The Red Deer Rebels got a much-needed victory on Wednesday night.
Twenty-four hours after a blowout loss in Brandon, the Rebels responded by beating the Moose Jaw Warriors 5-1 on the road at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.
Head coach Derrick Walser said it was a great bounce-back game for his team.
“We challenged them pretty hard. Obviously, as a group, we were not happy about our performance [on Tuesday]. Can’t play one period and win a hockey game,” he said.
“It’s all about our compete level and we came out tonight and competed. It was great.”
The Rebels got on the board first. With 6:45 remaining in the opening period forward Dwayne Jean Jr. fired in his second goal of the year off a pass from Samuel Drancak.
Both teams were held off the scoresheet in the second period but it wasn’t for a lack of scoring opportunities. Rebels goaltender Chase Wutzke came up with a few big saves to keep his team on top.
In the third period, the Warriors finally got the equalizer just two minutes into the frame off the stick of the WHL’s third-leading scorer, Jagger Firkus.
The Warriors applied plenty of offensive pressure before Firkus finally beat Wutzke for his 25th goal of the season.
However, with 9:45 left in the game, the Rebels reclaimed their lead. Forward Frantisek Formanek fired a near-perfect shot that beat Warriors netminder Jackson Unger on the offensive rush from defenceman Mats Lindgren.
The Warriors pushed for the equalizer once again and nearly had it if it wasn’t for a great effort by defenceman Matteo Fabrizi who knocked the puck away as it trickled through the crease.
Red Deer added back-to-back empty net goals from Talon Brigley and Kai Uchacz in the final few minutes to seal the deal. Rookie Evan Smith also notched his second of the season 15 seconds later to give the Rebels a 5-1 lead.
The Rebels had another great performance from Wutzke who stopped 21 of 22 shots on net. Walser explained his young netminder was fantastic in the win.
“Both of our goalies have been great as of late and it’s great. They get along and push each other, and Wutzke was confident in the net. He’s feeling it,” Walser said.
The win is an important one for the Rebels who remain in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as they approach the midway point of the season.
The Warriors remain in third place in the conference with 35 points and are one of the WHL’s top teams. With the win, the Rebels are just six points behind the Warriors in the standings.
“We can compete with anyone. It’s the details and you know every team has different skills. Our skill is playing on our toes, being aggressive, and playing hard,” Walser added.
“It’s just a different type of skill and when we play to our identity we can beat anybody.”
The Rebels were without the services of forward Kalan Lind who left Tuesday’s game in the second period with an upper-body injury. Lind had just returned over a week ago from a wrist injury that put him out for a month. It’s unclear if the injuries are related.
Red Deer is also without their second-leading scorer Carson Latimer who’s out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
The Rebels will now head to Saskatoon on Friday to take on the Eastern Conference’s top team, the Saskatoon Blades at 6 p.m. Mountain time.
“We know it’s going to be a battle. They’re a team who’s very dangerous in five-on-four situations… We’ve got to play smart and aggressive hockey but we have to be smart in how we do it,” Walser said.
“We’ll reset and worry about Saskatoon tomorrow.”