Rebels 5 Edmonton 3
The Red Deer Rebels had this weekend matchup with the Edmonton Oil Kings circled on their calendar since the summer and they took care of business.
Red Deer capped off a successful opening weekend of the 2022-23 Western Hockey League season with a 5-3 win over the defending champion Oil Kings.
In front of 4,034 rowdy fans at the Peavey Mart Centrium, the Rebels used the home crowd to their advantage and got the win for their fans against the team who swept them out of the 2022 playoffs.
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said it means a lot to the team to beat the Oil Kings and it’s no fun to be knocked out by anyone in the playoffs.
“If you get the chance to play that team certainly our players remember that,” he said.
Konowalchuk added it was a very entertaining game to be a part of.
“I liked our guys– they were prepared to start the game and that’s so important you’re playing back-to-back coming off a win… It was a big reason we won the game was the start, special teams you know we were able to get one early ready to go and then the penalty kill was huge throughout the second half of the game,” he said.
The Rebels were backed by an impressive night from their top line of Jace Isley, Kai Uchacz, and Frantisek Formanek who finished with a combined two goals and three assists. Konowalchuk said he’s already starting to see some chemistry being built between not only that line but three other lines as well.
Hunter Mayo continued his hot start to the season by hammering home a shot from the blue line for his third goal of the year to open the scoring on the powerplay just a minute and a half into the game.
At first, it appeared the Oil Kings got the equalizer shortly after that but it was waved off after a review by the officials determined the net was pushed off prior to scoring.
Fromanek extended the advantage five minutes later, tipping in a nifty feed from vetern Jace Isley.
Edmonton swiped back some momentum from there, getting goals from Shea Van Olm and Logan Dowhaniuk to tie the game at two.
Red Deer came out into the middle frame with a burst of energy and regained their lead two minutes in, when Jhett Larson fired home his third goal in two games.
With just minutes left in the second, Edmonton answered once again, this time it was Rhett Melnyk with a rocket that went top corner.
Isley was in on the action again early in the third. He forced a turnover in the offensive zone and with a two-on-one in front of the net, he slid a beautiful pass to Kai Uchacz to open up a 4-3 lead.
With a penalty to the Rebels, the Oil Kings pulled their goalie for the extra attacker with a minute and a half left in the period. Carter Anderson would seal the deal for the Rebels with an empty net goal.
Rookie goaltender Rhett Stoesser made 22 saves in the WHL regular season debut and made some big saves late in the game to secure the win.
“Good for Stoesser in net. I know he was nervous in the first period but he sure buckled in and made saves when we need them. So, good team win from everybody,” Konowalchuk said.
Larson and Mayo are now tied for the team lead in goals with three and sit in the top four in the league alongside Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard.
“They’re two character players who worked hard in the offseason and worked hard through training camp,” Konowalchuk said.
“They wanted to take a step this year. Again right from the summer they worked with a purpose to get better and we’ve seen that. They’re both quicker, they’re both stronger and they’re a year older but they also put the work in. And they deserve to get rewarded and they are.”
Uchacz said it was great to get the win in front of the home crowd again and the start the season off on a high note.
“Big weekend for us with the four points and then just getting back out here in front of our fans they were electric tonight so it was great,” he said.
It was a good start for Uchacz’ line and he said they were moving the puck well finding each other and ended up with offensive success as a group. He added the Rebels weren’t happy about losing to Edmonton in the playoffs so coming into this weekend they had a bad taste in their mouth and were motivated.
“We really wanted these two games so it was good to get both of them,” he said.