Pressure? What pressure?
Jayden Sittler clearly gets a kick out of stopping pucks in his hometown, whether it be with the Kootenay Ice or, as is the current case, the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The 18-year-old Red Deer product beat the Rebels early last season after being recalled by the Ice as an emergency replacement, and on Saturday posted his second consecutive WHL win over Red Deer as a member of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Sittler ran his Centrium all-time record to 3-0, making 30 regulation-time saves in a 3-2 shootout triumph before a recorded crowd of 5,887.
“I love playing here,” he said. “I feel really comfortable here, really calm. When the crowd says my name at the very beginning of the game, it gets me going. I definitely love playing here and especially winning here. That’s my favourite part of it.
“I want to prove myself in front of the home crowd and I think I’ve done that so far. It was a good game all around tonight. The guys played great in front of me and we found a way to get it done in a shootout.”
Sittler was beaten by Connor Gay as the Rebels’ first man up in the shootout, then denied Haydn Fleury, Adam Musil, Scott Feser and Presten Kopeck. Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth surrendered a goal to the ‘Canes first shooter, Jamal Watson, then foiled Mike Winther, Georgio Estephan and Tyler Wong before Kord Pankewicz connected to end the contest.
The setback dropped the Rebels’ record to 5-10 in extra-time games this season and GM/head coach Brent Sutter suggested there’s a reason for that.
“I didn’t think we were very good at all in the first period,” he said. “I ended up having to sit half our team in the first period because they were chasing the game and they weren’t involved.
“We played better in the second and third and we had our chances in overtime. Again, you get into a shootout and you never know what’s going to happen. We don’t have success in shootouts and a lot of it has to do with the fact that most games, if you go back and see the games where we were in shootouts, we didn’t play a full game. The hockey gods don’t give you that extra point when it’s like that a majority of the time. Just like when you take a bad penalty . . . if you do that you usually get scored against.”
The Rebels certainly didn’t turn in a solid 65-minute performance Saturday, despite holding a 32-30 edge in shots.
The hosts started slow, but opened the scoring at 11:07 of the first period when rookie Reese Johnson potted his first ever WHL goal, depositing a rebound from the edge of the crease. Trochu native Mike Winther pulled the visitors even four minutes later, connecting with a shot from along the goal line.
Musil tipped a power-play point shot by Gay past Sittler early in the second period to restore the Rebels’ lead, but the ‘Canes got back on even terms once again when Wong worked his way across the low slot and beat Toth with a wide move at 13:05 of the frame.
The ‘Canes outshot their hosts 10-8 in a scoreless third period and were outshot 3-0 in the five-minute overtime stanza. Red Deer picked up a single point one night after posting a 5-3 home-ice win over the Prince Albert Raiders, but Sutter was far from satisfied.
I don’t think the players should be happy with getting three out of four points this weekend,” he said. “We start playoffs in about a month and we need to get a lot more from some guys. I wasn’t impressed at all with a couple of our 20-year-olds tonight, they have to be a lot better for us. They have the ability to be better, but they have to be willing to throw themselves into it. And that’s not just a couple of guys, you can go down a whole list of guys.”
The Rebels were minus the services of defenceman Colton Bobyk and forwards Conner Bleackley and Evan Polei, all out with injuries, as well as rookie forward Jeff de Wit, who was a healthy scratch. But Sutter wasn’t making alibis, and instead stressed the need for the healthy players to contribute more.
“We just need more from some individuals, that’s the bottom line,” he stated. “If we’re going to have success and we want to play late into the spring, we have to get more from some guys . . . there has to be more urgency in our game and more drive.
“At this time of the year you have to crank yourself up to another level, this is when you get yourselves ready for the playoffs. We’ve been really struggling the last little while and it comes down to how bad do they want to play and how bad do they want to play in the spring.”
Reese Johnson, the younger brother of third-year Rebels veteran Wyatt, looked right at home while competing in his third WHL game.
“That’s just an example . . . he’s been one of our better forwards the last two games,” said Sutter. “He’s a 16-year-old that’s what’s scary about it, scary in the sense that as an older player you should almost be embarrassed because a 16-year-old comes in from triple A midget and is one of your better players. And he’s not going to come out of the lineup, that’s just the way it is. There will be other guys who will be starting to come out if they aren’t doing what’s asked of them.”
Sutter continued to challenge his players while asking for a full commitment from each one of them over the remaining 10 regular-season games and into the playoffs.
“We need to have everyone dialed in and if we don’t have that we struggle,” he said. “Tonight is an example. You can’t play 35 or 40 minutes and expect to win a game. We’re not consistent with getting that 60 minutes we need.
“I can live with mistakes, I have no problem with mistakes, but they have to be honest ones and tonight in the first period we had an abundance of dishonest mistakes. We can’t play that way. Again, at some point in time your leadership group has to take that and there’s a couple or three guys who are trying. But we need to have everyone doing it and it can’t always come from the coaching staff, that doesn’t always work. It has to come from within the group.”
The Rebels head out Tuesday on a three-game road trip that will start that night in Medicine Hat and will include stops in Swift Current and Cranbrook on Wednesday and Friday. Red Deer’s next home game is Saturday versus the Regina Pats.