Suddenly, home cooking is tasting awfully good to the Red Deer Rebels.
The Rebels, who struggled on home ice last season and early this fall, posted their third straight Western Hockey League victory at the Enmax Centrium Tuesday night, 5-3 over the Medicine Hat Tigers — tied with Brandon for first place in the Eastern Conference — in front of 3,893 fans.
“That’s obviously a very good team we played, but if we play the game the right way like we did the last two periods tonight, we can play with teams like this,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who got a majestic, 30-save performance from netminder Ryan Toth. “We stayed with it tonight. We were resilient and Tother was huge for us throughout the game.”
Fourth-line forward Devan Fafard scored the winner at 6:45 of the third period, snapping a 3-3 tie with a sharp-angle shot that squeezed through the pads of Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer, who finished with 20 saves.
Wyatt Johnson added an insurance marker eight minutes later, beating Langhamer from the high slot. The Tigers pressed down the stretch but Toth came up with a series of sizzling stops and the Rebels hung on for their sixth win of the season.
“That feels really good to beat the best team in our division, for sure,” said Toth, who stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third period with the game on the line. “It was a full team effort. Everyone played well.
“The guys did a real good job of blocking shots and getting out of the way and giving me a chance to see the puck. I got a couple of lucky (stops) there and that’s what you need to win.”
Tigers defenceman Tyler Lewington notched the lone goal of the opening period, shoving a loose puck in the crease past Toth, but the Rebels replied in the middle frame with consecutive tallies from rearguard Austin Strand and Meyer Nell. Strand scored on a wrist shot from the point that eluded a screened Langhamer, and Nell, from the faceoff circle, caught the far corner midway through the frame with Red Deer on a power play.
The Rebels gave that one back just 47 seconds later when Cole Sanford pulled the trigger on a three-on-one, short-handed break, and the visitors regained the lead at 15:13 when Steve Owre broke to the net and converted a feed from Trevor Cox.
But Rebels second-year forward Grayson Pawlenchuk gobbled up a stretch pass from Haydn Fleury, broke in alone and scored on a backhand deke with two minutes remaining in the period.
“The first period wasn’t a great period for us, we had a lot of turnovers,” said Sutter.
“But we beared down a little better in the second and third and our details were certainly a lot better. We had everyone engaged the last two periods.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when the Rebels’ fragile psyche might have been shattered by Owre’s go-ahead goal, but the club’s resolve has clearly been stronger over the past three outings.
“We regrouped over the last week. We had some good practices and did some things that we needed to do with our mindset,” said Sutter. “We challenged the players to be better just not as individuals but also as a group and we were able to win three in a row at home here before we hit the road.”
The Rebels open a six-game trip Friday against the Kootenay Ice, then cross the border to engage all five U.S.-based teams.
“We have a lot of games on the road coming up and we have to be road warriors now,” said Sutter. “This was a good way to finish off this homestand. I credit the kids for staying with it tonight. They kept battling and they were resilient.”
Toth, a WHL rookie, admitted his ability to stand tall and fend off the speedy, highly-skilled Tigers was good for his confidence.
“Especially beating a team like that. They’re such a good team,” said the 18-year-old. “We won’t be home for awhile now so it feels good to win three in a row here.”
• The Rebels visit the Spokane Chiefs Saturday, then take on the Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks and Tri-City Americans over a five-day stretch starting next Tuesday . . . Red Deer’s next home game is Nov. 14 versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes . . . The Rebels were minus the services of injured defencemen Nick Charif (lower body, indefinite), Josh Mahura (upper body, day-to-day) and Hugo Jansons (upper body, indefinite) as well as centre Brayden Burke (lower body, four to six weeks). Winger Mason McCarty was a healthy scratch . . . The three stars, as selected by the Advocate, were (1) Toth, (2) Rebels forward Adam Musil, who picked up two assists, and (3) Trevor Cox, who had three helpers for the Tigers.