Rebels battle back to beat Blades

SASKATOON — Facing the very real possibility of having their WHL winning string snapped at one game, the Red Deer Rebels found another gear in the late stages of Wednesday’s clash with the Saskatoon Blades.

Rebels 4 Blades 3

SASKATOON — Facing the very real possibility of having their WHL winning string snapped at one game, the Red Deer Rebels found another gear in the late stages of Wednesday’s clash with the Saskatoon Blades.

The Rebels outshot their hosts 14-4 in the third period while getting unanswered goals from Josh Mahura and Presten Kopeck en route to a 4-3 victory before 4,479 fans at SaskTel Centre.

“I thought as the game went on we got better and better,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We had a slow start and then got our legs under us and started playing better in the second period. We just started playing with more gumption and more urgency in the second and in the third we took it to another level.”

Red Deer, which ended a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 win at Prince Albert Tuesday, never led Wednesday’s contest until Kopeck broke a 3-3 tie with his 17th goal of the season at 15:21 of the final frame.

The Blades led 1-0 after one period on Brett Stovin’s 24th goal, but overage forward Riley Sheen cashed his own rebound to pull Red Deer even at 2:05 of the middle stanza.

The hosts regained the lead a mere 39 seconds later as Schael Higson’s point shot found its way through a crowd and past netminder Trevor Martin, making his first-ever start for the Rebels. Wyatt Johnson got the visitors back on even terms at 6:40 of the period before Amil Krupic restored the Blades’ one-goal cushion seven minutes later.

Mahura, with his first WHL goal, tied the game at three 13:56 into the third period, completing a nifty passing play that included Connor Gay and Sheen and setting the stage for Kopeck’s winner at 15:21.

“I was happy with the way the second half of the game went for us,” said Sutter.

“We created lots of scoring opportunities. We were making plays and doing a lot of good things.”

The Rebels fired 39 shots at Saskatoon netminder Nik Amundrud, while Martin stopped 30 drives. Sutter was impressed with the 18-year-old goaltender, who was acquired from the Blades in early January and reassigned to the Melville Millionaires of the SJHL.

“He just makes saves. His positional play is pretty good,” said the Rebels bench boss. “There are things he needs to work on still, Taylor (Rebels goalie coach Dakers) will have to spend some time with him.

“But there’s a reason why we made a trade for him and he gave us the answers tonight. He definitely was very solid. He made some key saves, especially in the first period.”

Martin will now rejoin his SJHL team and will likely be summoned back to the Rebels at the conclusion of Melville’s season, unless Red Deer’s season ends first.

l The Rebels forward line of Kopeck (1g,1a), Brooks Maxwell (1a) and Johnson (1g,1a) combined for five points and all three were in on the winning goal. “Their pace was good and their experience really showed tonight,” said Sutter . . . Sheen was named first star of the game, with Higson and Kopeck getting the second and third stars . . . The Rebels conclude their four-game trip with games Friday and Saturday at Swift Current and Regina.

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