Medicine Hat Tiger Steven Owre tries to get the handle on the puck after being upended in front of Red Deer Rebel goaltender Rylan Toth at the Centrium in Red Deer on Friday night.

Slow start, late lapse proves costly for Rebels

The Red Deer Rebels were spectators instead of soldiers in the first period and then broke down in the homestretch of Friday’s Western Hockey League meeting with the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Tigers 5 Rebels 1

The Red Deer Rebels were spectators instead of soldiers in the first period and then broke down in the homestretch of Friday’s Western Hockey League meeting with the Medicine Hat Tigers.

The slow start and late lapse proved costly in a 5-1 loss to the visitors in front of 4,819 fans at the Enmax Centrium.

“The first period hurt us,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes. “We didn’t have a good first period, we spent a lot of time without the puck and chasing. Our fundamentals and details with our game weren’t good.”

To the Rebels’ credit, they carried the play through the second period and into the third and trailed by just a single goal when the Tigers pulled away with a trio of late markers.

Medicine Hat’s third goal was a back-breaker and somewhat of a fluke, as defenceman Tommy Vannelli’s shot deflected off Red Deer defenceman Haydn Fleury and past netminder Rylan Toth with 6:16 remaining.

From there, Chad Butcher scored on a breakaway at 18:33, and Alex Mowbray, from just inside the blueline, blew a power-play slapshot past Toth in the final minute.

Tigers rearguard Kyle Becker scored twice in the opening frame, with Toth screened on both shots, and with the visitors holding a 15-6 advantage in shots through the first 20 minutes, it appeared that it might be a long night for the home side.

The Rebels, though, turned the tables in the middle frame, outshooting their guests 13-7 while getting a goal from Nick Charif, who beat Tigers stopper Marek Langhamer from the high slot late in the period. The play was set up by a heavy open-ice hit by Charif’s defensive partner, Brett Cote.

“We got ourselves back in it in the second, we played a really good period,” said Sutter. “Then we were good for 14 or 15 minutes in the third before we had a breakdown on a four-on-four. Again, that was just a fundamental mistake, just a lack of coverage that we work on daily in practice.

“We made a couple of mental mistakes with our coverage and we just didn’t recover from that. It was a meltdown in the last five minutes.”

That, and a rather pedestrian first period. Goaltending wasn’t an issue for the Rebels, as Toth couldn’t be faulted on the five shots that beat him — three of which he never saw, one on a delection and another on a breakaway.

Toth finished with 30 saves, while Langhamer made 27 stops, at least a half dozen of which were high-quality chances.

“Our start was good, then Red Deer outplayed us through the middle part of the game and our goaltender was real solid, really strong,” said Tigers bench boss Shaun Clouston.

“Then I thought as the third period went on we got back to it and spent a little more time in their zone, and then obviously it was a huge goal that Vannelli scored. That seemed to deflate Red Deer a bit. To that point, the game was still up for grabs, for sure.”

Rebels captain Conner Bleackley pretty much agreed with his coach in regards to how the contest played out.

“The start is kind of what killed us tonight,” said Bleackley. “Through the first 20 (minutes) we were kind of non-existent, we didn’t move the puck all period.

“We turned it around in the second and that third goal of their’s definitely deflated us. But we can’t roll over like that. We have to play all the way to end, you never know what can happen in this league.”

On a positive note, the Rebels could take solace in the fact they proved they can play with a top team like the Tigers, who improved to 7-1-0-0 and sit atop the Eastern Conference.

“We outplayed them for the most part of the second period,” said Bleackley, whose club fell to 3-4-0-0. “It just goes to show that when we’re playing our game and doing things right we can play with anybody in the league.

“Now it’s just a matter of playing like that for 60 minutes.”

The Rebels face another tough opponent tonight in the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings, who have yet to lose in regulation time this season and own a record of 5-0-1-0.

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