The Red Deer Rebels were in position to come out of a difficult Western Hockey League weekend with three wins, but as legendary rocker Meat Loaf once suggested, two out of three ain’t bad.
After downing the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers 4-2 Friday, the Rebels blanked the Calgary Hitmen 4-0 Saturday at the Enmax Centrium. Then, with a weekend sweep on their minds, the Rebels ventured into the Calgary Saddledome Sunday evening and held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before falling 6-2 to the host Hitmen.
“We actually had a good first period and a pretty strong start in the second, too,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“Then we started playing too loose and too soft. And when you play that way against good teams they’ll take advantage of it.”
Conner Bleackley staked the Rebels to a 1-0 lead at 8:19 of the opening frame before Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen connected with six seconds remaining in the period.
Tyler Sandhu notched the final Red Deer goal — giving the visitors a 2-1 lead with a power-play tally at 7:17 of the middle stanza — setting the stage for three second-period Calgary goals from Kenton Helgesen, who tallied twice, and Pavel Kamaukhov, and unanswered third-period Hitmen markers from Adam Tambellini and Travis Sandheim.
“We didn’t play a great final 30 minutes,” said Sutter. “We never had the juice we needed to play the way we want to play.”
Neither team mounted a consistent offensive attack, with the Hitmen holding a 25-22 advantage in shots.
“They made their (chances) count, but it was more due to what we did, not anything they did,” said Sutter. “We had too many soft plays that cost us goals. We weren’t picking up men and we were soft on guys coming out of the corners. There were several mental breakdowns.”
Rylan Toth, who turned aside 23 shots Saturday night to record his first-ever WHL shutout, stopped 15 of 20 drives Sunday before being replaced by Taz Burman early in the third period.
Burman stopped four of five shots the rest of the way.
“Taz played well when he went in,” said Sutter.
Hitmen netminder Mack Shields made 17 saves.
l The Rebels got a couple of picturesque second-period goals from Scott Feser and Wyatt Johnson — who converted passes from Grayson Pawlenchuk and Feser, respectively, while breaking to the net — and a 23-save performance from Toth in a 4-0 home-ice win over the Hitmen.
Evan Polei, who connected at 11:28 of the opening frame, and Brett Cote, who scored a short-handed empty-netter with one minute remaining, also tallied.
“It was kind of a carry over from last night,” said Sutter.
“We knew it would be a tight-checking game. Both teams play a similar style. We just had to make sure we kept our mistakes to a minimum and were good with the puck with how we handled it, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Rebels also kept the puck away from Toth with a great display of blocking shots.
“That’s something we’ve been addressing for awhile. We did a great job of helping our goalie by blocking shots tonight,” said Sutter.
Meanwhile, Feser not only enjoyed a four-point evening that included three helpers, he rarely — if ever — lost a draw.
“I’ve been playing centre since I can remember,” said the 19-year-old Red Deer native.
“I can remember my dad, when he was coaching me when I was little, telling me to bear down (in the faceoff circle), so I learned that from an early age.
“I’m just trying to do the little things right, trying my best to chip in offensively and contribute that way, but the first thing is being a responsible player defensively and if that turns to offence and helps the team win, then all the better.”
The Rebels return to action Friday at Medicine Hat, then host the Swift Current Broncos 24 hours later.