Call it a warm-up for what should be a battle royale tonight at the Centrium.
The Red Deer Rebels, who will host the Brandon Wheat Kings at 7 p.m., got in some shooting practice Friday evening while skating to an 8-2 WHL victory over the visiting Kootenay Ice before 5,451 fans. The Ice have won just eight games this season, including a mere two on the road, and were no match for their hosts who got a two-goal performance from Adam Helewka.
“I thought our performance was good for 60 minutes,” said Rebels assistant coach Steve O’Rourke. “It’s always tough when you play a team that has eight wins, but that team works hard and plays really hard against us every time we see them.
“We found a bit of energy in the first period and after that we sailed right through the rest of the way.”
The Rebels needed all of 34 seconds to strike as Jake DeBrusk beat Ice netminder Wyatt Hoflin from the faceoff circle. Grayson Pawlenchuk backhanded a rebound past Hoflin at 9:18 after Jeff de Wit had carried the puck to the net, and Adam Musil notched the eventual winner on a wrap-around 54 seconds later.
Zak Zborosky scored a short-handed marker at 14:17 of the opening frame to cut Red Deer’s lead to two, but the Rebels pretty much sealed the deal with three second-period tallies.
Adam Helewka potted his 27th of the season at 15:44 of the middle frame with a one-timer to the top of the net, and before the period expired rookie Austin Pratt gobbled up a turnover and scored on a quick release, and defenceman Austin Strand skated into the low slot and chipped a backhand past Hoflin.
While he didn’t look good on the game’s first goal, Hoflin was stellar in defeat, taking a sure goal away from Michael Spacek with a spectacular first-period glove stab and then denying the Rebels on numerous occasions through the remainder of the contest.
Hoflin, who was particularly sharp in the second period, finished with 41 saves and his play prevented the Rebels from easily hitting double figures. Trevor Martin faced 23 shots in the Red Deer net.
“Hoflin is a very good goalie, we’ve known that,” said Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury, who contributed two assists and was a plus-three on the evening. “We’ve played against him for awhile now.
“Just sticking to our game was the big thing tonight, no matter what the score. We had a game (tonight’s contest) to prepare for and even in the third period we wanted to keep getting better for Brandon tomorrow.”
Matt Alfaro accounted for Kootenay’s second goal, a power-play marker early in the third period, but the Rebels put it away with tallies from Helewka, on the power play, and Colton Bobyk, with a blast from the point.
“It was a good team effort for 60 minutes,” said Fleury. “We did a lot of good things offensively and didn’t really give them too much.”
O’Rourke was in complete agreement with Fleury’s ‘team effort’ assessment.
“It was great. The fourth line scored two goals tonight with Braden Purtill playing in the middle,” said O’Rourke. “In the first period he was three-for-three on draws.
“Pratter (Pratt) got some points (one goal, one assist) tonight … everyone chipped in. It was a good effort all the way around.”
The Wheat Kings come into tonight’s contest on a negative note, having lost 4-3 Friday at Edmonton, a result — coupled with Red Deer’s win — that dropped them three points back of the second-place Rebels in the Eastern Conference.
“I expect it to be a really good game,” said Fleury. “We owe them one, for sure. They beat us pretty bad in their building (4-0 Jan. 15) and we have to take it back in our building.”
The Lethbridge Hurricanes’ first-place lead over the Rebels was reduced to five points when they lost 3-1 Friday at Victoria.