Rebels 4 Ice 2
An early two-goal deficit didn’t phase the Red Deer Rebels Tuesday at the Centrium, just another sign that the team’s confidence is growing day by day.
The Kootenay Ice got a goal from Kevin King just 14 seconds into the Western Hockey League contest viewed by a recorded crowd of 3,964, and a power-play marker from Steele Boomer seven minutes later, but that was it for the visitors.
Red Deer head coach Jesse Wallin called a timeout following the second goal and the Rebels were the better team the rest of the way en route to a 4-2 victory.
“We came out a little sleepy but it just showed the character of the guys to stick with it,” said Rebels defenceman Cullen Morin. “A 2-0 disadvantage didn’t bother us. We got the one goal back later in the period, played a strong second period and did what we needed to do in the third.”
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins converted a rebound of a Morin shot at 13:50 with the hosts on the power play, and the Rebels followed with three unanswered second-period goals.
The win pulled Red Deer back into a tie with Medicine Hat for fifth-place in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand on the Tigers, and to within seven points of the fourth-place Ice, who have played two more games than the Rebels.
“It was a big game tonight. We’re trying to take every point that’s on the table but we’re still not satisfied with where we’re at. We want to keep chipping away,” said Wallin.
“We didn’t have the start we wanted to tonight and I don’t know what that was all about, but we regrouped the right way and after about the 12-minute mark of the first period we got going and got a big goal on the power play. That gave us some life and we got our feet going and were a lot better from there. We take pride in playing in our rink, we feel that every game at home is a must win and that’s the approach we take.”
“I like the way the guys dug in after getting in a hole. It would have been easy for them to get frustrated.”
The Rebels pulled even when Willie Coetzee cashed in on a tic-tac-toe play with Nugent-Hopkins early in the middle frame and Brett Ferguson tallied back to back to close out the scoring. Ferguson notched his 12th of the season from a scramble at 13:26 and then, on a power play, jammed the puck past netminder Todd Mathews from the edge of the crease six minutes later.
Mathews, who stopped 14 of 18 shots, was replaced at that point by Nathan Lieuwen, who blocked all 13 shots he faced the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Darcy Kuemper was solid in the Red Deer net with 27 saves, many of which were from the perimeter.
“We went down two early, which obviously wasn’t the game plan, but we battled back and were able to get the win and that’s the important thing,” said Ferguson, who has held a hot hand in recent weeks.
“It feels great to be contributing,” he added. “But we need contributions from everybody and that’s what we’ve been getting.”
“He’s been playing well lately,” said Wallin, in reference to the veteran forward. “He’s got some confidence in his game and he’s a guy we need to produce for us. He’s played on our top two lines the majority of the season and as a 19-year-old he had to produce for us and he’s doing that right now.
“I like his overall game right now. He’s getting rewarded for playing well in his own end. He’s a pretty versatile guy, he can kill penalties and he’s strong down low.”
Ice forward and Red Deer native Matt Fraser said the visitors didn’t take the Rebels lightly after grabbing the early two-goal lead.
“We came in prepared and we know that Red Deer is a team that’s not going to quit. They’re going to keep coming and coming,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s frustrating, for sure. Those are two big points that we wanted to have but at the same time we play them two more times.”
The Rebels get right back at it tonight against the Hitmen at the Calgary Saddledome.
“The big thing is we don’t want to make a habit of starting games like that. The message in the room is let’s make sure we’re ready when they drop the puck tomorrow night,” said Wallin. “You don’t want to put yourself down against a good hockey team. We need a 60-minute effort. We’ll get regrouped and have a good start tomorrow.”