Raiders 3 Rebels 2
Heading into Wednesday’s Western Hockey League game at the Centrium there was some debate as to who would be the hungrier team, the club striving for home-ice advantage in the post-season or the side simply battling to qualify for the playoffs.
Turned out it was the latter, as the Prince Albert Raiders were the better team for at least 50 minutes in a 3-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels before a recorded crowd of 4,841.
The end result kept the ninth-place Raiders’ slim playoff hopes alive and cost the Rebels sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference as the Medicine Hat Tigers grabbed a share of the spot with a 3-2 overtime shootout win over the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors. Red Deer also fell five points back of the fourth-place Kootenay Ice, 7-3 winners over the Oil Kings in Edmonton.
“Our battle level just wasn’t high enough tonight,” said Rebels overage forward Jordie Deagle. “It’s unacceptable. These are points that we need to have at home against a team that’s lower in the standings. They (Raiders) didn’t beat us tonight. We beat ourselves and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Raiders never trailed in the contest, taking a 1-0 first-period lead when defenceman Jordan Rowley beat netminder Darcy Kuemper with a point shot through a crowd. Jordan Hickmott doubled the margin when he converted a backhand pass from Colin Reddin early in the second frame and the visitors continued to carry the play through to the midway point of the period.
The Rebels regrouped during the 90-second break and whittled the deficit to one when Cullen Morin connected on a power play at 11:30 — stuffing home a rebound past netminder Garrett Zemlak from the edge of the crease — and pulled even when Andrej Kudrna roofed another rebound seven minutes later.
But whatever momentum the Rebels gained in the latter half of the second period reverted back to the Raiders in the final stanza, and Justin Maylan notched the eventual winner at 6:16 on a wrist shot from between the blueline and faceoff circle that slipped through Kuemper’s pads.
“We don’t seem to play to our level every night. We sometimes play to the other team’s level and we need to learn how to break out of that,” said Deagle. “When we’re skating and forechecking we’re a very hard team to beat, but when we play down to the other team’s levels then it’s anybody’s game.
“We have to find a way around that heading into the playoffs. We have to figure it out during these last six (regular-season) games.”
Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin wondered aloud how his club could be second-best throughout the majority of such a critical contest.
“I thought we put in about seven minutes tonight. Outside of the last seven minutes of the second period we got totally outworked all night long and that’s the result you get when that happens,” he said.
Not that the poor performance snuck up on him.
“I thought it started in practice yesterday,” he said. “We came off the weekend and guys were excited about being in the playoffs, and that’s great, but that’s just the first step. I thought we had that addressed, we certainly discussed it after the game in Edmonton (a 4-3 win Saturday that clinched a post-season berth) and we talked about it again this week.
“Ultimately, I think this was a good lesson for us, that we have to be at the top of our game every night. I told the guys in the room that we haven’t had two many nights like this since December where we were really outworked. To a man, from our goaltender on out, we didn’t compete hard enough. There wasn’t a single guy in that room who played to his capability tonight.”
Down the hall, Raiders GM/head coach Bruno Campese was smiling.
“I was pleased with the energy and the excitement that we started the game with,” he said. “We had some good hits to get us going and even though Red Deer pushed back in the second period, we were able to maintain our composure and pull out a big win.”