Rebels 3 Bruins 1
A double dose of dejection wasn’t in the cards for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
One of the Canadian national junior team’s final cuts early Wednesday morning, Nugent-Hopkins flew from Toronto to Calgary, made his way to Red Deer and laced ‘em up for a Western Hockey League evening encounter with the visiting Chilliwack Bruins.
Then, almost as if on cue, he assisted on a pair of goals to help the Red Deer Rebels defeat the visitors 3-1 before a recorded crowd of 3,781 at the Centrium.
“It would have been a really tough day if we had lost tonight. This is a big two points for us and it’s a nice feeling getting the win with the boys,” said the Rebels star centre, who looked nothing like a player who had been up and around since 4 a.m. Red Deer time and fueled by nothing more than a brief afternoon nap and a pre-game meal.
“Yeah, I had a little nap this afternoon, but I think I was mostly running on adrenaline, to be honest,” he continued. “I felt pretty good out there today.”
The 17-year-old didn’t feel that well roughly 17 hours earlier, when he received the dreaded phone call informing him that he wouldn’t be a member of Team Canada this year.
“I got the call at about six in the morning Toronto time. As soon as the phone rang it definitely wasn’t a good feeling,” he said. “It was kind of a sinking feeling in my stomach, but I just have to take the good things out of it and move on.”
Nugent-Hopkins wasn’t at all disappointed with his performance in the selection camp intrasquad games and a 6-2 win over a team of university all-stars, and he had no reason to be dejected with his play Wednesday night. In fact, the Rebels turned in a dominant team effort, firing 57 shots at Chilliwack netminder Lucas Gore, who set a franchise record with his 54-save outing.
The final score flattered the visitors.
“I thought we played hard, it was a determined effort,” said Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin. “The guys came out real hard and established our game early. We pressured them most of the night, but certainly through the first period, when we set the tone. That was key for us.
“We know what it’s like being on the other end of that — playing a team that’s fresh, and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity while we had it. They (Bruins) played in Calgary last night so we wanted to get the early jump. We were able to do that and we did a good job of grinding them and making them play down low in their zone. We did a good job of tracking the puck and we didn’t allow them much room.”
John Persson opened the scoring 7:11 into the game, burying a rebound from close range. Nugent-Hopkins started the play and fed Turner Elson, whose shot was stopped by Gore and came directly to Persson.
Defenceman Alex Petrovic beat Gore with a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle just over seven minutes later, and Byron Froese ripped a 35-foot power-play slap shot past the Bruins netminder in the final minute of the middle frame.
Netminder Darcy Kuemper was a mere nine seconds from posting his sixth shutout of the season and 12th of his WHL career — both of which would be Rebels franchise records — when he was beaten by Steven Hodges off a faceoff in the Red Deer zone.
Kuemper finished with 26 saves and helped Red Deer’s No. 1 ranked penalty kill erase five Chilliwack power plays.
“There was a couple of mistakes on the penalty kill but ‘Kuemps’ was there for us when they happened,” said Wallin. “Overall we did a real good job of shutting them down and getting into shooting lanes and winning battles. The penalty kill was huge for us again.”
As was Nugent-Hopkins.
“He got into Calgary at 10 this morning and didn’t get a whole lot of sleep,” said Wallin. “Of course he’s a little disappointed, as anyone would be. But he wanted to get right back on the ice. There was no hesitation whatsoever, he wanted to play tonight. He came here tonight ready to play and he was real good for us.”
The Rebels will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule with a home-and-home series with the Kootenay Ice. The clubs meet Friday at Cranbrook and Saturday at the Centrium.