SASKATOON — Could these be the real Red Deer Rebels, a team that is looking more and more like a legitimate Memorial Cup tournament host?
The Rebels posted their fourth consecutive Western Hockey League triumph Wednesday at Saskatoon, blanking the Blades 5-0 before 3,445 fans at the SaskTel Centre.
Coupled with Tuesday’s 4-3 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders, the Rebels were 2-0 on their mini trip into Saskatchewan and were ultra-impressive in the process, particularly Wednesday evening.
“We were solid and steady. We didn’t give up much and capitalized on our opportunities,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We played a real solid game.”
Ivan Nikolishin’s 23rd goal of the season, a power-play marker at 17:01 of the opening frame, was the eventual winner. Haydn Fleury and Nikolishin, again, connected late in the second period.
Adam Helekwa potted a power-play goal at 6:30 of the final stanza and rookie Austin Pratt rounded out the Red Deer scoring just under 10 minutes later.
Rylan Toth turned aside 27 shots to record his fourth shutout of the season. Brock Hamm made 33 saves for the hosts.
“We didn’t give up a whole lot. I thought the kids played hard and played well,” said Sutter.
Toth has allowed just three goals — all in Tuesday’s win at Prince Albert — in his last three games, a welcome sign that he’s playing with confidence.
“He made the saves when we had to get them tonight. They (Blades) had a few chances and Tother shut the door on them,” said Sutter. “We need that kind of goaltending.
“Since Christmas he’s been pretty good. He won the game against Edmonton at home (on Dec. 27) although he might have wished he had been a little better. But he responded well against Brandon (in a 10-0 win last Saturday) and now on this road trip he’s been good.
“He’s had four decent outings since Christmas.”
The Rebels were slated to arrive home at roughly 2:30 a.m. today. The players will be on the ice this afternoon at the Centrium to prepare for Friday’s clash against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The two teams are tied for top spot in the Eastern Conference and the ‘Canes are 3-0 versus the Rebels this season.
“They’ve certainly been the better team the three games we’ve played them,” said Sutter. “If we want to finish first (in the Central Division and Eastern Conference) we have to beat the best teams.”
Red Deer also hosts the Vancouver Giants Saturday at 7 p.m.
• The three stars Wednesday were (1) Nikolishin, (2) Fleury and (3) Toth … The Rebels were two-for-four on the power play, the Blades zero-for-five.