Ice 2 Rebels 1 (SO)
The Red Deer Rebels and Kootenay Ice have no secrets between them, which explains the tight manner in which the vast majority of their WHL games are played.
Wednesday’s contest — viewed by a recorded gathering of 4,302 at the Centrium — was no exception, with the visitors prevailing 2-1 via the shootout route.
“It was what we expected. It was a very hard-fought game and every game against Kootenay has been that way,” said Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin.
“They’re always tight-checking, tough, low-scoring games and this one was no different.”
Neither Rebels defenceman Alex Petrovic nor Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch had any argument with Wallin’s assessment.
“Yeah, it was back and forth. A physical game . . . simple, greasy and neither (regulation-time) goal was pretty,” said Petrovic, who opened the scoring with his fourth of the season following a late first-period end-to-end rush that saw the big blueliner put a rebound past Ice netminder Nathan Lieuwen.
“We came up just short, but we worked hard for that point tonight.” Added Knoblauch:
“Most of our games with Red Deer are right down to the wire and tonight we were fortunate enough to win in a shootout. The last time we had a shootout here they got the best of us. Tonight was just an excellent game for both squads.”
Dylen McKinlay pulled the Ice even in the second period when he deflected a rising shot by teammate and defenceman Jagger Dirk past Rebels goaltender Deven Dubyk just 12 seconds after a Red Deer penalty had expired.
Lieuwen and Dubyk both excelled the rest of the way, with the Ice goalie making a game-saving pad stop on Turner Elson in the third period and then getting some help from his post when Petrovic rang a shot off the iron shortly after.
Following a scoreless overtime frame, Kootenay’s first man up in the shootout — team-leading scorer Max Reinhart — threw a reverse deke on Dubyk and the goal stood up as the winner. Lieuwen, who made 29 saves over 65 minutes, stopped John Persson and Petrovic, the Rebels’ third shooter, missed on his chance.
Dubyk, who blocked 34 shots through regulation time and overtime, turned back Elgin Pearce and Jesse Ismond in the shootout but got no run support.
Wallin felt that his troops may have made life too easy for Lieuwen.
“We are similar type teams, teams that are pretty good defensively and tough in our own ends of the rink,” he said. “It’s tough to find space against them, it’s tough to find opportunities.
“But what we were really lacking in tonight was putting pucks on net. We had some really good opportunities in the house area. We’re not a team that scores easily so we have to get pucks to the net and get traffic going there and we passed up some really good opportunities to shoot the puck tonight. We got into the slot area four times in the second period and took the puck to our backhand rather than taking a quality shot.
“You’re not always going to score on that first one but if you can create some garbage and get those second and third opportunities, that’s how you score goals. We have to get more pucks to the net than we did tonight.”
As Knoblauch noted, the outcome of Red Deer/Kootenay games are usually decided by effort and good fortune.
“Tonight both teams could have had more breaks and scored more goals but just couldn’t find the handle on pucks laying around the crease,” said Knoblauch. “But both goalies played very well.”
“This game had an intensity to it and it was tough to come out on the wrong end,” said Wallin. “For the most we battled hard. The last 10 minutes of the second period we got a little sloppy, a little casual and started stick-checking a bit, but outside of that it was a pretty good game.
“We got a point out of it but it’s a tough loss. Now we have to regroup and get ourselves prepared for Friday night.”
Wallin was referring to a meeting with the host Brandon Wheat Kings, the first half of a two-game road trip that also includes a stop Saturday at Swift Current.
Thanks to the Wheat Kings’ 2-0 home-ice loss to Saskatoon Wednesday, Red Deer pulled to within five points of eighth-place Brandon in the Eastern Conference. Petrovic said the Rebels will go to Brandon with at least a measure of momentum on their side.
“We worked and battled hard, and although we didn’t get what we wanted tonight if we stick to that all season we’ll come out on the better end,” he insisted.