Blades 2 Rebels 1 (OT)
Running the Saskatoon Blades bench for the very first time in the post-season, David Struch must have felt like a player.
He certainly wasn’t making any apologies for celebrating on the bench when Marek Viedensky scored a somewhat fortunate goal at 5:03 of overtime Wednesday to lift the Blades past the Red Deer Rebels 2-1 before fans at the Centrium.
“I had no idea how the puck went in. Our bench stood up and started cheering so I was going to cheer too,” said Struch, a Blades assistant coach who was the man in charge with head mentor Lorne Molleken serving the first game of a four-game suspension in the WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
The contest ended when Rebels netminder Kraymer Barnstable played the puck around the end boards and right onto the stick of Viedensky at the top of the faceoff circle. The Blades forward directed the puck toward the Red Deer goal and it deflected off two Rebels players and past Barnstable, giving the visitors a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series which continues tonight at the Centrium.
“It was a great game and for me It was really fun to be a part of with it being my first game in the playoffs (as a head coach),” said Struch. “I was real proud of the guys, they played with a lot of pride and a lot of passion. When you look back at it, it all stems from our head guy Lorne Molleken, because that’s the way he coaches and our leadership carries it through.
“I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better hockey game. Both teams came out hard and played physical and both goalies made the saves when they had to.”
The teams battled through a scoreless opening period before defenceman Stefan Elliott, with the Rebels two men short midway through the second period, moved up into the play and blew a 30-footer past Barnstable.
The Rebels replied with their first goal of the series just under two minutes later as Willie Coetzee took a feed from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the Saskatoon blueline, broke in alone and scored while carrying himself and Blades goaltender Steven Stanford into the net.
Coetzee was hooked from behind on the play and as the puck crossed the goal line referee Derek Herman was signalling for a penalty shot. Herman, unsure if he had whistled the play dead prior to the goal, called upstairs for a replay before allowing the counter to stand.
From there, it was a goaltender’s duel — with Barnstable coming up with the bigger saves — until Viedensky decided the outcome in the extra session.
“We got a tough break at the end there,” said Barnstable. “But our guys worked hard all night and sometimes that’s the kind of goal that goes in in overtime, a double deflection.
“Our guys came hard and we’re going to play the same way tomorrow night. Now it’s do or die but I still have faith in our guys that we can win four straight.”
With his team facing a near impossible task in regards to winning the series, Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin wasn’t making any such predictions.
“I thought it was an exciting hockey game. There was a lot of intensity, there were opportunities both ways and both goaltenders played very well,” said Wallin. “It was the type of game you expect to see come playoff time.
“It was a big game for us, obviously, and we’re in a bit of a hole now. That’s a tough one to lose.”
Barnstable, who turned in a brilliant 39-save performance after getting the call over No. 1 netminder Darcy Kuemper, will undoubtedly get his second start of the series tonight.
“‘Barney’ came in and played very well for us. He made some key saves, some big saves. He battled and gave us a chance,” said Wallin.
The Rebels bench boss was somewhat satisfied with his team’s gritty performance but will be looking for more from the likes of forwards Landon Ferraro and Andrej Kudrna, among others, in Game 4.
“I thought it was a pretty good effort but we have some guys who can play better and that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “We need some of our top guys to step up and be a difference for us at this time.
“We had a young line with Daulton Siwak, (Lane) Scheidl and Matt Dumba and those guys did a great job when they were out there. They didn’t get a whole lot of ice time but they created some opportunities and finished checks. But you don’t rely on 15- and 16-year olds to win you hockey games at this time of the year. You rely on your veteran guys, your go-to guys, and some of them have to be better for us.”