Rebels 4 Tigers 2
Thrust into an offensive role on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Willie Coetzee, Red Deer Rebels winger Josh Cowen followed his game plan to a tee on Friday.
“It’s a big plus to play with ‘Hoppy’ and Willie. They create a lot of space for themselves and all I have to do is go to the net,” said Cowen, who tallied twice to help the Rebels record a 4-2 Western Hockey League win over the Medicine Hat Tigers before an announced crowd of 4,413 at the Centrium.
“That’s kind of what we went through at start of the game, Willie and I. I just stand around the net and try and bang in goals and that’s what happened. I was pretty happy with myself and the team’s effort.”
Cowen notched his fourth and fifth goals of the season just 18 seconds apart in the opening period, and when the Rebels jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second period they appeared to be well on their way to humiliating the visitors in much the same fashion as the Tigers embarrassed Red Deer one week earlier in a 9-2 game at Medicine Hat.
But after Nathan Green tipped in a loose puck at the edge of the Tigers crease at 2:28 of the middle frame and Coetzee blasted a power-play point shot past goaltender Tyler Bunz just over two minutes later, the well ran dry for the Rebels.
“I thought the first half of the hockey game we really came out like a team possessed,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “They embarrassed us last week in their building and we wanted to come out and respond to that and get some retribution. We were really focused that way through the first half of the hockey game and then we kind of let off the gas a bit.”
The Tigers climbed back into contention with a short-handed marker from Taylor Gal 13 minutes into the middle period and got a second goal from Tristan King at 4:22 of the final frame, in which they held a whopping 17-2 advantage in shots.
“We stopped skating for the second half of the second period, we weren’t getting up the ice as well as we had been. And the same applied in the third period,” said Wallin.
“Give them (Tigers) credit, they didn’t quit and they have a team that can really skate. They have a lot of speed on their team and some guys who can put the puck in the net. As much as we didn’t initiate our forecheck and get the puck through the neutral zone, I thought we did a good job defensively and (goaltender Darcy) Kuemper stood tall for us when we needed him.”
Kuemper was outstanding, particularly in the third period, and finished with 42 saves. Bunz stopped 27 shots at the other end.
“That was probably ‘Kuemp’s’ best game. Like the rest of our team, he didn’t have a great night last week in Medicine Hat, although he was under siege,” said Wallin.
“We need that consistency from him and he played very well tonight. He was focused, he competed hard and that’s the way he’s capable of playing. it was a great effort by him and a huge divisional win for us.”
The game marked the return of Rebels star forward Landon Ferraro, who hadn’t played since the end of September due to a knee injury and skated on a ine with Green and Andrej Kudrna.
“I felt pretty good, but although I’ve been skating for a week I wasn’t in game shape,” said Ferraro, who assisted on Green’s goal. “I was sucking wind on the bench a bit, but I think I did pretty well and it was good that we got the win.”
The Detroit Red Wings draft pick insisted he wasn’t overly sharp while handling the puck.
“I knew my hands would be pretty bad when I came back and that kind of showed,” he said with a grin. “I missed a nice pass from (Daulton) Siwak and I put a shot off the goalie’s head instead of putting it near a corner.”
Regardless, Wallin was pleased to have last season’s 37-goal sniper back in uniform.
“It’s nice to have him back, we’ve missed him,” said Wallin. “I thought he looked pretty good tonight for it being his first game back. Like the rest of the team, he wore down a bit but he was really moving in the first half of the game. It didn’t look like he’d missed as much hockey as he had.
“It’s good to have his leadership back, his spark and his energy.”