All Taz Burman wanted for Christmas was a start in the Red Deer Rebels’ net.
On Sunday he got his wish in the second half of a home-and-home series with the Edmonton Oil Kings (16-16-3-2), and he stopped 28 of 29 shots to backstop the Rebels (20-13-3-1) to a 3-1 win in front of 5,483 fans at the Centrium.
It was Burman’s first start since a 6-3 loss in Everett to the Silvertips on Nov. 5.
“It was tough not starting, it’s not what I wanted, but I knew I haven’t played the way I could so far this year, so it was really good to get in there, have a good start and feel good and get a win,” he said.
Rebels captain Conner Bleakley rallied his team with two third-period goals while Brooks Maxwell added an empty netter.
Andrew Koep scored Edmonton’s lone goal in the second period while Memorial Cup winning goalie Tristan Jarry stopped 26 shots in the loss.
The story was Burman, however. Though he was not called upon to make too many highlight-reel saves, he didn’t give up any weak goals or make any costly mistakes. The lone goal against was not his fault.
The Rebels failed to clear the puck, turning it over in the slot, and then Koep ripped it top corner at 10:43 of the second period.
Beyond that, he was solid, especially for a goalie who had only seen the ice once in the last month in relief, allowing three goals on 11 shots in a 9-5 loss to the Calgary Hitmen at the Centrium on Dec. 2.
“I’m usually a little bit nervous before a game, but nothing too far out of control,” said Burman. “I’ve been having some good practices lately so we’re just trying to take that and move it into the game. I know what I’m capable of so there was no reason to get too worked up.”
The second year goalie carried a 1-3-0-0 record, a 4.19 goals against average and an .835 save percentage into Sunday’s game — those numbers improved to 3.59 G.A.A. and .862 save percentage with the win.
For a team that has leaned heavily on starting goalie Rylan Toth (17-10-3-1, 2.89 G.A.A., and .899 save percentage), if Burman can prove to be a reliable No. 2 netminder, it could be critical to their success this season.
“It’s exactly what we wanted from (Taz),” said Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter. “There were no rebounds, I thought he was very under control, he was poised in net, he’s seeing the puck, he was obviously focused and ready to play.”
Toth got the win in Red Deer’s 3-2 win in Edmonton on Saturday, making 30 saves, while Wyatt Johnson scored twice and Bleakley once for the Rebels. Ben Carroll and Brett Pollock responded for Edmonton while Jarry made 26 stops.
It helped Burman’s bid for his first win since Nov. 1, that the Rebels were a different team in the final 20 minutes of game.
After a competitive first period, they went through the motions in the middle frame.
Sutter made a few key changes in the intermission and the Rebels came out and dominated the third period.
They were led by Bleakley, who was playing with a heavy heart after two friends were killed in a car accident in High River this past week — he left immediately after the game to get home for at least one of the funerals.
“He’s our leader for a reason,” said Sutter.
“In the last month, he’s back to the Conner that we know and he can make things happen on the ice, he can dominate.”
The first Bleakley goal came off a missed shot 8:44 in the third period. The puck was fished out from behind the net by Austin Adamson who shovelled it to Bleakley alone in the slot, and he beat Jarry over his glove for his 16th goal of the season.
Bleakley’s second goal was all about determination.
With time ticking down in regulation, Bleakley had the puck along the side boards to the right of Jarry. Oil Kings defenceman Blake Orban had position on him, but Bleakley managed to spin away, cut to the net and find the top shelf in close once again, to give Red Deer the lead at 17:45.
Burman did the rest of the work in shutting down the Oil Kings.
“(Bleakley) comes up in the clutch, that’s what great players do and he’s a great player and he’s our leader and our captain,” said Burman. “To have him come up big like that is unbelievable.”
Red Deer was without their newest addition, defenceman Colton Bobyk who was acquired, along with a fourth round draft pick in 2016, in a trade with the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday for blue-liner Nick Charif, a second round pick in 2015 and a sixth round pick in 2016.
He should be in the lineup on Tuesday when the Rebels host the Swift Current Broncos (18-15-0-4) at 7 p.m.
“I’m hoping we get him through a practice and see how that goes and how he feels,” said Sutter, noting Bobyk, a member of the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs Telus Cup championship team 2013, has been injured for much of the year. “If not (Tuesday) then the game after. There’s no panic on him, but we’re excited about implementing him in our lineup, he’s going to help our defence that much more.”
NOTES — Red Deer was 0-for-4 on the power play while Edmonton was 0-for-2 … Bleakley’s second goal was his 17th of the season, tying him for the team lead with Johnson, though Bleakley now has the team lead in points with 32 … The Rebels were without forward Adam Musil who is day-to-day with a lower body injury, Mario Grman and Austin Schmoorkoff were also scratches. The Oil Kings were without Memorial Cup hero Edgars Kulda who is due back soon from a lower body injury as is fellow forward Cole Benson, while rookie Mads Eller is at the World Junior Hockey Championship playing for Denmark.