The Red Deer Rebels were fortunate to come out on the right end of a Western Hockey League encounter with the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday.
However, head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t apologizing for a 2-1 shootout win over the Warriors, who outplayed their hosts for more than 50 per cent of the contest and held a 43-29 advantage in shots.
“There are times through the years when you’re going to win some games you probably don’t deserve to win, and there are times when you play extremely well and don’t win. So it kinds of evens out through the season,” said Sutter.
“Tonight was one of those nights we certainly didn’t have our A game. But I was proud of the young men with the way we played in the third period. We didn’t have a very good first two periods but we were much better in the third, we played and competed a lot harder. Some character and leadership that we needed showed up in the third and we found a way to win.
“At the end of the season we’re not going to look back on this game and say’ geez, we sure didn’t play well in that game.’ We’re going to look back and say we found a way to win. These are big points. Every point you get is huge,” added Sutter.
With the vast majority of the 5,057 fans still in their Centrium seats, Conner Bleackley ended the game as the eighth contestant in the shootout, ripping a high shot past goaltender Daniel Wapple.
But it was Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak who was the man of the hour on this night. The second-year Czech stopper was named first star of the game for turning in the type of performance that has become the norm in recent weeks.
“I don’t think it’s about me. I still think it’s about the team,” he said. “At the start of the season those goals I let in I didn’t see too many shots, so it was kind of hard. Now the team is helping me with defence a lot and I can see 90 to 95 per cent of the shots. I make 43 saves (tonight) but those are not hard saves, just regular saves.”
Justin Kirsch was the lone Warrior to solve Bartosak in regulation time, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead late in the second period when he buried a puck that bounced out of a scrum in front of the Red Deer net. Brayden Point also put a puck past Bartosak in the shootout, but Rhyse Dieno had already scored for the Rebels and Bleackley ended the match just after Warriors star defenceman Morgan Rielly failed to connect.
Mathew Dumba’s power-play goal at 4:23 of the third held up the rest of the period and took the game to a scoreless overtime. Dumba took a feed from captain Turner Elson and placed a shot to the top corner.
“We’re going out every time feeling that we’re going to win. It’s nice to have that confidence and that swagger,” said Elson of the Rebels’ fifth consecutive win since Sutter replaced Jesse Wallin as head coach. “The biggest thing is that Patty has been unreal, he’s the best goaltender in the league right now. He makes us a better team.”
The Rebels’ penalty kill — third-best in the league — has also been lights out. Lethbridge was zero-for-two on the power play in a 2-1 shootout loss to Red Deer on Friday and the Warriors were zero-for-four with a man advantage. Moose Jaw had a pair of power plays four minutes apart in the third period.
“Our penalty killing has been pretty good most of the year and tonight it was huge,” said Sutter. “The penalty kill was certainly a difference in the third period. It gave us a chance.”
The Rebels bench boss gave props to Elson and Bartosak.
“He’s your top forward. He’s your captain and we need that leadership from him,” Sutter said of Elson. “Turner puts a lot of responsibility and accountability on his shoulders and that’s why he’s our captain. He says the right things in the dressing room, he’s very well respected and he goes out and leads by example.”
As for Bartosak . . .
“Barts is obviously a very good goalie and goaltending is always the cornerstone of your hockey team,” said Sutter. “Tonight we gave up too many shots against, but we’ve also played five games in eight nights, too, and a lot went on before these five games approached us. The players all handled it pretty darn well, but Barts was certainly rock solid and he was outstanding again tonight.”
The Rebels are idle until the weekend when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers and Saskatoon Blades on Friday and Saturday.