It was a night to remember for Rebels rookie goaltender Rhett Stoesser.
The 17-year-old was fantastic and made 28 saves in a 4-1 win against the Calgary Hitmen in his second consecutive start on Thursday.
Some of the highlight reel-type saves included a stretched-out blocker save on the penalty kill in the first period. He also robbed the Hitmen in the second period with a fantastic glove save after defenceman Trey Patterson ripped a shot from the slot.
Stoesser said the squad scoring two goals early in the game made it easy for him to get comfortable in the net.
“We had a really good third to finish it off,” Stoesser said. “I’m just going out there and having fun.”
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk said the youngster was the best player on the ice.
“He played really well. That first save on the penalty kill was a big save… A lot of being a good goaltender is a timely save and you’ve seen that from him the last couple of games,” Konowalchuk explained.
“You can see him getting more confident. He led the way, he was our best player today. He’s doing a good job, a good character kid, and works hard every day.”
The Rebels have relied on both Stoesser and goaltender Kyle Kelsey this season but having the tandem has been key to their success, Konowalchuk said.
“You need two goalies. Everybody who goes in there they got to believe in themselves and expect to get the job done… When you can play two goalies and keep the other guy sharp… It just helps and the competition is always good within the team.”
The home team struck first midway through the first period on a shorthanded rush led by Jace Isley who left the puck for a trailing Kai Uchacz who buried the opportunity.
With under five minutes left in the opening frame, Rebels Frantisek Formanek muscled his way in front of the net and placed it over the blocker of Hitmen goaltender Ethan Buenaventura.
In the dying seconds of the period, Uchacz lit the lamp on the powerplay to make it 3-0 with three seconds remaining to take the Western Hockey League lead in goals with 28. He’s now ahead of Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard who was loaned to Team Canada for the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
After a scoreless second period, Calgary got on the board less than a minute into the final frame when David Adaszynski fired a laser into the back of the net.
Uchacz added his 29th of the season off a sweet passing play by Formanek and Kalan Lind that left the 19-year-old alone out front to complete the hat trick. Uchacz has been on a tear as of late contributing his second hat trick in consecutive games to reclaim the league lead.
“Just the way he’s carrying the puck out of our end and good solid two-way hockey. He’s a really good junior hockey player and he’s building showing everybody he’s got a bright future beyond junior hockey,” Konowalchuk added.
Beyond the stunning performances by Stoesser and Uchacz, Konowalchuk said they did what they had to do to win. Despite a sloppy second period, the Rebels made the most of the third period.
“Once they made it 3-1 I thought we played our best hockey and that’s important,” he said.
“You’re not always going to be as sharp but you can’t make it a whole game… It’s an important lesson to take away from that game in that third period. When they needed to they made it 3-1 we could have panicked and we could have gotten away from our game… but instead, we started playing the right way the best we did. We didn’t really allow them to put a ton of momentum on us in the third period.”
Next up for the Rebels is a matchup against the Oil Kings in Edmonton Friday night at 7 p.m.