Rebels 4 Hitmen 2
CALGARY — Once the Red Deer Rebels get everything straight between their ears they were fine.
The Rebels wiped out a 2-0 deficit with a second-period goal and three more in the final frame to post a vital 4-2 Western Hockey League win over the Calgary Hitmen before 9,732 fans Sunday at the Saddledome.
The Rebels held a 14-5 advantage in shots through a scoreless opening period, then watched their hosts take advantage of some brain cramps and grab a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the middle stanza.
“We competed hard, we just weren’t mentally sharp,” said Rebels head coach/vice president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin. “We went mentally soft in the second period and started making some errors.”
The Hitmen opened the scoring when a three-on-two break turned into a two-on-none after Rebels defencemen Mathew Dumba and Brad Deagle both looked for an open-hit on Trevor Cheek, who dodged the check and fed Danny Gayle.
Gayle then passed to Ben Wilson, who stepped around netminder Darcy Kuemper.
Then, roughly seven minutes later, the Hitmen struck for a power play goal off an odd-man break that was the result of a bad Red Deer line change. Cheek pulled the trigger on the play.
“We took a penalty on a soft turnover, then made a bad change on the penalty kill,” said Wallin, identifying Turner Elson as the villain.
“That’s not a mistake (Elson) makes. Both of their goals came off mental breakdowns and that one in particular was just a succession of bad decisions.
“We made a lot of poor decisions in that second period and it was just a matter of being mentally tough and getting through that. When you play three games in three nights as we did, you have to make sure that your mental game is in order.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got the Rebels on the board at 15:33 of the period when he took a pass from Locke Muller while alone in front of the net and deked goaltender Mike Snider from close range.
Elson atoned for his earlier sin when he buried a two-on-one feed from Daulton Siwak 1:51 into the third period, and Dumba sniped the winner at 11:16, stealing the puck from defenceman Jaynen Rissling at the Calgary blueline, breaking in and whipping a shot to the far corner.
Dumba played as a forward for the second half of the game, a move Wallin made after failing to reel in the rookie rearguard.
“He wanted to be up the ice,” said Wallin.
“You don’t want to put the reins on him, and yet there’s a structure that everybody needs to play within. We didn’t feel that he was getting the message, but he had lots of energy and was always moving so we let him play up front. I guess he responded the right way.”
Brett Ferguson sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Kuemper made 18 saves while recording his 42nd win of the season, while Snider stopped 30 shots.
“Calgary played their butts off. They worked very hard and made us earn everything we got,” said Wallin. “Once we got going and sharpened up a bit we were fine. At the end of the night we stepped up when we needed to and found a way to get the two points.”
The Rebels are idle until the weekend when they’ll close out their regular-season schedule with a home-and-home series with the Edmonton Oil Kings. The clubs meet Friday in Edmonton and Saturday at the Centrium.
• Kuemper equalled a WHL single-season record for shutouts as the Rebels blanked the visiting Swift Current Broncos 5-0 Saturday. He made 31 saves to post his 13th shutout of the current campaign.
Meanwhile, Nugent-Hopkins recorded his 97th to 101st points with three goals and two helpers. Byron Froese and Andrej Kudrna also scored.