The Red Deer Rebels were taken to the woodshed Saturday night, but GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t about to pile on the punishment.
“It’s a good learning curve for us. It shows you that this game is about emotion and intensity,” said a surprisingly-calm Sutter, following a gruesome 6-1 Western Hockey League loss to the Kelowna Rockets before 5,521 spectators, many of whom were out the Centrium doors at the second intermission.
“Tonight we were just second best in everything we did. The easiest thing would be to come to the rink tomorrow and have a bag skate, but that’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is get the guys back to where they can be focused and in the right frame of mind.
“We have another game here before the Christmas break (Tuesday versus the visiting Kootenay Ice) and we have to come back to the rink on Monday and be ready to get to work and be ready for our next game. That has to be our focus.”
The quicker the Rebels discard themselves of the memories of Saturday’s ugly setback, the better.
Red Deer opened the scoring a mere 71 seconds into the contest when Wyatt Johnson took a rebound off the end boards and jammed it past Rockets netminder Jackson Whistle, then roared right back to the attack. Only the splendid play of Whistle kept the hosts from opening a larger lead.
“We had some scoring chances early. We had a couple of two-on-ones, a three-one-one and hit a couple of posts,” said Sutter. “But we never capitalized.”
Instead, the visitors pulled even on Mitchell Wheaton’s first goal of the season at 2:28, then connected 17 seconds apart late in the period, with Myles Bell ripping a shot from just inside the point past goaltender Spencer Tremblay — making his first-ever start for Red Deer — at 18:54 and Madison Bowey striking at 19:11.
“They got that first goal on us, then we didn’t play smart hockey after that and seemed to lose our focus,” said Sutter. “That’s the part that we as coaches need to continue to work on with this group — the mental part of the game.
“We’re a 10-2-1 team in our last 13 games, but we have to make sure to a man that we recognize the differences between when we play well and when we don’t play well.”
The Rebels didn’t offer much in the way of push-back over the final two periods, especially in the middle frame when the Rockets struck for three more goals. Defenceman Damon Severson beat Tremblay with a shot from the top of the circle at 9:45, J.T. Barnett upped the count to 5-1 eight minutes later and Tyson Baillie broke in alone and ripped a shot to the top of the net in the final minute.
Tremblay had a rough outing in his Red Deer debut. He finished with 28 saves but never looked comfortable.
Whistle also stopped 28 shots, but was a big reason the Rockets weren’t down two or three goals in the first two minutes.
“Red Deer had a lot of energy early and I thought we were a bit flat,” said Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska. “Jackson made some saves and allowed us to get our legs underneath of us, and once we scored a few goals I thought we got better.”
Forward Scott Feser was in the Rebels lineup after being summoned from the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL. He drew an assist on Red Deer’s lone goal and got passing grades from Sutter.
“I thought he came in and played well,” said Sutter. “He got here just before game time and gave us what we needed from him. He’s been playing well at Camrose, he’s had a good season to date. Tonight’s game was another step for him towards getting ready to play at this level.”
l Advocate’s three stars: 1. Damon Severson . . . Rockets defenceman was rock-solid and scored once; (2) Tyson Baillie . . . a goal and an assist for the visitors; (3) Zach Franko . . . Slick Kelowna forward assisted on two goals.