Rebels 4 Oil Kings 1
It’s no secret the Red Deer Rebels have struggled against the Edmonton Oil Kings over the past three seasons.
Heading into Saturday night, Red Deer had only beaten Edmonton once in the previous 19 contests between the two clubs.
A new season, a clean slate and a rowdy crowd at the Peavey Mart Centrium helped sweep that history under the rug Saturday night.
After a 4-1 loss Friday to start the WHL season, Red Deer bounced back in a big way with a 4-1 victory of their own against the top team in the Canadian Hockey League.
“The guys battled hard. They played hard all game. Thought there was a lot of unselfish team play. Guys playing their roles and just competing for one another, right until the very end,” said Rebels’ new head coach Steve Konowalchuk, who earned his first win behind the Rebels bench.
Rebels netminder Chase Coward played a huge part in the win, stopping 32 of 33 shots, only allowing a flukey goal that bounced off the stanchion behind the net and in behind him. Beyond that, he was perfect in the third period with 18 saves, with the Rebels clinging to a 2-1 advantage.
“Very nice game. They had a push in the third period and you’re going to need some big saves,” Konowalchuk said.
“They’re a good team, they’re going to get some chances and when they did, he was there.”
The Red Deer Advocate Home Opener got off to a roaring start for the home side and they used that momentum to carry them through the night.
Blake Gustafson opened the scoring just 82 seconds in. The defender blasted a point shot through a crowd that beat Sebastian Cossa for his first career WHL goal.
That set the tone for the Rebels, who played with energy and intensity throughout the contest.
“We just back pressured hard, they didn’t really have a whole lot and we limited the turnovers at the blueline and we finally just capitalized on our chances and got the lead early which was nice,” said Rebels veteran Ben King, who scored the game-winning goal.
“We didn’t let off, last night in the third, we kind of came out slow and they took over the game from there. Tonight we just kept pushing and kept our foot on the gas pedal.:
After captain Jayden Grubbe brought the rowdy home crowd to its feet with a fight, the Rebels went on a power play thanks to a Jakub Demek unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
King beat Cossa glove side on the ensuing 4-on-3 man advantage with just over nine minutes left in the second period. King has goals in consecutive games to start the year. He said the fan support in the home opener helped the Rebels push to the victory.
“It’s amazing, from the start of puck drop, they were cheering and it gets you going. Gets momentum with you. It’s nice to have the fans back and we’re happy to have them back,” he said.
Jhett Larson and Kai Uchacz added empty-net goals in the final 73 seconds of the game to close out the scoring. The empty-net tally was just the second career goal for Larson, but the 17-year-old played a critical role in the victory.
He was elevated to a line with Arshdeep Bains and King and established a strong physical presence from the first shift onwards.
“His energy all through camp and every game, he can change momentum with his forecheck and his speed,” Konowalchuk said of the five-foot-eight, 169-pound forward.
“He’s strong for a shorter guy, he’s got some strength and he played a heck of a game, I thought he fit in nicely with that line.”
Coward was the first star, Uchacz was second star and Demek earned third-star honours.
The Rebels are back on the ice Tuesday when they travel to Swift Current to take on the Broncos.