Rebels return home from west swing

Red Deer Rebels head coach/vice president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin is somewhat of a perfectionist. He’s also a realist.

Red Deer Rebels head coach/vice president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin is somewhat of a perfectionist.

He’s also a realist.

Wallin would have naturally preferred a clean sweep of the Rebels’ six-game Western Hockey League road trip which concluded with a 4-3 win Friday over the Chilliwack Bruins.

But the manner in which his club performed while posting a 3-1-1-1 record made the Western Conference jaunt a success.

“The goal heading out there, of course, was to win all six, so when you don’t you’ve fallen short,” Wallin said Sunday. “But I thought we played well enough to win all six of them.”

The Rebels opened with a 4-1 loss to Seattle despite dominating the Thunderbirds, then lost 4-3 in overtime to the Portland Winterhawks before winning outright at Tri-City and Everett by respective scores of 5-3 and 2-0.

A 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Giants Wednesday was followed by Friday’s triumph at Chilliwack, where the Rebels jumped out to an early 3-0 lead en route to their 14th win of the season.

“It was a long, mentally-taxing journey,” said Wallin, who gave the players a day off Sunday. “The easy thing to do in the last game of a trip is to kind off take your foot off the gas. Everybody is excited about going home and you’re mentally drained from being on the road for two weeks, but I thought the guys really dug in Friday.

“You could see we were a bit mentally tired. I thought we made some mental mistakes throughout the game, but I was really pleased with the effort and the intensity level. The guys came out fast and I thought they competed and worked very hard all night long. We had a lot of blocked shots and it was just a hard-fought effort. I was real glad to see that at the end of a trip.”

Goals from Mathew Dumba, Tyson Ness and Brett Ferguson gave the Rebels a 3-0 advantage before the game was nine minutes old, but Bruins defenceman Brandon Manning scored twice before the end of the period.

Turner Elson gave the Rebels a little breathing room with his seventh of the season early in the second period, and the score held up until Chilliwack sniper Ryan Howse notched a power-play goal at 4:49 of the final frame. Darcy Kuemper turned aside 24 shots for his 14th win of the season, while Bruins starting netminder Lucas Gore stopped five of eight shots before being replaced by Braden Gamble, who blocked 27 of 28 the rest of the way.

The Rebels got sturdy performances from a large number of players during the entire trip. The list includes Kuemper, Byron Froese and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as well as second-year forward Daulton Siwak.

The Olds native potted three goals to give him five on the season and played an effective physical style.

“Daulton has kind of taken a step here over the last three weeks to a month, and he’s starting to get rewarded for it in terms of production,” said Wallin. “Over the last while we’ve seen an increased confidence level with him. He looks more confident on the ice, he’s a little more poised and he’s being a bit more patient as far as making plays. He just seems to be playing with more assertiveness.

“He’s a hard-working kid and the skill level is certainly there. It’s just a matter of him continuing to push for daily improvement and he’s been pretty diligent that way.”

• The Rebels are idle until Friday when they host the Swift Current Broncos.

Defenceman Justin Weller suffered a concussion at Vancouver but was scheduled to ride the stationery bike today and is on the return-to-play protocol. As a result, he’ll likely be back in uniform on the weekend, which also includes a Saturday game in Edmonton.

• Froese and Nugent-Hopkins will leave Tuesday for Kamloops, where they’ll suit up with Team WHL in Wednesday’s Subway Super Series game against Team Russia.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com