The point that got away spoiled an otherwise perfect Western Hockey League weekend for the Red Deer Rebels.
The Rebels pulled three points out of a two-game trip to Saskatchewan and were within 84 seconds of earning a fourth when defenceman Stefan Elliott connected to pull the Saskatoon Blades into a 3-3 tie on Saturday. The hosts went on to emerge victorious via a shootout, just as the Medicine Hat Tigers denied Red Deer the extra point three nights earlier at the Centrium.
“We played well all weekend. It was a real good game in Prince Albert where we had a good team effort and earned a big two points (in a 3-2 Friday victory),” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin on Sunday evening. “We had another good game last night, but it was frustrating to lose that point. But I certainly wasn’t disappointed with our play or our effort. I’d just like to see us find a way to bear down and get that extra point.”
The Rebels’ dogged work ethic has been front and centre in recent weeks with key forwards Nathan Green and Landon Ferraro lost to injuries.
“The effort has been there game in and game out and it needs to be,” said Wallin. “If you’re working you can poach off that and build off of it. Right now the players are holding one another accountable. These guys have really come together. They’re working hard for each other, they’re battling together and playing a solid team game. That has to continue as we move forward to where we want to go.”
After romping past the visiting Blades 5-1 one week earlier, the Rebels were poised to post another upset during the return visit. A go-ahead, power-play goal from captain Colin Archer at 1:28 of the third period was en route to holding up, but Elliott’s late volley, one of 28 Red Deer goaltender Darcy Kuemper faced, found the back of the net.
The Rebels’ speciality teams were truly special on this night. Andrej Kudrna and rearguard Alex Petrovic also scored with the Blades a man short and the visitors were a nifty three-for-six on the power play.
The Blades? Zero-for-three.
“Our power play was big and got us some goals, and in a game like that where you’re playing a good hockey team that didn’t play the night before, that’s key,” said Wallin. “You need your power play to step up and it did last night.”
As did the Rebels penalty kill, in a familiar fashion.
“Our penalty killing was been real good for six or seven games now,” said Wallin. “We haven’t changed anything on the penalty kill, but the guys are really starting to get confident with it. They’re just in a frame of mind when they go on the ice that they’re going to take care of business. They’re working hard at it. That’s another big part of the game. Special teams are huge and our penalty kill, especially, is something we want to take a lot of pride in and something that has to be good for us to have success.”
l Gaelan Patterson and Charles Inglis also scored for the Blades, who got a 20-save outing from Adam Morrison.
l Kudrna returned to Red Deer and will be participate in the Rebels’ practice session today before flying to Saskatoon on Tuesday. From there, he’ll head to Prince Albert to attend the training camp of Team Slovakia for the world junior championship. The 18-year-old forward will be lost to the Rebels until January and may miss as many as eight WHL games while competing in the WJC.
l Ferraro, meanwhile, is still in Vancouver where he’s seeing a specialist about his recurring knee injury. He’ll remains out indefinitely.
l The Rebels used prospect Chad Robinson on Friday in Prince Albert and the 16-year-old forward will be back in the Red Deer lineup on Tuesday versus the visiting Regina Pats.