Rebels running cold

With the post-season derby just around the corner, the Red Deer Rebels aren’t firing on all cylinders.

Ice 5 Rebels 1

CRANBROOK, B.C. — With the post-season derby just around the corner, the Red Deer Rebels aren’t firing on all cylinders.

The Rebels suffered their second successive Western Hockey League defeat — and fourth loss in their last five games — Wednesday, falling 5-1 to the Kootenay Ice before 2,727 fans at the Cranbrook Recreation Complex. The setback, just one night after a 5-2 loss to at Lethbridge, kept the Rebels in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with just an outside chance of catching Kootenay or the Medicine Hat Tigers for fourth or fifth spot.

Despite the final score, Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin said the game was there to be won heading into the third period.

“We had a really good start. We came out the way we wanted to, carried the play and got the first goal, which is always good on the road,” said Wallin. “We didn’t give up too much until late in the period when we lost too many faceoffs in our own zone.”

Still, Lane Scheidl’s seventh goal of the season midway through the opening stanza held up until early in the middle frame, when the Ice struck for two goals just 17 seconds apart. Kevin King connected at the 49-second mark and Matt Fraser, with his 32nd, gave the home squad a permanent lead almost immediately after.

The Rebels had just killed a penalty when netminder Darcy Kuemper was beaten cleanly by King’s shot from the top of the circle, and Fraser connected on a two-on-break when a Red Deer defenceman was caught up ice.

“In a matter of about 20 seconds it was 2-1 and that kind of gave them some life, some momentum,” said Wallin.

The Ice held a 6-5 advantage in shots in the second period and were able to take their 2-1 margin into the intermission when Rebels rearguard Brad Haber rang a late shot off the crossbar.

“If we had tied it up there it might have been a different game,” said Wallin.

Instead, Brock Montgomery gobbled up a loose puck — which bounced off a linesman and into the neutral zone — and beat Kuemper on a breakaway at 4:19 of the final frame, King added an empty-netter with two minutes left and Elgin Pearce closed out the scoring 47 seconds later.

“In the end, we didn’t play as well as we needed to,” said Wallin.

“We made a couple of costly mistakes and we didn’t have enough good players tonight. Some of our key guys who we rely on didn’t play well enough for us.”

Kuemper finished with 30 saves, while Todd Mathews stopped 23 shots for Kootenay.

Red Deer sits three points behind fifth-place Medicine Hat and four back of the Ice. Each team has two regular-season games remaining, with the Rebels facing Kootenay at the Centrium Friday and the Hitmen Sunday at Calgary, the Ice closing out with a home date with the lowly Edmonton Oil Kings, and the Tigers concluding with a home-and-home with Lethbridge, another non-playoff team.

The Saskatoon Blades were 3-2 losers to the visiting Regina Pats Wednesday and appear to be destined for third place in the conference and a likely first-round playoff date with the Rebels.

Regardless of where they finish, Wallin knows the Rebels have to reverse their recent fortunes in short order.

“We haven’t been as good as we need to be the last couple of nights and we have to get that turned around. There has to be some urgency to do that,” he said. “We have to fight our way through it. It’s been a long time since we’ve been through this and it feels kind of different for us right now.

“This is a bit of a wake-up call. We can’t allow ourselves to get frustrated, we have to get it turned around. Right now we’re beating ourselves, what’s going wrong is correctable. We need some of our key guys to elevate their games and we have to eliminate the mistakes that are costing us.”