Red Deer Rebels forward Adam Helewka is a big fan of the WHL three-on-three overtime format.
And when you’re successful, why not?
Helewka set up Ivan Nikolishin for the game-winner in overtime Friday as the Rebels prevailed 4-3 over the Portland Winterhawks in front of 5,674 entertained fans at the Centrium.
“It’s so much fun. It’s tiring if you get caught in your own end but it’s a lot of fun to be wheeling out there,” said the 20-year-old winger. “We need every point we can get right now and we just found a way to win at the end.”
The Rebels appeared to be on their way to a regulation-time triumph until Portland captain Dominic Turgeon connected at 14:57 of the third period.
“We gave up a goal late but it didn’t demoralize us,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We just stayed with it and obviously we have some skill three-on-three. Anything can happen but you trust your skill at that point.”
Helewka worked out of the corner and slipped a perfect feed out front to Nikolishin, who found the back of the net at 4:07 of the five-minute extra frame.
“It was good on him to get open,” said Helewka. “I saw the opening under the D-man’s stick. I just had time to make the pass and he (Nikolishin) did the rest.”
The visitors led 1-0 after one period on a goal by Blake Heinrich, his first of two on the evening. The ‘Hawks were arguably the better team in the opening 20 minutes but the Rebels, for the most part, carried the play the rest of the way.
“As the game went on we got better and better,” said Sutter. “We didn’t have a great start, we never seemed to get our legs under us until five minutes left in the period.
“But we just had to get sharper and get our feet moving and I thought in the second period we were at least moving and doing some better things … creating more offensively.”
Defenceman Haydn Fleury, from low in the left faceoff circle, blew a slapshot past ‘Hawks netminder Adin Hill at 5:52 of the second period to pull the Rebels even, but Heinrich scored just 41 seconds later to restore Portland’s lead.
From there, Helewka pounced on a turnover at the Red Deer blueline, broke in alone and slipped the puck under Hill at 7:28 and the clubs were knotted at two after 40 minutes.
Grayson Pawlenchuk’s 20th goal of the season bolted the Rebels back in front barely two minutes into the third period, but the ‘Hawks got the late equalizer and eventually had to settle for a single point.
“In the third it was a tight game and a lot of games at this time of the year are,” said Sutter. “You have to find a way to win a tight game.”
The Rebels have struggled on the penalty kill for much of the season but erased all five Portland power plays.
“With our penalty kill, we wanted to start over,” said Sutter. “When you’re behind the eight-ball and battling to get your percentages up while you’re in the bottom two or three teams in the league, you have to start fresh, you have to hit a reset button.
“We talked about that, about getting our penalty killing up into the top 10 over the final 15 games of the season, within that span. Let’s also be better on our power play and let’s be better with our goals against and tighten games up. We’ve been better in all those areas the last three games and tonight our penalty kill was critical for us.”
Rebels netminder Trevor Martin kicked out 31 shots to post his 11th win of the season. Hill made 39 saves at the other end.
The Rebels host the red-hot Victoria Royals tonight. The Royals have won four straight and did the Rebels a favour Friday by thumping the host Calgary Hitmen 6-2.