Rebels 6 Wheat Kings 1
The Red Deer Rebels left their bus passes at home Saturday.
There were no passengers on the Rebels bench as the team rolled to a 6-1 Western Hockey League thumping of the high-octane Brandon Wheat Kings Saturday at the Enmax Centrium.
“It was a full-team effort. Our goaltender was good and we did a lot of good things in our own zone,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, who got a two-goal performance from each of Riley Sheen, Presten Kopeck and newcomer Connor Gay.
The Rebels were outshot 37-26 but created more than their share of the game’s grade-A scoring chances.
“We blocked a lot of shots and we gave up a lot,” said Sutter. “But Brandon is a team that likes to shoot. They shoot the puck from all over.”
The Wheat Kings, who practised at the Centrium Friday as the Rebels were en route to Cranbrook for an evening engagement with the Kootenay Ice, poured out of the gate and hemmed their hosts inside their own blueline for the first several minutes.
But the pressure was to no avail and the Rebels responded with a pair of goals from Sheen before the midway point of the period.
“We didn’t have a great first five to six minutes of the game. We tired them out in our zone and then we were able to get a couple of breaks and go down and scored two goals,” said Sutter, half-jokingly. “That kind of took the wind out of their sails a bit and gave us a bit of momentum. Then we seemed to get more dialed in and play the way we want to play.”
Sheen opened the scoring at 5:55, converting a nifty, backhand spin pass from Conner Bleackley. Sheen then made it 2-0 at 9:15, beating Brandon netminder Alex Moodie low to the far corner while on a two-on-one break with Bleackley, and Kopeck potted his 12th of the season at 16:58, going hard to the net and cashing a feed from Brooks Maxwell.
Brandon finally got on the board when Colton Waltz beat a screened Rebels netminder Rylan Toth with a wrist shot from the point, but that was it for the visitors, who coughed up three unanswered third-period tallies — two from Gay and another off Kopeck’s stick.
Kopeck’s two goals gave him four in a three-game stretch.
“It’s nice. I’m just trying to do the little things like crashing the net,” he said.
“Maxie made a great play on my first goal and I got lucky on the second one, I got a good bounce. Everything is going the way I want it to, so that’s good.”
The Kopeck-Gay-Maxwell unit enjoyed an eight-point outing, with Kopeck and Gay, who was acquired from the Regina Pats last week, each adding an assist and Maxwell chipping in with two helpers.
“He’s fitting in perfectly,” Kopeck said in reference to Gay. “With myself, Connor and Maxie, it seemed like the chemistry started right off the hop. He’s going to be huge for us this year and hopefully next. He’s a big pick-up for us.”
All four of Red Deer’s forward units were in fine form Saturday.
“It’s a tough league. It’s hard to play and hard to have success if you’re not a four-line team,” said Sutter. “Especially the way Brandon plays and the way we like to play. It takes a big commitment from every player to play a pace game at a high level and high tempo.
“You have to have 12 forwards and six defencemen going. We were able to use our bench tonight and that’s a good thing. In the last few games we’ve been able to do that and since the Christmas break it’s certainly made a big difference for us.”
Toth was also a difference-maker Saturday. While he didn’t face an abundance of difficult stops, he was sharp the entire contest.
The win, coming on the heels of a 3-1 verdict at Cranbrook, was the Rebels’ third in succession and boosted the team into second place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Calgary Hitmen who fell 5-4 to the visiting Wheat Kings Sunday afternoon.
“It was a big weekend for us and I’m sure we’re going to build on it too,” said Kopeck. “Now we get a day off to rest up and then we’re in Lethbridge Tuesday. We’re just going to keep rolling from here on in.”
The Rebels, as Kopeck noted, are in Lethbridge Tuesday to face the Hurricanes, then meet the Hitmen 24 hours later in Calgary. Red Deer hosts the Victoria Royals and Regina Pats Friday and Saturday
• Having already completed a series of deals dating back to December, Sutter was inactive at Saturday’s WHL trade deadline.
That being said, there were seven ‘minor’ deals completed on the final day, including one which sent Saskatoon Blades prospect Parker Smyth of Red Deer to the Vancouver Giants in return for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 bantam draft . . . The other Saturday trades: Mitchell Walker from Edmonton to Portland for a fourth-round pick in 2016; Carter Cochrane from Everett to Tri-City for a 2016 conditional seventh-rounder; Scott Allan from Seattle to Lethbridge in return for a fifth-round selection in 2016; Miles Warkentin from Lethbridge to Swift Current for a seventh-round pick in 2017; Kolten Olynek from Moose Jaw to Spokane in exchange for a sixth-rounder this year; and Bryton Sayers from Lethbridge to Victoria in return for a 2016 fifth-round pick.