Just prior to the Red Deer Rebels’ road-trip ending contest against the Chilliwack Bruins on Saturday evening, head coach Jesse Wallin reminded his troops, at least those charges who were around last season, of a similar meeting with the Bruins in January.
“We had a bad game when we finished a trip in Chilliwack last year. We didn’t play very well at all (in a 5-3 loss) and it made for a long trip home,” Wallin said on Sunday night, roughly nine hours after the team’s 11 a.m. arrival back in Red Deer.
This time, the overnight jaunt was more enjoyable, with the Rebels coming off a 5-2 win in which Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied twice and Kraymer Barnstable turned aside 34 shots.
But, in Wallin’s eyes, the victory was about so much more than just individual efforts.
“Barney made some key saves, some timely saves. It wasn’t our best game but I didn’t think we played poorly, either,” said Wallin. “I would term it as a very gutsy road win at the end of a trip and against a team that hadn’t played the night before.”
“They (Bruins) came at us hard early in the game,” added Wallin, in reference to the Ryan Howse tally that gave the home team a lead at the 4:57 mark. “But we found a way to overcome that and dug in. We had guys blocking shots and taking hits to make plays. They tried to play really physical against us and wear us down, but our guys stuck together and gutted out a win.
“It comes down to mental toughness and guts. You know it’s the end of the trip, you’re tired and looking forward to getting home. But you have to overcome that and find a way to stay focused and play that game.”
The Rebels, who were up 3-1 after one period and 4-2 after 40 minutes, got additional goals from Colten Mayor, Landon Ferraro and Nathan Green, who scored into an empty net with Red Deer short-handed.
The positive result allowed the Rebels to complete their five-game B.C. trip with a 3-2 slate, and came on the heels of the club’s worst outing, a 4-1 loss to the Giants on Friday night. The Rebels were actually in decent shape through the first half of the Vancouver contest, but then coughed up goals just 19 seconds apart to fall behind 3-1.
“Their third goal really seemed to get the crowd going,” said Wallin, in reference to the impressive gathering of 9,836 at Pacific Coliseum. “The fans got excited and we seemed to get rattled. That was a new experience for a lot of guys, playing in that big building in front of a big crowd.
“All of sudden we seemed intimidated and really got away from our game. During the last five minutes of the second period we were really back on our heels and never really recovered from that.”
However, all was forgiven when the Rebels chilled the Bruins the next night. And besides, the team’s bad moments during the seven-day excursion were few and far between.
“Outside of parts of the Vancouver game and the first 10 minutes of the Kamloops game when we stood around before we got going (and eventually won 7-4), we played really solid hockey,” said Wallin.
The Rebels boss found Saturday’s victory to be the most fulfilling of the troika of triumphs.
“I really liked the way we played as a team in that game,” he said. “It was just a really solid team effort where everyone banded together to find a way to win, and that’s what you like to see from your club. Some games you have to win ugly and we talked about that before last night’s game. Everyone paid the price, everyone was on the same page and everyone worked together and was willing to do whatever it took to win that hockey game.”
Now, the coach will challenge his players to relive the Saturday night experience through the remainder of the WHL season.
“That’s the essence of a team sport — relying on one another to have success, and our guys did that on the trip. They got a real taste of that and hopefully they can continue to move forward that way,” said Wallin.
Next up for the Rebels? The Spokane Chiefs will visit the Centrium on Saturday.