Not to be picky, but the Red Deer Rebels weren’t painting masterpieces during portions of their six-game winning streak leading into Saturday’s WHL match with the Saskatoon Blades.
But their 3-0 win over the Blades before 5,266 spectators at the Centrium was a rightful Rembrandt, a 60-minute work of art.
“I thought right from the start to the finish we played well here tonight,” under-stated Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We played an up-tempo game, we had pace in our game. We want to be a team that plays on our toes.”
The Blades were on their heels for much of the evening, directing only 21 shots at Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak, who nevertheless was razor-sharp in recording his second shutout of the season. On Friday, Bartosak faced 41 shots in a wild 6-5 win over the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers.
‘We were certainly better defensively tonight. We played well on both sides of the puck,” said Sutter.
The Rebels got first-period goals from rookie Conner Bleackley and Tyson Ness and never looked back. Bleackley potted his seventh of the season four minutes into the contest and Ness got his eighth of the campaign with a spinning backhand 45 seconds prior to the intermission.
After a scoreless middle frame, captain Turner Elson toasted the evening with his ninth of the season just 26 seconds into the final period, beating netminder Andrey Makarov on a wrap-around. Makarov, the lone bright spot for the visitors, finished with 37 saves.
The Blades bounced a couple of shots off goal posts, but otherwise were never really in the game. They were second to the puck the entire evening.
“It was a team effort and everyone was going, everyone was rolling,” said Elson. “Patty was strong like he usually is and we got a lot of pucks to the net. It was just a good overall effort.”
The Rebels’ power play continued to struggle at zero-for-three, but their penalty kill was once again potent as the Blades were zero-for-four with a man advantage.
“We just have to outwork the five guys in front of us. That’s the only way you can beat a good power play and that’s what we did tonight,” said Elson.
And so the Rebels’ run has reached seven and the club’s confidence continues to soar.
“It feels like every time we come here we’re going to win the game,” said Elson. “We have lot of confidence and we have that swagger now which we didn’t have earlier in the year.”
The Rebels will head east on Tuesday — for games in Regina, Moose Jaw and Brandon on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — with the knowledge that they are coming off their most complete outing of the season.
“No question it was, for all 60 minutes,” said Sutter.
“After last night’s game we talked about needing to get better, about continuing to improve day to day. The message was let’s make sure our focus and preparation is where they need to be. Most importantly, let’s enjoy it, let’s have fun playing the game with emotion, passion and intensity. The kids have really bought into that. I’m not saying they weren’t before, but we’re a team that wants to play with pace and that’s a fun way to play the game.
“You’re going to make mistakes doing it, but that’s all right because you’re going to be there to support each other. We have to be a positive group and just worry about the process, not the end result. The end result will take care of itself if the process is right, if we’re mentally engaged the way we want to be. There’s nothing like having 20 guys playing together, pulling on the rope together and doing things the right way,” added Sutter.
Just one night after posting a 4-0 road win over the Calgary Hitmen, the 2013 Memorial Cup host Blades were dull.
“We had some posts out there tonight. If they go in (the outcome) could have been different,” said Blades forward and former Rebels captain Adam Kambeitz. “But the Rebels are a hard-working team. They came at us all night and didn’t give up. They worked hard for the win.”
Kambeitz admitted that facing the Rebels for the first time since being deal to Saskatoon in early October felt somewhat strange.
“It’s weird looking across the ice when the opponents are guys you’ve played with for four years,” he said. “It was strange but I had fun out there.”
The Blades opened the season with just two wins in their first nine games but are 6-4 in their last 10. Kambeitz is confident the best is yet to come, and soon.
“We’re trying to find that consistency but I think we’ve come a long way in the last while and I feel like we’re just going to go upward from here,” he said. “Personally, I’m starting to settle in and I feel I’m getting better every game.”