Just like that the Red Deer Rebels have their first home win of the WHL preseason.
In their final home tilt of the exhibition season, the Rebels beat their central division rival Calgary Hitmen 3-2 on Friday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
The Rebels opened the scoring in the first period just less than a minute into the game. Forward Ollie Josephson knocked in the rebound off a shot from defenceman Jace Weir.
Hitmen forward Matteo Danis responded 30 seconds later to tie the game at two. However, the Rebels went into the intermission with a 3-2 lead after defenceman Quentin Bourne notched his team-leading third goal of the preseason with a minute remaining.
In the second period, the central division rivalry started to heat up with plenty of physical play but neither team found the back of the net.
The Hitmen tied the game 2-2 while shorthanded at the midway point of the third off the stick of Ethan Moore. Bourne was stripped of the puck at their own blue line and Moore skated in on a breakaway to fire it past goaltender Chase Wutzke.
With time expiring in the Rebels powerplay, the Rebels took a 3-2 lead with three and a half minutes left. Rebels’ new import forward Samuel Drancak went bar down on the offensive rush for his second of the preseason off the pass from Evan Smith.
Head coach Derrick Walser thought his team’s effort and intensity were much higher than the last game.
“I thought in the third period we came out a little nervous, icing some pucks but you’ve got to learn to protect the lead on that,” he said.
“With the exception of our hiccup shorthanded, I thought we did a good job protecting Wutzke.
“It’s part of the game. You’ve got to be comfortable playing those games and that’s one thing I challenged them in the third period was let’s go play this as a playoff game.”
Young goaltender Chase Wutzke looked calm, cool, and collected making 31 saves on 33 shots in his first start at home.
“He came out a little nervous but again it’s his first home start and I expected it. It’s growing pains. It’s a different league, different intensity and it gets stronger each week in the league,” he said.
“After the first, I thought he was lights out. He was excellent tonight.”
Fans also saw some of the Rebels veterans for the first time this season. Walser commended Kai Uchacz’s effort and said defenceman Elias Carmichael got stronger as the game went on.
“I thought [Craig] Armstrong brought what he brings. He brings energy, he’s a passionate kid, and he gives you everything he’s got. You can’t knock a kid who gives you that much energy and works that hard,” Walser added.
The Rebels will head to Lethbridge for a Saturday night tilt against the Hurricanes. That will be the Rebels’ final game of the preseason before the home opener on Friday, Sept. 22 against the Edmonton Oil Kings at 7 p.m.