CRANBROOK — The Red Deer Rebels knew what was on the line Tuesday and decided to settle matters early.
The Rebels entered their WHL meeting with the Kootenay Ice battling for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference and played with a distinct measure of urgency in the first period, jumping out to a three-goal lead en route to a 4-0 win before 1,981 fans at Western Financial Place.
“We had a good start. Our first period was excellent and Patty (netminder Patrik Bartosak) made some big saves,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Bartosak, in fact, might have turned the game in Red Deer’s favour with a stunning first-period stop.
“He made a big save to keep the score at 1-0,” said Sutter. “Their guy got an open shot in the slot and Patty made a big glove save and then we seemed to get momentum off of that. From there we capitalized on our opportunities.”
Brooks Maxwell opened the scoring with his 13th goal of the season 3:54 into the contest and Wyatt Johnson and Aspen Sterzer (power play), who assisted on Johnson’s tally, followed at 13:20 and 17:42.
From there, neither team could find the back of the net until Rhyse Dieno potted an empty-net marker for the Rebels with 1:50 remaining in the contest. Dieno also assisted on Sterzer goal to give him a two-point outing.
Red Deer came into the game tied with Prince Albert for the eighth spot in the conference, and considering the Raiders whipped the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors 9-2 Tuesday, it was essential that the Rebels keep pace with a victory.
“We were pretty steady tonight,” said Sutter. “It was a big game for us. It’s like playoff hockey for us now . . . like the playoffs have begun.”
The Rebels have six games remaining on their regular-season schedule, including tonight’s date with the host Medicine Hat Tigers.
“At the end of the day you know your opponents don’t get easier,” said Sutter. “We have to get better as each game comes along.”
Bartosak finished with 30 saves and was named the game’s first star, followed by Sterzer and Johnson. Ice netminder Mackenzie Skapski stopped 29 shots.
The Rebels host the Swift Current Broncos Friday and then re-visit Medicine Hat Saturday. Red Deer closes out regular-season play next week with a Wednesday date with the Ice at the Centrium and a home-and-home series with the Edmonton Oil Kings March 15-16.