Rebels 5 Hitmen 4 (SO)
CALGARY — Can the promising Red Deer Rebels, clearly a team on the rise, actually be competitive with the top teams in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference?
That query was answered Tuesday when the Rebels were deserving 4-2 winners over the visiting Kootenay Ice, and was hammered home as a fact with a 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Hitmen 24 hours later before an announced crowd of 6,732 at the Saddledome.
“It was a gutsy win and a big win. That’s the first time we’ve beaten them in a while. It feels pretty good,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, who agreed that the Wednesday victory showed that his team belongs with the elite clubs in the Eastern Conference.
“That’s where we want to be. That’s the goal, what we’re trying to get to,” he said. “We believe we belong with that group and it’s just a matter of proving it every night. We’re taking steps in the right direction and a good example of that is how we played tonight.”
The Rebels surrendered the first goal of the game to Joel Broda — his 31st of the season — 4:14 into the contest, then responded with three unanswered markers, as Brett Ferguson and Andrej Kudrna connected in the first period and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with his 24th, shot the visitors into a 3-1 lead six minutes into the middle stanza.
From there, the Hitmen netted three second-period goals — on a total of five shots — to pull ahead.
Beating Red Deer netminder Darcy Kuemper were Kris Foucault, Cody Beach and Matt MacKenzie.
The Rebels roared back with a third-period goal from Willie Coetzee and following a scoreless overtime session, Ferraro and Coetzee beat Hitmen goalie Martin Jones in a shootout while Kuemper allowed a goal to Misha Fisenko but stopped Brandon Kozun and Broda.
“We did good job of responding and regrouping. We bent but didn’t break in the third period, stuck with it and found a way to get the next goal and tie it up,” said Wallin.
“We had a great penalty kill late in the game. Guys were paying the price. It was a great team victory, we showed some adversity and a lot of character.”
The win was a perfect follow-up to Tuesday’s conquest of the Ice and also moved the Rebels into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference, two points clear of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“We take it one game at a time,” said Wallin. “This is a big week for us. We knew we’d have to be good tonight against a very good team on the road. We knew they’d come hard and try and get after it and they did just that.
“But we weathered the storm and I thought we played a real good game. Even though we gave up three second-period goals, we weren’t playing poorly by any stretch. I just like the way we responded, our effort was great and our determination and willingness to pay the price was all there.”
The Rebels will host the Hitmen Friday, with the opening faceoff set for 7:30 p.m.