Rebels 7 Blades 6 (shootout)
On a night that wasn’t kind to goalies, Chase Wutzke will be more than happy to share a story about it.
The 15-year-old, who was drafted in the second round of the 2021 WHL Prospect Draft just two weeks ago, couldn’t have in his wildest dreams imagined a moment like he had Tuesday.
Early in the day, Red Deer Rebels netminder Connor Ungar landed on the team’s injury report with an undisclosed ailment. A day earlier, the WHL said that 36 players and staff landed in COVID-19 protocol following the holiday break. Red Deer had one player or staff member in the protocol.
By game time against the Saskatoon Blades Tuesday, Chase Coward also showed up on the injured list with a lower-body injury.
That meant the Rebels’ goaltending duties against the Blades fell on two raw rookies. Justen Maric, the Rebels fifth-round selection in 2019 out Edmonton got the call for his first WHL start but was shakey in the opening frame.
Maric allowed three goals on six shots in the first and was pulled in the favour of Wutzke. Wutzke, a native of Debden, made his first WHL appearance just two hours south of his hometown of 337 people.
All Wutzke was able to do was collect his first career win in a 7-6 shootout victory, making 12 of 15 saves in his 40 minutes of play in regulation but his most memorable moments of the night came in the shootout. He stopped three of four Blades shooters in the shootout before Talon Brigley buried the shootout winner for Red Deer.
“He has a positive attitude, he has confidence but he’s it doesn’t come across cocky at all. Just talking to him it feels like he has the right attitude for a goalie. It’s for him to be in that position,” Rebels coach Steve Konowalchuk said of the rookie netminder.
“Even looking at him after and before the shootout, he was just like ‘O.K., this is fun’ and that’s what you want from a goalie. I don’t know him real well but that’s the impression I got from all day.”
Brigley also had a goal in regulation to go along with the winner in a remarkable come-from-behind win for the Rebels, who erased deficits of 3-1 and 5-2 to earn the victory.
“Give everybody credit, the other team got up early but they kept playing. Kept playing and kept believing and didn’t give up. Different guys stepped up to be big parts of the win in different parts of the game,” Konowalchuk said.
“It was a good character win from the guys.”
Red Deer trailed 3-1 after 20 minutes, with only Ben King finding the mark after a great forecheck from Jhett Larson at 7:24 of the frame.
Brigley got the Rebels within one at 3:26 of the second, but Saskatoon responded with a pair 1:41 apart midway through the frame.
Just 11 seconds after Jayden Wiens made it 5-2 on the power play, Arshdeep Bains blasted home a one-timer and the Rebels found some life.
with eight minutes left in the second, Liam Keeler forced a turnover and wired a laser past Austin Elliott, who was in just his third career WHL start.
Rebels forward Jace Isley tied the game at five after another good forecheck, but the Blades had some tenacious down low play of their own in the final minute of the period to open up a 6-5 lead.
King willed the Rebels even, as he has so often on the power play midway through the third period. He pounced on a rebound and lifted it over Nolan Maier, who replaced Elliott in the third period. The goal was 21st of the year and 11 on the power play.
“That’s just knowing where the net is and finding the puck. That’s a goal-scorers goal to be able to put it in from that angle. Good clutch goal from him,” Konowalchuk said.
King also added an assist, Bains scored and had a helper, and linemate Larson added two assists in the victory.
Red Deer outshot the Blades 42-21 in the win. Tristen Robins had a six-point night for the Blades, scored their lone goal in the shootout, while Kyle Crnkovic had a hat trick and two assists.
Konowalchuk said after the game he would take the situation with Ungar and Coward day-by-day and wasn’t sure who he would turn to in goal on Wednesday.
The Rebels will play the Prince Albert Raiders Wednesday in Prince Albert.