The Red Deer Rebels had their name on the puck Friday night at the Centrium.
The Rebels played an aggressive, puck-possession style while rolling over the Swift Current Broncos 5-1 in a WHL contest viewed by a recorded gathering of 5,101.
The home squad also played with an impressive degree of discipline, as evidenced by the fact they weren’t assessed a single minor penalty while the visitors were short-handed on six occasions.
There was a reason for the one-sided penalty count, of course.
“We want to be disciplined, but when you have the puck you’re not chasing,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s the big part of it. By being a puck possession team like we want to be, you’re not in the situation to perhaps take some penalties you don’t need to be taking.
“It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing how we want to play without getting off track.”
Grayson Pawlenchuk gave the Rebels a lead they never relinquished just 1:34 into the contest, working out of the corner, skating wide across the low slot and slipping the puck past Broncos netminder Landon Bow.
Ivan Nikolishin scored the eventual winner — his first of two goals on the night — just under eight minutes later, his power-play shot from the high slot finding the top of the net.
Jake DeBrusk notched the Broncos’ lone goal — a short-handed marker — just past the midway point of the period, but Rebels captain Conner Bleackley responded four minutes later and the Rebels were in control the rest of the way.
Bleackley, making his season debut after being reassigned by the Colorado Avalanche this week following a three-game NHL preseason stint in which he scored a goal, buried a rebound of a Colton Bobyk point shot to give the Rebels a 3-1 lead.
“It’s a bit different (from the NHL) with the systems and stuff, but I thought our line played pretty well,” said Bleackley, who skated alongside Nikolishin and Presten Kopeck and also saw heavy duty on a power-play that at times featured five forwards.
“Obviously Brent has a lot of confidence in us to put five of us out there,” said Bleackley. “It was a lot of fun moving the puck around with those guys and hopefully we can put a lot more power-play goals in than we did last year.
“For the most part all four lines played well tonight. The puck was in their end most of the game.”
Michal Spacek upped the count to 4-1 with the lone goal of a second period in which the puck seldom left the Broncos zone over the final 10 minutes. With the Rebels on the power play, the Czech import and Winnipeg Jets prospect executed a nifty move inside the opposition blueline and ripped a shot through Bow’s pads.
Nikolishin rounded out the Red Deer attack midway through the final frame, cashing a perfect cross-ice feed from Kopeck while alone at the side of the crease.
The Rebels pelted Bow with 48 shots, while Rylan Toth faced 25 in the Red Deer net.
“I thought we did a really good job with puck possession and controlling the play. We were obviously very good in the offensive zone and had some good looks,” said Sutter. “Again, if we get everybody playing up to their level and standards, we can have success.”
With second-year puck-moving defenceman Josh Mahura out of the lineup with an apparent serious injury, forward Wyatt Johnson was used on the blueline in the third period.
“We’ve had this discussion in the coaches’ room as to how we can replace Josh,” said Sutter, who wasn’t expounding on Mahura’s injury.
“Josh can really skate and move the puck and he certainly is a key contributor to our power play, too. But we don’t have him now in our lineup and he’s going to be out a long time, so we have to make up for that in other ways. We have to be prepared to use some forwards when we need to back there.”
The Rebels host the defending league champion Kelowna Rockets tonight. Kelowna defeated Edmonton 5-3 Friday.
“We have a tough one tomorrow night,” said Bleackley. “We’ll enjoy this one for a bit and then we’ll come ready to play tomorrow.”