Hitmen 2 Rebels 0 (Saturday)
Rebels 2 Oil Kings 1 (Sunday)
The Red Deer Rebels lacked desperation in a 2-0 loss to the Calgary Hitmen, says head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
The Rebels (3-3-1) hosted the Hitmen (2-3-0) in a Western Hockey League game at the Peavey Mart Centrium Saturday afternoon – the matchup was nationally televised on CBC.
After falling to the Rebels 8-1 on Friday, the Hitmen came out with plenty of energy early in Saturday’s matchup, outshooting Red Deer 13-4 in the opening frame.
“They were more desperate than us in the first period. That was for sure,” Konawalchuk said.
“We were complacent coming off a victory (Friday) and that showed in the first (period).”
Calgary scored the opening period’s lone goal at 17:37, when Keagan Slaney cut to the net on a rush, received a pass from Brandon Whynott and shot it over Rebels goaltender Chase Coward’s shoulder.
Rebels captain Jayden Grubbe got the crowd’s attention with just a couple of minutes left in the first, when he knocked Calgary’s Mason Finley head-over-heels and into the Red Deer bench.
Konawalchuk said he felt the Rebels game started coming together after the slow first period, but Red Deer shot itself in the foot by taking too many penalties.
“Too many penalties. You’re not going to get your game going, you’re overusing your penalty killers – it’s something we’ve got to clean up,” he said.
“Between the slow first period and the penalties, that’s the hockey game.”
Red Deer killed three penalties during the second and had just one power play.
Red Deer’s Ben King had one of the better chances for the Rebels in the second period after tipping a high wrist shot in the slot – the puck dipped towards the net, but Hitmen goaltender Brayden Peters got a piece of it with his right pad, knocking it into the corner. Rebels forward Jhett Larson hit the post on a one timer from the slot shortly after.
For a moment it appeared the Rebels tied the game at one early in the third period.
On the power play, Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains protected the puck as he drove around Evan Toth. Bains crashed the paint with Toth right on him and made contact with Hitmen goaltender Peters. Kai Uchacz shovelled the puck underneath the downed goaltender, but the referee quickly waved the goal off and called a two-minute goaltender interference penalty on Bains.
After four-on-four play ended, the Hitmen scored with the man advantage while Bains sat in the penalty box. Slaney fired a pass from the blue line to the low corner, where Zak Funk quickly directed it towards the net, sliding the puck between Coward’s right foot and the post to extend Calgary’s lead by two.
That was the last time either team found the back of the net, as the Hitmen walked out of Red Deer with a 2-0 victory.
Calgary was “definitely” the more desperate of the two teams in the game, especially in the first period, said Konowalchuk.
“They were desperate for a win. We weren’t hard enough on pucks at times, we were trying to poke pucks in to get chances instead of digging in and winning battles,” he said.
“We’ve got to learn from this and get back at it.”
The three stars were Keagan Slaney (Hitmen), Chase Coward (Rebels) and Jackson van de Leest (Hitmen).
Red Deer bounced back with much more desperation Sunday and thanks to some great play from netminder Connor Ungar edged the Edmonton Oil Kings 2-1 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
The Oil Kings cashed the only goal of a sloppy first period, with Carson Latimer notching the opening goal at 5:13 of the frame.
The Rebels found their footing in the second, a great forecheck from Jhett Larson led to the game-tying goal. Larson picked up the puck after a battle behind the Edmonton net and fed Rebels captain Jayden Grubbe who chipped a shot in past Sebastian Cossa two minutes into the period.
Late in the frame on the power play, Ben King buried his third goal in as many games against the Oil Kings this season. Christoffer Sedoff slid a pass across to the veteran who fired a laser past Cossa.
Ungar held the fort from there, turning aside all nine Oil Kings’ shots in the third period. He finished the night with 29 saves and was first star for his efforts. The 19-year-old goalie from Calgary has a minuscule 1.32 goals-against average and a 0.960 save percentage this season.
The three stars were Ungar (1), King (2) Latimer (3).
The Rebels host the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday at the Peavey Mart Centrium, with puck drop set for 7 p.m.