Red Deer Rebels captain Kai Uchacz set the tone early on Saturday night.
In the Rebels’ first home game in over three weeks, the Rebels were playing in front of their biggest home crowd this season with 5,512 fans.
Uchacz dropped the gloves less than 30 seconds into the first period with Calgary Hitmen defenceman Aleksey Chichkin to ignite the crowd.
His teammates seemed to follow as rookie Matthew Gard scored his first two Western Hockey League goals as well as Uchacz’s 12th goal of the year.
Head coach Derrick Walser said it was great to see Gard’s hard work pay off.
“He’s such a nice kid and the guys love him. He’s getting stronger each day, each game and he had that touch tonight,” Walser said.
“We made a little adjustment and put him up with [Talon Brigley and Ollie Josephson]. All of a sudden bang there it is. It’s in the net and I couldn’t be happier for the kid.”
His first came over two minutes into the game after he jumped on a loose puck in front of the net to score his first WHL goal.
The Hitmen answered with just under seven minutes left in the second period to tie the game 1-1. Forward Keets Fawcett buried a rebound in front of the net after Rebels goaltender Rhett Stoesser made multiple stops.
In the third period, Uchacz was sprung on the breakaway and beat the goaltender on the short side. A minute later, Gard notched his second of the game after he was left alone on the left side of the net off a pass through the crease from Josephson.
Gard said after the game that it was an awesome night and that his first kick-started him to get another.
“It lit a fire under me and I was going… I’m more comfortable every day. Just keep building and keep getting better,” Gard said.
With nearly 50 shots on goal by the Rebels Walser said they were at their best at even strength and thought they played well through the neutral zone.
“We prepared the guys well and they stuck to it five on five all night long,” he said.
The Hitmen didn’t go away quietly late in the third period. With the goalie pulled forward Sean Tschigerl fired one home on the offensive rush.
Calgary kept pushing but Rebels goaltender Rhett Stoesser stood tall in the dying seconds to keep the puck out. Defenceman Elias Carmichael also made a big play with a diving attempt to block a point shot.
Stoesser was solid between the pipes making 26 saves on 28 shots to get the win.
“I made a little comment he didn’t have to work too hard early on but at the end, he came through for us and right now he’s seeing the puck well. He’s going to clean up a couple of things. I didn’t like how many opportunities we gave up in the slot,” Walser added.