The Red Deer Rebels have been playing a desperate game as of late and their determination paid off with a Western Hockey League victory Friday night at the Enmax Centrium.
The Rebels were the superior team through the better part of a scoreless two periods and watched the ‘Canes strike first early in the third period. But they didn’t abandon their game plan and did all their damage over the final 16 minutes in a 4-1 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in front of 5,194 fans.
“It was one of those games where you just had to stay with it. It was a tight-checking type of game,” said Red Deer GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“I thought we had some quality scoring chances in the second period, we just didn’t bury our opportunities and their goalie made a couple of big saves. For the most part we were really good five-on-five. They got some chances off their power play, but we didn’t give up a whole lot even strength.”
The Rebels held a 22-13 advantage in shots through 40 minutes without being rewarded. And when ‘Canes overage forward Zane Jones buried a rebound at 3:07 of the final frame — just a split second after Red Deer netminder Rylan Toth made a sizzling pad save on Riley Sheen — the visitors could smell an upset.
But Tyler Sandhu scored his first of two goals on the evening just 69 seconds later, burying a rebound of a shot by linemate Grayson Pawlenchuk, and the Rebels were off and running.
“We stayed with it. Even after they got that first goal we never got fazed, we just stayed with our game,” said Sutter. “That was a big goal by Sandhu, it allowed us to get our momentum back right away.”
Sandhu then notched the eventual winner at 9:24, capping a nifty three-way passing play that involved Pawlenchuk and Conner Bleackley.
“They did all the work on that one,” said Sandhu, saluting his linemates. “I just had to tap it in.
“Big thanks to Bleacks and Pawly, they made some nice plays. That was a good shot by Pawly on my first goal. The puck came right onto my stick, if I would have missed that I probably would have been a little mad. They created a couple of great plays and I was just lucky to get those bounces.”
Brooks Maxwell, while parked just outside of the crease, tipped Haydn Fleury’s point shot past Hurricanes netminder Zac Robidoux at 14:40, and Scott Feser added an empty-net goal three minutes later when Tyler Johnson passed up the shot and instead fed his teammate.
Robidoux was sharp through two periods and finished with 31 saves. Toth, meanwhile, stopped 19 shots for his ninth win of the season and was calm and composed through the entire game.
“He’s certainly a goalie we’ve been leaning on and rightly so, he’s earned it,” said Sutter. “Any team that wants to have success needs goaltending and Tother has certainly given us that.
“Burms (Taz Burman) has also been really good at times. We just have to stay with these young kids and develop them.”
The victory was the Rebels’ seventh over a 10-game stretch. The team has lost just once in regulation time during that span.
“We just tried to go out there and work hard,” said Sandhu. “We just came off a good road trip that took us through the U.S. and we wanted to keep it up at home. We kept pucks in their end tonight and overall I thought we did a good job.”
The Rebels, who are tied with the Calgary Hitmen for third place in the Central Division, one point behind the Edmonton Oil Kings and six back of the front-running Medicine Hat Tigers, host the Saskatoon Blades tonight.
l Referee Tyler Adair, working alone, called just two penalties Friday — both to the Rebels.