The Red Deer Rebels and Lethbridge Hurricanes nearly ran out of time before putting some numbers on the scoreboard Saturday at the Centrium.
In the end, the visitors blew a pair of late one-goal leads and then failed to put a puck past Red Deer goalie Patrik Bartosak in the shootout as the Rebels skated off with a 3-2 Western Hockey League triumph before 4,910 fans.
“This is huge for the guys,” said Rhyse Dieno, whose goal at 18:28 of the third period forced overtime and whose shootout marker was the winner. “We went down in the third and battled back and they (Hurricanes) got another one. But we found a way to tie it up again and Patty was unreal in the shootout and we found a way to win.”
With the game just a little over eight minutes away from being scoreless through regulation time, the ‘Canes got a goal from defenceman Macoy Erkamps, his power-play point shot finding its way through a maze and past Bartosak at 11:22.
Red Deer rearguard Brady Gaudet answered just over three minutes later when his point shot bounced off the end boards, caught the back of goaltender Ty Rimmer’s skate and settled in the ‘Canes’ net.
Lethbridge regained the lead at 16:28 on Sam Mckechnie’s 22nd goal of the season, but Dieno answered exactly two minutes later, ripping a rebound past Rimmer.
“I kind of came flying into the zone and Hammy (Joel Hamilton) and Turner (Elson) worked the puck down low. Hammy poked it out to Turner, who got a shot on net. The puck bounced out to me and I put it into the open net,” said Dieno of his 15th goal of the season.
For the Rebels, it was just their fourth goal in a four-game stretch.
“It was getting kind of frustrating, but it felt good to get a couple here tonight and come out with the win against a team right behind us (in the standings),” said Dieno.
The Rebels forward credited his teammates for refusing to fold following the Hurricanes’ second goal.
“That kind of killed our momentum a bit, but the guys rallied on the bench,” he said. “A lot of the young guys were talking and stepping up and that got us old guys going and we found a way to tie it up and then win the game.”
Dieno tallied in the shootout while teammate Dominik Volek was stopped by Rimmer. When Bartosak foiled Reid Duke after stopping Axel Blomqvist and Brady Ramsay, the Rebels celebrated.
With the extra point, the Rebels — fourth in the Eastern Conference — moved four clear of the Hurricanes, who were buried 7-1 by the Oil Kings Sunday at Edmonton.
“It certainly had the intensity and the emotion of a playoff game, which is to be expected with these two teams being so close in the standings,” said Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “To be down twice in the third and battle back like that and eventually win the hockey game . . . kudos to the kids for staying with it. They played hard tonight.”
Hurricanes GM/bench boss Rich Preston was livid following Red Deer’s second goal, insisting that a tripping penalty should have been called when a Lethbridge player went down in the defensive zone.
“It was a tripping call. They (referees Adam Bylbow and Reagan Vetter) put their whistles away and it ends up in our net,” said Preston. “Our guy has the puck, he gets tripped, they (Rebels) get it and it’s in the net. But that happens.
“We blew two one-goal leads and that was the difference. At least one of those should have been the winner. But we gained a big point and now we have to move on. That’s all you can do.”
The Rebels host the Kootenay Ice at 7 p.m. Thursday and visit the Hurricanes the following night. Red Deer will then head west for games Feb. 6, 8 and 9 at Prince George, Seattle and Kamloops.
l Advocate’s three stars: (1) Rhyse Dieno — Had a goal and an assist in regulation time and provided the shootout winner; (2) Ty Rimmer — Hurricanes netminder turned aside 43 shots; (3) Patrik Bartosak — Was his usual stellar self while making 29 saves and then stoning the visitors in the shootout.