The Red Deer Rebels started fast and finished strong Thursday.
They weren’t sharp at various points in between, but it all added up to a 6-2 Western Hockey League win over the Kootenay Ice between a gathering of 4,274 at the Centrium.
“We had all lines going tonight and everybody was working hard, hitting and getting pucks to the net,” said Rebels captain Turner Elson, who along with linemate Rhyse Dieno potted a pair of goals.
“We had a little lapse in the second period, but we brought it together in the third and it was just a good overall win.”
Elson netted the eventual winner in the final minute of the middle frame, snapping a 2-2 tie when he jumped on a turnover created by Dieno and chipped the puck over the shoulder of Ice netminder Mackenzie Skapski from close range.
The Rebels then erupted for three unanswered third-period markers, including a pair from Dieno.
Dieno converted a nifty passing play that involved Elson and Brooks Maxwell at 6:16. Dominik Volek upped the count to 5-2 at 15:33 and Dieno closed out the scoring 49 seconds later when he cashed his own rebound during a Red Deer power play.
The Rebels’ top line combined for nine points as Dieno added two assists, Elson picked up a single helper and Maxwell assisted on two goals.
“We had a lot of energy. We played up tempo and we were communicating a lot out there. That just makes it so much easier,” said Elson, whose goals were his 17th and 18th of the season.
The Rebels carried the play early and staked themselves to a 2-0 lead on goals by Elson and Matt Bellerive. The Red Deer captain took advantage of a turnover by Ice forward Jaedon Descheneau and beat Skapski from the low slot barely four minutes into the contest, and Bellerive, following a feed from Scott Feser — who worked the puck nicely along the wall — caught the top of the net at 8:58.
The visitors cut into the deficit just over four minutes later as Brock Montgomery, from the faceoff circle, ripped a high shot past netminder Patrik Bartosak.
The Ice were all over their hosts for stretches of the second period and pulled even when Sam Reinhart took a rebound off the end boards, cut in front and beat Bartosak to the short side. But Elson notched the eventual winner — and was the architect of the TSN turning point — at 19:33, setting up the Rebels’ impressive third period.
“Our first period was decent, but the second period was not the type of period we like to play,” said Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We had a little discussion in the (dressing) room after the period and talked about what we need to be as a team and how we have to play. In the third we got our work ethic back and played more of the game we like to play, and that’s being a working team and a detailed team and creating some scoring chances.
“We were certainly better in the third and obviously that one line, our best players, stepped up here tonight and that’s what we need from our older guys.”
Bartosak turned aside 23 shots to post his 21st win of the season. Skapski made 24 saves at the other end.
The Rebels improved to 27-20-4-2 and moved five points clear of Swift Current and six up on Lethbridge in the battle for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Kootenay, one of the league’s hotter teams since Christmas, fell to 23-27-2-0 and sit ninth, five points back of Medicine Hat for the final playoff berth.
The Rebels play the first of a four-game stretch on the road when they take on the Hurricanes tonight at Lethbridge. Red Deer heads west next week for contests at Prince George, Seattle and Kamloops.
“We had to get some momentum before we go out on the road,” said Elson. “We knew this team (Ice) is wanting to get into the playoffs and we knew they were going to battle hard tonight. But we want that fourth spot just as badly and we have to take that (determination) into every game on this upcoming road trip.”
• Rebels forward Joel Hamilton is out indefinitely after suffering an upper-body injury in practice Wednesday and was replaced in the lineup by Vukie Mpofu, who was summoned from the Saskatoon Contacts.
Mpofu is second in scoring in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA League.
• Advocate’s three stars: (1) Elson . . . Red Deer captain picked up three points with a high-energy performance; (2) Dieno . . . His two goals gave him 18 in just 30 games since joining the Rebels in November; (3) Scott Feser . . . Showed his determination and on-ice intelligence during his best game in a Red Deer uniform.