The Red Deer Rebels’ offence — ranked sixth in the Western Hockey League — managed a mere 13 shots in goal during the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s meeting with the visiting Victoria Royals.
On a positive note, the Rebels were still locked in a 2-2 draw prior to melting down in the final frame and falling 6-2 before 5,632 fans at the Centrium. The third period was clearly a major letdown for the locals, although GM/head coach Brent Sutter didn’t detect many positives during the entire game.
“I didn’t think we played well at all here tonight,” he stated. “We got outworked. We didn’t compete as hard as you need to compete at this time of the year against a good hockey team.”
The visitors never trailed in the contest, getting first- and second-period markers from Vladimir Bobylev and Jack Walker while surrendering goals to Michael Spacek and Luke Philp, who — with the Rebels short-handed — ripped a shot from the bottom of the circle over the shoulder of Royals netminder Coleman Vollrath at 9:33 of the middle stanza.
The Royals assumed a permanent lead when Tyler Soy jumped on a giveaway inside the Red Deer zone and beat Rebels goalie Trevor Martin 3:39 into the third period.
“Their winning goal was the epitome of what our whole night was — turnovers and being soft on pucks,” said Sutter. “That’s how it was all night. We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. Their team had a purpose going into every battle. Their will was much better, much higher than ours, so it’s disappointing.”
The Royals pulled away on goals from first star Joe Hicketts (power play) and Matthew Phillips, and Hicketts sealed the deal with an empty-net, short-handed tally at 17:26.
Although the Rebels’ top-six forwards recorded four points, they didn’t sustain much in the way of pressure. And the team’s premier pairing defencemen — Haydn Fleury and Nelson Nogier — were both minus-2 as were top-six forwards Adam Helewka and Adam Musil.
Vollrath faced only 17 shots, while Martin made 25 saves.
“You need more from this group, bottom line,” said Sutter.”Again, our best players were not our best players tonight and I thought our defence struggled. We just never played a game you need to play at this time of the year.
“But it’s been something that’s been going on with this group. You try different ways to try and get them over the hump but it just seems like we’re hitting a wall with it all the time, and yet at the end of the day it comes down to them. They have to figure this out.”
The Rebels were also assessed a healthy majority of the penalties doled out by referees Chris Crich and Colin Watt.
“You can have all the skill and talent but the work ethic, the compete level and the will has to be at the highest,” said Sutter. “If that’s lacking, then you’re lacking as a team and there’s a lack of discipline. Tonight we were lacking in a lot of different areas.”
While the Rebels dropped their sixth game in their last eight, the Royals extended their impressive record to 16-1-1 in 18 games over the past five weeks.
“We’ve been playing really well,” said Victoria overage forward, assistant captain and Red Deer native Logan Fisher. “We’re trying to build prior to the playoffs, just trying to get better every night. We’ve been working hard at that and it’s been showing up a bit lately how hard we’ve been working away from the rink and in practices.
“We’ve really come together well at the right time.”
The Rebels are in Regina today for a 10:30 a.m. (MST) contest against the Pats, then take on the Broncos Tuesday at Swift Current. Red Deer’s next home game is Friday versus the Calgary Hitmen.