Rebels 3 Hitmen 0
Ethan Anders breathed a sigh of relief when the final buzzer sounded.
The Red Deer Rebels 19-year-old netminder was dialed from puck drop Saturday and looked calm as the pressure mounted Saturday night at the Centrium.
Anders finished with 41 saves, including 15 in the third for the 3-0 shutout over the Calgary Hitmen, his first since Nov. 16, 2018, a span of 64 games.
“A big sigh of relief. That felt awesome. Just gotta keep it going now. Keep it going for the rest of the season,” said Anders of the feeling when the buzzer sounded Saturday.
“It has been a tough year, but I think it’s one I can use for mental strength. It’s one to learn from for sure.”
After carrying a save percentage above 0.900 for most of his WHL career, Anders has struggled this season on the young Rebels squad. He had an 0.879 SV% heading into Saturday and a 4.10 goals against average to go along with only eight wins in 28 games.
“I’ve been having a couple good weeks of practice, just starting to carry it into the games right now. Just when I get out there, having a little more fun, enjoying it a bit more and I think that’s helping a lot,” Anders said.
He was undoubtedly the best player in the contest Saturday, as the Rebels were outshot 31-10 through the final 40 minutes.
His effort between the pipes also included helping the Rebels finish a perfect four-for-four on the penalty kill in the victory.
“Our goalie was the best player on the ice. Our penalty killing was superb. Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer. It all goes hand in hand with how we played all night,” Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“It was a great effort by Andy and we did a lot of things well.”
Ben King opened the scoring in the first, just 46 seconds into the game. He tipped a Joel Sexsmith point shot in for his 14th goal of the year.
It was just the first time in six games this season that the Rebels have led the Hitmen.
Red Deer struggled with four straight minor penalties in the second and gave some momentum to the visitors, but they were able to kill them all off.
The home side had been on the wrong end of a pair of late-game comebacks over the past week, but a goal from Dallon Melin made sure that wasn’t possible.
Melin scored a huge goal 7:01 into the third period, forcing a turnover at the Hitmen blueline and deking past Jack McNaughton for his seventh goal of the year. Up to that point in the final frame, the Hitmen had all kinds of pressure on the Rebels.
“I thought the penalties in the second took some momentum away from us. We killed them off and it was a big goal by Meller, to get us up two,” Sutter said.
“You look at our last two games we played before tonight, we lost the games in the last minute. We stayed with it and found a way.”
Cam Hausinger added an insurance marker for the Rebels with 3:04 left to play.
Jack McNaughton made 15 saves in the loss for Calgary.
The Rebels received a welcome boost on the weekend when Kyle Masters returned to the lineup after missing nearly three months with a lower-body injury. For a team that has struggled defensively over the last few weeks, Masters helped steady the ship on the backend.
“He’s a very good player and he makes plays. He’s so good at going back there and getting pucks and making that first pass, whether he beats somebody or he’s strong coming around the net,” Sutter said of the 17-year-old blueliner.
The win Saturday also helps the Rebels’ confidence heading into a tough five-game road trip through B.C. They kick off the trip Tuesday night in Victoria against the Royals.
” It’s important obviously. Confidence and just when you those types of games like we did the last two, you get right down to the end and you end up losing, that can work the other way for you confidence-wise,” Sutter said.
“It’s nice to have the response and play like we did… every little thing we go through, you hope we learn from it and gain experience so it can help us down the road.”