Good things came in threes for the Red Deer Rebels in their home opener.
Four players finished with one, goal two assist performances in a Rebels 7-3 rout of the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday night.
Brandon Hagel, Kristian Reichel, Mason McCarty and Austin Pratt counted three-point nights in the dominant victory and defenceman Alex Alexeyev also had a three-assist night.
“We found a way to score seven goals but I would like to see us play better five-on-five,” Rebels Gm/head coach Brent Sutter said. “It’s game one, but it has nothing to do with hard work. We worked hard, but we need to be more disciplined in our team game and more disciplined by not taking more penalties.”
Captain Grayson Pawlenchuk might have been the happiest man at the Centrium, earning first star honours after two goals in the third period. He missed almost all of last season for the Rebels with multiple injuries.
“Felt good to get back and playing again. Getting that first one out of the way was good. It’s been a while since my last goal in the regular season,” he said.
The 20-year-old scored his last WHL goal on Nov. 1, 2016.
In the home opener last year, the Oil Kings bested the Rebels 3-2 in overtime and beat Red Deer four of the other five matchups on the season. Saturday was clearly revenge time for the Rebels.
Red Deer showed off their new-found speed most of the night and were able to keep the Oil Kings on their heels for the majority of the game.
“At times we were fine but it’s using our hockey sense and intelligence and being better as far as playing smart with the puck. We’ll get better,” Sutter said.
Austin Pratt scored the first Rebels goal of the season, when he collected a loose puck while Oil Kings goalie Travis Child was without a stick and put a quick forehand home at 7:08 of the first.
Off the rush with just under two minutes to play in the period, Hagel dropped the puck back to McCarty and the veteran fired a wicked wrist shot past Child. McCarty, acquired from the Saskatoon Blades in the off-season, returned to the team that drafted him and had three points.
Akash Bains stumbled on a shorthanded breakaway late in the second period, but from the ice found Reese Johnson who in turn snuck the puck in for the third goal of the night.
“Definitely awesome for him, he’s had more injury problems than I have. He’s been out for a while, it’s definitely huge for him to get that first one,” Pawlenchuk said.
Johnson’s last WHL goal came on Jan. 20, 2016.
Fresh off a stint with the Buffalo Sabres, Hagel assisted on two first-period goals before cashing in on a chance of his own late in the second period. Hagel buried a one-timer off a nifty feed from defenceman Alex Alexeyev.
Sutter said overall, he was happy with the win but expects a more complete effort from his team as the season goes on.
“It was game 1 and they will get better. They’ve proven they can be better. In game 1, as a player there’s a lot of excitement and sometimes it can over take you a bit and that happened for some guys,” Sutter said.
Lasse Petersen was solid in his first WHL game as a 20-year-old with 30 saves in the victory.
The two teams are back in action in Edmonton on Sunday afternoon.