Wheat Kings 4 Rebels 1
The Red Deer Rebels looked every bit like a team that hadn’t played hockey in 14 days Friday night.
Red Deer last played on New Year’s Eve, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Since then, the team dealt with a mild COVID-19 outbreak, where eight players and staff either tested positive for the virus or were experiencing symptoms. They were kept away from the rink for six days had a pair of games postponed, before getting back to practice on Tuesday.
The Brandon Wheat Kings took advantage of the rusty Rebels at the Peavey Mart Centrium, picking up a 4-1 victory in front of 2,649 fans.
“There was rust. Whether it was 14 days or was it not sharpness you could use any excuse you want, but that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is there was rust and we weren’t sharp at times,” said Rebels coach Steve Konowalchuk.
“That’s some of our play away from the puck but also with the puck.”
Red Deer’s Nate Danielson was a big part of the win, with an assist on all four goals for Brandon in his second game at the Centrium as a member of the Wheat Kings. The 17-year-old has 28 points in 29 games this season and was second star on the night.
Brandon opened the scoring with 4:58 left in the first after a Matteo Fabrizi interference penalty. On the power play, Ridley Greig punched in a rebound that was sitting behind goalie Connor Ungar. Grieg, who played for Canada at the 2022 World Juniors, was first star with a goal and two assists.
Just 15 seconds into the second, Rylan Roersma opened up a 2-0 lead for visitors. On a 2-on-1, Greig hit a streaking Roersma who buried his 10th of the season.
Red Deer outshot the Wheat Kings 10-1 in the opening 15 minutes of the game, but after the opening goal, the visitors carried much of the play.
“We weren’t sharp enough at times and some of our key guys. There were plays to be had there, there were defensive lapses from our key guys,” Konowalchuck said.
“It wasn’t a momentum thing. It was just more of a breakdown thing. Not ready to execute when we had the puck on our stick in the offensive zone. I thought our guys worked, some guys were blocking shots. But definitely we have to get sharper.”
Ben King had one of the best chances of the second for the Rebels but was stoned on a one-time chance by Wheat Kings netminder Carson Bjarnason.
It was King who eventually tied the game a short time later, on a Rebels power play with 4:44 left in the period. The 19-year-old picked up a rebound on a Jhett Larson shot off the rush and scooped it past Bjarnason. With the goal, King is up to 23 on the year, tied for second in the entire WHL. He has 13 power-play markers to lead the league.
Brandon quickly restored the two-goal lead with the teams playing four-on-four with 1:59 left in the frame. A point shot hit the glass behind the Rebels net before it bounced out and hit Ungar in the back of the leg and trickled into the net.
Red Deer only had five shots in the final frame and were unable to generate very many quality scoring chances.
“It’s a tough one,” Konowalchuk said of the Wheat Kings third goal.
“Ungar made a really big save right before we scored the first goal. They get that goal and there definitely is a bigger hill to climb. We could have went into the third one goal down with a little bit of momentum. A two-goal game, you like to be able to come back and tie it up, but we didn’t.”
Roersma finished the game off with an empty-net goal on a pass from Danielson.
Ungar finished the night with 27 saves in the loss.
Rebels 2021 CHL Import selection Frantisek Formanek made his WHL debut Friday but didn’t factor in on the scoresheet. Defenceman Jackson van de Leest, who the Rebels acquired from the Calgary Hitmen earlier this week, also made his debut and didn’t land on the scoresheet.
The Rebels are back on the ice Sunday when they visit the Medicine Hat Tigers. They will host the Prince Albert Raiders on Monday night at the Centrium, to make up a game that was postponed on Wednesday.