Fleury, named first star of the game.
Fleury confessed that he and his teammates were in awe of Doetzel’s goal.
“Wow, goal of the year,” he said. “It was great. He works so hard every day, blocks shots and does all the little things right. It was nice to see him get rewarded.”
l The Rebels were minus the services of injured forwards Matt Bellerive (lower body, week-to-week), Grayson Pawlenchuk (upper body, week-to-week) and Christian Stockl (upper body, indefinite). Defenceman Kirk Bear was a healthy scratch . . . Bartosak stopped 31 shots for his 12th win of the season, while Cheveldave made 25 saves . . . The Rebels host the Portland Winterhawks Saturday.