Rebels 5, Wheat Kings 3
The Red Deer Rebels pulled off a come-from-behind 5-3 victory in a do-or-die game against the Brandon Wheat Kings Friday night.
Whether the reason for the last-minute mustering of forces was a mad scramble for a shot at the WHL playoffs or rallying around injured teammate, Alexander Alexeyev, the Rebels finally came through, scoring four of their five goals in the third period.
The team couldn’t afford to lose this pivotal game, yet made lacklustre plays in the first two periods.
Coach Brent Sutter said the Rebels were too passive for a good part of the game. “We were on our heels too much… not quick, slow at passing, slow at making plays…”
Then something galvanized the team. Rebel forward Zak Smith attributed this to his teammates rallying around defenceman Alexeyev, who had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher with a suspected knee injury after a collision with a Brandon player.
“Seeing Alex go down, seeing what he’s been through all year… it drew all the players to do it for him,” said Smith, who scored the game-winning, second-last goal.
Sutter believes the third period showed what the Rebels are capable of: “They were working along the boards, doing good passing…. they got scoring, saw some chances and (capitalized) on them.”
The team didn’t score at all in the opening period, but the first goal for Brandon came early. Ben McCartney of the Wheat Kings shot the puck high into the net on the goalie’s glove side, less than four minutes into the game, assisted by Ridly Greig.
Two more Wheat Kings goals followed: Stelio Mattheos got the puck by Rebels goalie Ethan Anders, assisted by teammates Luka Burzan and Cole Reinhardt.
Then the third goal for Brandon was sunk minutes later, by Chad Nychuk after the puck deflected off of a Rebel player on the way in.
Just when it seemed like game over, the hometown crowd went wild when the Rebels’ Brandon Hagel scored on a breakaway just before sliding into Brandon goalie, Jiri Patera.
Soon after, a fight started between Rebels’ Reese Johnson and Wheat Kings‘ Mattheos that was broken up by the refs, with Mattheos getting a three-minute penalty for instigating.
Emotions ran high as more tussles caused penalties for the Rebels’ Reese Johnson and Alex Morozoff, as well as the Wheat Kings’ Mattheos and Ty Thorp.
While the aggression spilled over into the Rebels play in the second period, the team didn’t score again until 10 minutes into the third.
The puck was nearly behind the net when Reese Johnson passed it to Cameron Hausinger, who buried it past Patera.
Less than two minutes later, the Rebels’ Josh Tarzwell, assisted by Brett Davis, added another and tied the game — to the surprise of the roaring hometown crowd.
After Alexeyev’s injury, the team mobilized and Smith scored the game-winning goal from behind the net, assisted by Oleg Zaytsev.
Zaytsev also scored the final Rebel goal into an empty net in the final nine seconds of the game.
Whatever happened in the third period, the Rebels will have to keep it up to get into the playoffs. The win pulled the Rebels even with the Medicine Hat Tigers at 70 points for the first Eastern Conference wild card spot. There are still five more regular season games to go, including Tuesday’s against Edmonton and Wednesday in Medicine Hat.