The Red Deer Rebels will have a merry Christmas after all.
The Rebels, without four of their top six scorers, entered Tuesday’s WHL meeting with the Medicine Hat Tigers as decided underdogs. But a hot goaltender and a dogged work ethic will often work wonders, and the Rebels had both while upending the visitors 5-2 before 4,150 fans at the Enmax Centrium.
“Patty stood strong for us again tonight and helped us weather the storm with a very young lineup,” said Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt, in reference to netminder Patrik Bartosak and his 46-save performance.
“Some of our guys haven’t played together an awful lot and they did a great job while playing quality minutes. This is a great Medicine Hat team, but we were pretty opportunistic with our scoring and got the two points.”
The Tigers assumed their only lead of the evening when Curtis Valk broke a scoreless tie with a power-play goal 1:33 into the second period, his wrist shot from the right circle ringing of the far post and in.
Lukas Sutter, with his first of two goals on the evening, pulled Red Deer even with a man-advantage marker just under six minutes later.
Captain Conner Bleackley raced down the right side, cut around a defender and fed Sutter with a centering pass that he deflected past goaltender Daniel Wapple.
“Conner did a great job of taking the puck wide and all I had to do was get to the net with my stick on the ice. Those are easy goals,” said Sutter.
The Rebels netted two more before the period concluded as Adam Musil connected with a one-timer from the high slot at 15:42, and Sutter took a feed from Wyatt Johnson, used a Tigers defenceman as a screen and fired a 40-footer by Wapple three minutes later.
“It was a great play by Johny, coming across the ice to me,” said Sutter. “I got a step inside on their defenceman, let go with a quick shot and somehow it got through. It was nice to get those two and get on a bit of a streak and hopefully we can keep it going after the break.”
Added Truitt: “Lukas has played really well, I can’t say enough about him. The last three games have been really good for him. He’s been consistent, he’s been detailed and he’s been winning a lot of battles. It was nice to see him get a couple of goals tonight.”
The Rebels upped the count to 4-1 early in the final frame after Wapple was gently bumped by Rebels forward Evan Polei at the side of the net. Instead of getting back into position, he attempted to embellish the slight collision and watched as Bleackley, from along the boards, fired the puck into a gaping cage.
The Tigers got one back midway through the period on Tommy Vannelli’s screened point shot that eluded Bartosak with Red Deer defenceman Nick Charif off for tripping. But that was it for the visitors, who gave up an empty-net marker to Johnson, who created a turnover at the Tigers blueline in the final minute and notched his seventh of the season.
“With a depleted lineup it was good to see the younger guys step up and play the way they did. They were eating some big minutes,” said Sutter, in reference to the likes of Musil, Meyer Nell, Polei and Cole Chorney.
“We gave up quite a few chances but Patty was very good and that’s what you expect from a 20-year-old goalie. We all contributed as a group and it was a big win for us, for sure.”
The Rebels, who were minus the services of forwards Dominik Volek, who is with the Czech Republic team preparing for the World Junior Championship, as well as Rhyse Dieno, Matt Bellerive and Brooks Maxwell, all out with injuries, will return to action Dec. 27 against the visiting Calgary Hitmen.
“We want the guys to enjoy the break and enjoy their families, then get channelled and be ready to go in another 10 days,” said Truitt. “It’s nice that we’ve been able to get on a bit of roll here with three straight wins, but there’s a bigger prize to be had. We have a tough schedule right off the bat after the break against divisional rivals (including a Dec. 29 game at Edmonton) and we have to be ready.”
“Obviously it’s nice to go into the break with a three-game win streak and we’re happy with that,” said Sutter. “We’re looking forward to enjoying some down time, but we’re really anxious to get back and keep rolling.”
• The Rebels also lost forward Vukie Mpofu prior to the game. The 17-year-old rookie suffered an injury in practice Monday and reaggravated it in the warm-up . . . Rebels prospect Brayden Burke, 16, played his first ever WHL regular-season game and didn’t look out of place . . . Wapple finished with 25 saves. . . . With Prince Albert losing 4-3 at home to the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Rebels moved into an eighth-place tie with the Raiders in the Eastern Conference.