Nelson Nogier could not have picked a more opportune time to notch his first goal of the season.
“Isn’t that the truth,” quipped the veteran defenceman, who ripped a rising shot past Medicine Hat Tigers netminder Nick Schneider with 51 seconds remaining to give the Red Deer Rebels a 2-1 WHL win Friday before 5,525 fans at the Enmax Centrium.
“It’s good to get that weight off my back. The big thing at the end of the night is that the team got the two points and we have to keep this ball rolling and bring some momentum into Sunday (versus the visiting Calgary Hitmen).”
The Winnipeg Jets prospect stepped into a slapshot from 40 feet out, but admitted he didn’t recall any other details.
“With those opportunities with me, I don’t really remember stuff like that,” he chuckled. “The puck went in and I was kind of stunned. I just remember Bleacks (teammate Conner Bleackley, who drew an assist) cheering louder than I was. It was a good feeling to get the goal.”
That Nogier’s marker was needed to nail down the victory was in large part due to a pair of back-to-back penalties the Rebels were assessed late in the contest. Evan Polei was assessed an instigator infraction following a fight with Tigers defenceman Nick Heid at 14:04 of the third period and Colton Bobyk picked up a slashing penalty a mere seven seconds later.
With an extended two-man advantage the Tigers scored the equalizer, as Max Gerlach, from low in the faceoff circle, roofed a shot past Red Deer goaltender Rylan Toth.
The lack of self-control exhibited by the two Red Deer players was the lone negative for the home team, which otherwise dominated for lengthy stretches of the fast-paced contest.
“For 55 minutes we nailed it,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We did a lot of good things and we had some good goaltending.
“But the last five minutes made it what it was … just two undisciplined penalties by two 19-year-olds that they can’t take. We can’t let that happen. Like I told the kids after, it takes more courage to not retaliate than it does to retaliate. You have to put the team in front of yourself. You become an individual when you take penalties like that in a one-goal game.
“It’s like playoff hockey and you have to do what’s right for the team. That’s probably the disappointing part of the game, the fact we took two undisciplined penalties, but other than that I thought the kids played hard and played well.”
Schneider kept the Tigers in the game, particularly in the opening period when he stopped 18 of the 19 shots directed his way. The Medicine Hat stopper never saw the lone shot that beat him, as Ivan Nikolishin circled in the high slot and caught the top of the net with a wrist shot with a crowd of bodies in front.
Nikolishin’s goal, his 18th of the season, brought a flurry of toques and mittens from the stands. The winter wear will be donated to the Red Deer Christmas Bureau.
Schneider continued with his heroics throughout the game and finished with 41 saves. Toth wasn’t as busy, but came up big with a handful of stellar stops early in the third period and turned aside 28 shots in total.
“We did a lot of the things we talked about the last two days, about how we wanted to play tonight, and I thought their goalie played extremely well for them,” said Sutter, whose squad won its second straight game — both over Medicine Hat — after losing twice last weekend.
“It was a big effort by the kids, they played hard. Again, we did a lot of good things except for two bad penalties that made it like it was.”
Nogier was just OK with the Rebels’ performance.
“It wasn’t bad, but we didn’t play our best,” he said. “We had a few too many lapses in my opinion. Long shifts and turnovers came back to catch us and it’s just a mater of correcting those things tomorrow in practice.”
Sunday’s game, set for a 5 p.m., start, will be an Eastern Conference first-place showdown. The Rebels and Hitmen, who lost 4-3 Friday at Moose Jaw, are tied for top spot with Red Deer holding three games in hand.