Ivan Nikolishin figured the Red Deer Rebels owed ‘em one.
The Rebels, recalling a 4-2 road loss to the Saskatoon Blades Nov. 7, took it to the visitors Friday night at the Centrium, prevailing 6-1 on a night Nikolishin recorded a hat trick.
The Russian winger notched his 13th, 14th and 15th goals of the season as the Rebels started slow but finished strong in front of a crowd of 6,234 at the Centrium.
“We won and we won with a lead, and that’s the most important thing,” said Nikolishin. “We remembered what they did to us in Saskatoon, so that was in our heads. We came out hard and played for 60 minutes.”
The Rebels were outshot 10-4 in the opening frame and 29-27 overall, but the quality scoring chances were heavily in their favour.
“I think we just played hard and the chances came. They (Blades) also turned over the puck,” said Nikolishin, who agreed that the Rebels grew stronger as the game progressed.
Nikolishin opened the scoring at 11:07 of the first period, pouncing on a giveaway at the Blades blueline, skating in alone and beating netminder Brock Hamm with a nifty deke to the short side.
The visitors drew even just over two minutes later when Wyatt Sloboshan pulled in a stretch pass from Mitch Wheaton and whipped a wrist shot from inside the faceoff circle past goaltender Rylan Toth.
Nikolishin’s second of the evening, at 1:17 of the middle period and off a perfect feed from Evan Polei, was the eventual winner, and he notched his third midway through the frame, one-timing a nifty give-and-go pass from Michael Spacek into the back of the Blades net.
“After the first 15 minutes we got skating and got moving. Our heads were working better and we were making some plays,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
The Rebels boss, however, wasn’t thrilled with his club’s lack of discipline in the second period when they were assessed a trio of consecutive infractions.
“We were controlling it in the second period and then we got those three minor penalties in a row and allowed them to get some momentum back,” he said. “We talked in the second intermission about getting that back and taking control of the game again, and the guys did a great job of that.”
The Rebels, now 13-0-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes this season, sniped three unanswered goals in the third period while outshooting their guests 15-6. Adam Musil cashed his own rebound at 1:58, Wyatt Johnson converted a pass from Conner Bleackley 26 seconds later and Musil potted his second of the evening and seventh of the season with 3:09 remaining.
The Musil-Polei-Lane Pederson line was dominant throughout the contest, both physically and on the scoresheet. Musil finished with three points, Polei picked up three helpers and Pederson had two assists.
“It’s a big line and that’s how we expect them to play,” said Sutter. “ They were moving their feet and finishing checks. They were engaged and they were responsible.
“A lot of nights they’re going to play against the other team’s top line. They’re a hard line to play against when they do things right. The last two and a half to three weeks Adam and Evan have really taken their game to another level. Whoever has been playing with them has done a really good job and tonight it was Pedey.
“It’s a good line and as long as they play the game the right way they’ll be successful.”
Toth was solid while picking up his 12th win of the season. He finished with 28 saves and while he didn’t face a high number of first-rate shots, the second-year stopper robbed Nikita Soshnin with an early pad save and later denied Mason McCarty from close range.
Hamm, who blocked 21 shots, couldn’t be faulted on a single Red Deer goal and came up big on several occasions — particularly in the final frame — to prevent an all-out rout.
l The Rebels are idle until Tuesday when they host the Regina Pats … Red Deer was minus the services of injured defencemen Kayle Doetzel, Josh Mahura and Braden Purtill, while forward Presten Kopeck served a one-game suspension for a kneeing penalty he was assessed in the Rebels’ 4-1 win last Saturday at Moose Jaw.