Rebels 3 Pats 2
As Red Deer Rebels play-by-man Cam Moon suggested on the post-game show, it wasn’t a Rembrandt.
With a handful of key players out of the lineup due to injuries and several more still feeling the effects of a bout of food poisoning contracted during the team’s visit to Prince Albert and Saskatoon last week, the Rebels were unable to fashion an artistic performance in Tuesday’s Western Hockey League engagement with the visiting Regina Pats.
But their 3-2 victory was a masterpiece in the eyes of rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We just really stuck together as a team throughout it all. A few of us have been sick lately but we just battled through it,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who assisted on two goals before a recorded attendance of 4,018 at the Centrium.
The Rebels, who were without top-six forwards Nathan Green, Landon Ferraro and Andrej Kudrna, managed only 22 shots at Pats netminder Damien Ketlo, but gave up just 29 in the process to a Regina squad that was missing superstar forward Jordan Eberle and top-flight defenceman Colten Teubert, both attending the Canadian national junior team selection camp.
“It was nice having those guys (Eberle and Teubert) out of their (Pats’) lineup, but we also had some key guys missing so it kind of balanced out,” said Nugent-Hopkins.
Whatever, the Rebels found a way to pull out a victory and moved three games clear of the .500 mark at 17-14-0-2.
“It’s a big two points for us. I thought it was a real gutsy effort by our guys, they battled hard here tonight,” said Wallin, who wasn’t impressed with a late delay-of-game penalty to Jordie Deagle that left the Rebels two men short and led to a power-play goal by Carter Ashton that cut Red Deer’s lead to 3-2 at the 16-minute mark of the third period.
“It was kind of an unfortunate turn of events for us. We took a penalty in the offensive zone (hooking to newcomer Brad Haber) and then there was a debatable call on the second penalty,” said Wallin, who was clearly upset when Deagle was fingered for laying on the puck near the Red Deer crease.
“That put us under the gun and they (Pats) got that second goal, but our guys really bore down late in the game and our penalty kill did a really good job for us tonight against the second-best power play in the league. We gave up the one five-on-three but had some other key penalty kills.
“It was a good effort considering what some of these guys have been through this week. They really gutted one out here tonight.”
Turner Elson’s power-play goal gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and the hosts doubled the margin when Nugent-Hopkins fed Willie Coetzee with a nifty backhand pass that the Red Deer veteran buried midway through the second period.
Craig Orfino cut the Rebels’ lead in half five minutes later, but Josh Cowen, on the power play, tipped a point shot from Alex Petrovic past Regina netminder Damien Ketlo at 7:48 of the third period to restore the two-goal cushion.
From there, the Rebels continued to plug up the neutral zone and limit the Regina opportunities, and got some big saves from netminder Darcy Kuemper when the coverage broke down.
“It was just a solid effort. We didn’t have a lot of jump tonight with a lot of guys sick with food poisoning the last couple of days,” said Wallin. “A lot of these guys didn’t skate yesterday and some of them haven’t eaten for 36 hours. It’s a band of brothers in there (dressing room) right now. They’re really working for one another and are coming together and I’m really proud of them right now.”
The game marked the return of former Rebels forward and Big Valley native Cass Mappin, who was dealt to the Vancouver Giants in late September and was then traded to the Pats last week.
“There’s been a lot of moves with this team and we’re just trying to find some cohesion,” said Mappin. “ I thought that started tonight, but I guess it wasn’t enough.
“It’s a building process right now. There’s a lot of hockey left and once we find that niche for everybody we’ll be going and blazing.”