REGINA — If the Red Deer Rebels indeed hit rock bottom in Saturday’s dreadful 6-2 loss to the visiting Victoria Royals, they at least started climbing out of the chasm Monday.
“It was certainly a step in the right direction, certainly a different game than we played against Victoria,” said Rebels GM/head coach, Brent Sutter following a 2-1 Western Hockey League win over the Regina Pats.
“Our team game was much better, our work ethic was at a level that was much better and our overall game — playing the proper way — was much better. We were a better hockey team through and through today.”
The game — a ‘school day’ promotion that drew a gathering of 6,484 to the Brandt Centre — started at 11:30 a.m., which was 10:30 a.m. MST for the Rebels. Regardless, the early puck drop didn’t bother the visitors who scored twice in the opening frame and outshot their hosts 25-12 through the first 40 minutes.
“We didn’t give them much the first two periods,” said Sutter. “We did a lot of good things. With this group it’s about gaining the confidence to play the game the way it needs to play and trusting that.
“Our defence and forwards were much better, our shift management was much better and the players were recognizing what their assignments were.”
Evan Polei opened the scoring 11:30 into the contest and Jake DeBrusk potted the eventual winner five minutes later.
The Pats outshot their guests 16-9 in the third period and foiled Trevor Martin’s shutout bid when Sam Steel connected with one second remaining in the contest.
Martin finished with 27 saves and was named second star of the game, right behind Pats netminder Tyler Brown, who kicked out 32 shots. Spacek was selected as the third star.
“He was solid, he made the saves,” said Sutter of his goaltender. “I was very happy with his game.”
The Rebels boss was particularly tickled with the manner in which his squad rebounded from Saturday’s dismal outing that included a third-period meltdown that resulted in four unanswered Victoria goals.
“Our attention to detail was better today,” he said. “We blocked more shots and took pride in that, which is all part of it.
“If you want to be a good team there are sacrifices you have to make within a game and blocking shots is one of them. Chipping pucks is another and taking a hit to make a play is yet another. Those are all sacrifices you have to make and that’s stuff we hadn’t been doing well.
“Today the kids responded the right way after not a very good game Saturday.”
The Rebels close out their two-game trip tonight against the Swift Current Broncos. The Rebels host the Calgary Hitmen on Friday.
• Rebels forward Conner Bleackley, currently out with an injury, was involved in a NHL trade deadline deal Monday when his rights were acquired by the Arizona Coyotes from the Colorado Avalanche. The Coyotes picked up Bleackley, veteran forward Alex Tanguay and junior defenceman Kyle Wood in return for forward Mikkel Boedker … In another deal, former Rebels captain Brett Sutter was obtained by the Los Angeles Kings from the Minnesota Wild. Sutter, the son of Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, scored four goals and collected 14 points in 57 games with the Iowa Stars of the AHL this season.