Rebels 6 Winterhawks 2
The Red Deer Rebels have long memories.
A full five days after firing three unanswered third-period goals in a narrow victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Rebels simply built on that performance on Friday, shrugging off an early marker and skating to a convincing 6-2 Western Hockey League win over the visiting Portland Winterhawks.
Spencer Bennett beat Rebels netminder Darcy Kuemper to the short side just 12 seconds into the contest, but Red Deer sniped three straight goals before the first period ended — with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (power play), Andrej Kudrna and Josh Cowen pulling the trigger — and never looked back.
“The team just worked really hard. We didn’t let the early goal get to us,” said Kuemper, who was money with a 34-save effort.
“We came out of that first period (up) 3-1, which was huge, and then got two huge penalty kills at the start of the third.”
Kuemper was reflecting on back-to-back penalties assessed to Nathan Green and Cullen Morin in the first three minutes of the final frame with the Rebels holding a 4-2 lead. The visitors failed to cash in and Kudrna potted his second of the night shortly after.
“If they (Winterhawks) get a goal there it tightens things up a bit,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “But our penalty kill came through thanks to a real character performance from some guys.”
Wallin was referring to the likes of forwards Cowen, Adam Kambeitz, Jordie Deagle and Turner Elson and defencemen Morin and Colin Archer, all of whom excelled as penalty killers.
Nugent-Hopkins sealed the deal with his second goal of the night and eighth of the season with five minutes remaining in the contest. Brett Ferguson notched the other Red Deer goal while Brad Ross also tallied for Portland.
Ferguson’s goal, at 13:28 of the second period, chased Winterhawks starting netminder Ian Curtis, who stopped 22 of 26 shots before being replaced by Kurtis Mucha. The 20-year-old blocked 10 of 12 shots the rest of the way.
“It was a big win for us, as they all are,” said Wallin.
“I liked a lot of our game tonight. I thought the only time we got ourselves into trouble was when we tried to get too cute and turned the puck over a bit.
“We got a bit soft and careless at times and the tide turned against us a bit. Portland has a very skilled hockey team and have been playing well, but I like how we responded after spotting them the early goal. We got back after it and it took about five minutes to get our feet under us.”
The Rebels outshot their hosts 33-20 through the first 40 minutes, then watched the Winterhawks fire 16 shots at Kuemper in the final frame.
“‘Kuemps’ was real solid tonight and that’s what we need him to be,” said Wallin.
“To be a successful hockey team you need good goaltending and we didn’t feel that we had a lot of that through the first 10 games. Darcy got that message this week and responded well.”
Simply put, there were no passengers on board. After being pushed around and losing most of the one-on-one duels in a 6-3 loss to visiting Saskatoon one week previous, the Rebels were the aggressors on Friday.
“It’s good to see. I think we’re just stating to realize that we’re one heck of a team when we play well,” said Archer. “We just need to keep it simple on the back end, finish checks and play our systems. We have a lot of speed and skill up front and if we work hard we’ll win a ton of games.
“We had a bit of a fire under our butts tonight and it was awesome to see. The guys are pulling together now.”
The Rebels improved to 5-6-0-0 and can get back to the break-even mark with a win over the visiting Chilliwack Bruins tonight.
“Coming into the game we were two big wins from .500 and we’ll be trying hard during this homestand to get above .500,” said Kuemper. “This is a huge weekend for us. We got the first win and now we can start focusing on tomorrow and get another win.”