Hitmen 6 Rebels 2
It’s common knowledge that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The Red Deer Rebels certainly failed to impress their fans on Friday night at the Centrium, opening the 2009-10 Western Hockey League season on a decidedly negative note.
The Rebels surrendered four second-period goals and fell 6-2 to the Calgary Hitmen before an announced gathering of 5,119, many of whom were headed for the exits at the conclusion of the middle frame.
“I just thought we lacked focus early in the hockey game and we just didn’t come out prepared to play,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “I think our team thought it was going to be an easy night and we got a quick wake-up call.
“We didn’t battle hard enough and we were too cute and made way too many turnovers. We were soft in our own end of the rink and we didn’t create enough offensively because we didn’t want to get there. We were standing and watching and the work ethic and battle that we need just wasn’t there tonight.”
The Rebels actually held a 13-9 advantage in shots in the opening period, mostly due to the fact the visitors were tagged with four consecutive penalties. But Red Deer couldn’t cash in despite creating a handful of chances, and an early goal by Hitmen veteran Ian Schultz stood up through the first 20 minutes.
“We had some opportunities on the power play, but again we were a little too cute,” said Wallin. “We had some shots from the point when there wasn’t enough traffic. If we get a goal there we get some life, but we didn’t capitalize.”
Still, the Rebels managed to pull even when rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins connected from close range at 3:20 of the second period, but the visitors grabbed a permanent lead when Austin Madaisky beat Red Deer netminder Darcy Kuemper from the right faceoff circle on a power play six minutes later.
From there, Tyler Fiddler recorded a natural hat trick in a span of eight minutes, his second goal — at 16:23 — chasing Kuemper, who stopped 11 of 15 shots before being replaced by Kraymer Barnstable. The Red Deer back-up turned aside 15 of 17 shots.
“They got the next goal after we had tied it and we just seemed to hit a lull after that,” said Wallin. “That’s just a sign of (a lack of) mental toughness. We had to dig in and keep playing. You don’t win the hockey game in the first period or two minutes into the second period. We kind of cratered there and never got going again.”
The Hitmen extended their lead to 6-1 on Michael Stone’s power-play marker at 5:27 of the final frame, before Rebels forward Adam Kambeitz tipped a point shot past Hitmen goaltender Martin Jones 25 seconds later to conclude the scoring.
The Rebels were zero-for-eight on the power play and failed to create much five-on-five due to an inability to bust through the neutral zone and establish a forecheck. Jones faced 13 shots in the first period and just 12 the rest of the way.
“We didn’t get our breakouts right. We were missing pucks and we were just fighting the puck everywhere,” said veteran forward Landon Ferraro, who drew an assist on the Rebels’ first goal. “We couldn’t get it in deep and get our forecheck moving, but that’s just something that happened tonight and we have to move past it.”
Mike Williamson was all smiles while discussing his initial regular-season triumph in his new position.
“It’s great to get that first win under your belt. We know it’s going to be tough in every building we play in this year,” said Williamson, in his first season as the Hitmen head coach. “I thought it was a really scrambly hockey game but we were fortunate to capitalize on some chances in the second period.
“We got ourselves in some penalty trouble early, but guys like (Cody) Sylvester, (Chase) Schaber and Fiddler did a fantastic job of killing penalties for us and obviously our best penalty killer tonight was Jonesy.”
If the Rebels are to avoid a second consecutive loss, their power play will have to click tonight when they host the Kootenay Ice.
“We just have to make sure we’re moving our feet. I thought we were standing still too much and we were forcing passes and some shots,” said Ferraro. “We’ll go over some video in the morning, work through it and be back here tomorrow night.”