Hurricanes 5 Rebels 2
LETHBRIDGE — Red Deer Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin didn’t see this one coming.
Unlike last week when Wallin detected trouble the day before the Rebels delivered a dismal performance in a 3-2 loss to the visiting Prince Albert Raiders, the Rebels bench boss was convinced his team was more than ready to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes in a Western Hockey League clash Tuesday.
He was wrong.
“We just didn’t play well, we just weren’t good enough tonight,” he said following a 5-2 loss to the ‘Canes before 2,781 fans at the Enmax Centre.
“We didn’t establish our game off the hop and we just didn’t have enough good players. I thought we looked like we didn’t prepare properly mentally and didn’t play the way we needed to play.”
And the Rebels’ sad showing caught Wallin off guard.
“I think we took this game a bit lightly,” he said.
“It was unexpected because I thought we were real focused in practice yesterday. We had a lot of energy and a real sharp practice. i think we were looking ahead to the two games against Kootenay, those are big games with a lot on the line and I just wondered watching us play tonight if we almost took this game too lightly.
“I wouldn’t have expected that going into the game, I thought we were prepared and focused. The practice yesterday gave me that feeling but we didn’t show it with the way we played tonight.”
The Hurricanes led 1-0 after one period on a goal from Jacob Berglund, and the Rebels pulled even when Andrej Kudrna notched his 30th of the season a mere 45 seconds into the the middle frame. But the hosts got a power-play goal from Cam Braes less than three minutes later to grab a permanent lead.
Austin Fyten upped the count to 3-1 with a man-advantage marker at 6:28, Braes potted a short-handed goal four minutes later and Carter Bancks completed the second-period onslaught with his 19th of the season at 16:35.
Rebels starting netminder Kraymer Barnstable was replaced after the ‘Canes’ fifth goal and Darcy Kuemper stopped all nine shots he faced the rest of the way. But the Rebels could manage just a third-period goal from Landon Ferraro, with assists from 15-year-old defenceman Matt Dumba and Kudrna.
Barnstable and Kuemper combined to make 23 saves, while Brandon Anderson stopped 29 shots at the other end.
The loss all but killed Red Deer’s hopes of finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Red Deer is in sixth place, two points behind the Kootenay Ice with each team having three games remaining — including head-to-head meetings tonight at Cranbrook and Friday at the Centrium — and three points back of the fourth-place Medicine Hat Tigers, who conclude their regular season with a home-and-home series with the lowly Hurricanes.
“We still have an opportunity for fourth (place), but we’ll need help,” said Wallin. “It just comes down to us having to take care of our own business and we have to respond the right way tomorrow.
“We had a good talk in the dressing room after the game and the message was we don’t have a lot of time to hang our heads. We believe we can play with anyone. Although there are teams with more experience and with more skill from top to bottom, what allows us to have success is our work ethic and our character. We have enough talent and experience that we feel we can play with anybody and beat anybody, but we have to outwork the other team and our preparation has to be top notch, and that wasn’t there tonight.”
• The Swift Current Broncos, in the likely event that they qualify for the playoffs, will play their first-round home games at the Brandt Centre in Regina. The Credit Union i-plex in Swift Current is unavailable for the first round of the WHL playoffs due to a scheduling conflict with the world women’s curling championship to be held March 20-28.
The Broncos can secure a playoff spot tonight if they earn at least a point against the Prince Albert Raiders, who are six points back of Swift Current with three games left.