CALGARY — With six games remaining on their schedule don’t count the Red Deer Rebels out of finishing first in the Western Hockey League’s Central Division.
They put themselves in position to do just that with a pair of victories over the third-place Calgary Hitmen during the weekend.
The opened with a 3-2 win at home Friday, then stepped into the Hitmen’s backyard Sunday and came away with an entertaining 4-3 victory before 9,328 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Rebels are now nine points up on the Hitmen and three back of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who they face twice next weekend — Friday on the road and Saturday at home.
“This was a big weekend for us as we’re now nine points up on the Hitmen and we hadn’t won in Calgary this season,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “The guys showed some confidence.
“We’re now nipping at the heels of Lethbridge, but the schedule isn’t getting any easier. We face them (Hurricanes) twice and Calgary once more.”
But the Rebels have also won five of their last six games and appear to be showing the work ethic needed heading into the playoffs.
“Our work ethic has been better and our compete level,” said Sutter. “There are a couple of things we need to do in the next couple of weeks. One, as individuals we need to make sure we’re playing where we need to be. Two, our team game has to be consistent and we have to crank it up.”
The Rebels grabbed a 2-0 lead on Sunday with Colton Bobyk scoring his 16th of the season at 9:25 of the first period on the power play. Evan Polei also notched his 16th at 4:59 of the second period. However, the Rebels struggled in the middle stanza and were outshot 14-4.
But goaltender Trevor Martin allowed only a goal by Travis Sanheim and the Rebels led 2-1 after 40 minutes.
“The first period we were good but the second period we ran into some penalty trouble and they took the momentum away from us,” said Sutter. “However, our guys responded well in the third, even once they tied it.
“In fact overall we did a good job of killing penalties and our goaltender, who has to be your best penalty killer, was very good.”
Carson Twarynski tied the game for the Hitmen at 4:18 of the third period, but Jake DeBrusk put the Rebels back ahead with his 20th goal at 6:47. Luke Philp scored his 19th of the season into an empty net at 18:36 and it proved to be the winner with Jody Stallard beating Martin at 19:03 with netminder Cody Porter on the bench.
Martin finished with 23 saves while Porter had 22.
The Rebels return to action Tuesday when they host Prince Albert at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
“That’s another big game and we have to make sure we’re ready to go,” concluded Sutter.