Rebels 4 Hitmen 3 (SO)
CALGARY — The Red Deer Rebels ran their Western Hockey League preseason record to 2-0 on Wednesday, but were far from flawless in the process.
Referee Graham Skilliter fingered the Rebels for 12 minor penalties in an exhibition clash with the Calgary Hitmen, who were poised to take advantage of that lack of discipline at Centennial Arena.
Fortunately for the visitors, defenceman Cullen Morin notched his second goal of the evening with 48 seconds remaining in the third period to force a scoreless overtime, and Red Deer pulled out a 4-3 win on Brett Ferguson’s shootout marker.
“It was a tough game to get a read on,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with the penalties. There were some tough calls, some suspect calls, but at the same time we took way too many.
“You can’t have success on a consistent basis taking that many penalties. We’ve taken 21 minors in two games (including Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Moose Jaw). I thought we showed some great determination to find a way to chip one in late, and obviously won in a shootout. It’s a good win and I’m happy for the guys that they were able to pull it out, but we can’t rely on our penalty kill to win games.”
Wallin has no intentions of letting the problem fester.
“Absolutely, that was the message in the dressing room (following the game),” he said.
“The penalties I really dislike are the ones in the offensive zone and the checking from behind. We’ve taken four or five checking from behind penalties in two games and that’s not the identity this team is going to have. That’s not the way we play and guys have to get the message.”
Adam Kambeitz, from about 10 feet out, beat Hitmen netminder Michael Snider through the pads to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Cody Sylvester evened the count by snapping a one-timer past Rebels goalie Darcy Kuemper at 4:39 of the second period.
It was the first of two power-play tallies for Sylvester, with his second pulling the Hitmen into a 2-2 tie at 9:16 of the third period and setting the stage for teammate Baxter Niziol’s go-ahead marker five minutes later.
With goaltender Cam Gorchynski, who replaced Kuemper at the midway point of the game, on the bench in the final minute, Morin stepped into a shot from the high slot that eluded Calgary’s second stopper, Chase Komistek.
Following a scoreless five-minute, four-on-four overtime session, Ferguson beat Komistek with the first shot of the shootout and it held up as the winner as Gorchynski successfully stared down Hitmen shooters Sylvester, Chase Clayton and Misha Fisenko.
“‘Gorch’ was solid tonight. The shootout was a pressure situation and he stood tall,” said Wallin.
Kuemper blocked 14 of 15 shots, while Gorchynski stopped 17 of 19. The Rebels fired 27 shots at Snider and Komistek.
Morin stood out on the Rebels blueline — as did 15-year-old Matt Dumba — and showed he could supply the team with productive power-play minutes this season.
“He’s going to get that opportunity,” said Wallin. “We think Cullen can be a real good two-way defenceman for us. He’s a 20-year-old now, an experienced guy in the league and he’s got to bring that element (of offence from the back end). He scored those two goals tonight by being involved. He didn’t do anything special, he just got up into the play and got shots through to the net.”
Morin, who gave Red Deer a 2-1 lead with a power-play slapshot from the top of the circle at 12:47 of the second period, insisted the win was important for the Rebels in regards to building confidence.
“It was nice to beat a long-time rival like the Hitmen,” he said. “But we still have a long ways to go. There were some shaky moments in this game, but it’s exciting when you see guys like young Matt Dumba step up and see the promise that the other young guys bring.”
On a personal level, Morin will gladly accept the challenge of running the Rebels’ power play this season.
“My first goal is to be good two-way defenceman, but I think I can help out with a little more offence from the back end,” he said. “I worked on my shot through the summer and I feel I’ve improved that way. Hopefully I can keep getting shots through.”
The Hitmen dressed 10 players with previous WHL experience, including former Rebels forward Cody Gross. Red Deer used nine veterans.
The Rebels will face the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Stettler, as well as 24 hours later at Leduc.