Optimist Rebels 2 Flyers 1
LEDUC — So far, so good.
The Red Deer Optimist Rebels turned in another dominant Telus Cup performance Tuesday, defeating the Moncton Flyers 2-1 in a game that was nowhere near as close as the score indicated.
And therein lies the downside, albeit not alarming at this point. Basically, the Rebels haven’t been rewarded — or have not rewarded themselves — to the same extent that they’ve carried the play to their opponents through their first two games in the Canadian midget AAA hockey championship at the Leduc Recreation Centre.
One day after outshooting the Saskatoon Contacts 40-14 in a 2-2 draw, the Red Deer crew directed 43 shots at the Moncton net Tuesday afternoon but didn’t seal the deal until Jonathan Finnigan, with a rising shot from just inside the point, beat Flyers netminder Nathan Armstrong for a 2-0 lead at 16:43 of the third period.
The vast majority of the contest was played in the Moncton end, but until Finnigan’s insurance marker the Flyers were just one shot away from pulling even after giving up a second-period goal to Red Deer captain Brady Bakke.
“We’re playing a little bit tight right now,” said Optimist Rebels head coach Doug Quinn. “Certainly we had a lot of shots and a lot of opportunities, but we just seem to be struggling a bit finishing.
“It was one of those games where I thought we played well early, but by not capitalizing on our opportunities in the first period they (Flyers) gained confidence throughout the game and definitely had some chances to score late.”
Indeed, the Flyers did manage seven of their 20 shots in the final frame and Rebels netminder Matt Zentner had to come up big on a two-on-break early in the period, robbing Shane Dallaire.
“Actually, I didn’t think I was going to get that,” said Zentner. “I fell a bit into my net and then just kind of launched myself forward and he shot it right into my chest. I got lucky there.”
Zentner, getting his first start in almost two months, lost his shutout bid when Zack Smith connected for the Flyers with one second remaining.
“I don’t even care about that,” he insisted. “As long as we won, that’s all that really matters.”
Overall, it wasn’t a busy night for the Red Deer stopper as his teammates continually took the game to their Maritime foes. But, again, goals were extremely difficult to come by with Armstrong — Moncton’s player of the game — getting some of the credit.
“We’re getting shots but we’re also passing up quality scoring opportunities where we’re working it right on top of the goalies,” said Quinn, when asked if his troops are perhaps looking for the perfect volley. “Everybody just collapses around the net and it’s hard to get shots through. We have to shoot it when we get into scoring positions.”
Bakke, who beat Armstrong with a rapid shot from between the blueline and the faceoff circle for a 1-0 Red Deer lead six minutes into the second period, insisted his squad has to develop a killer instinct within scoring range.
“We’re not bearing down on our chances. We really have to get going here,” he said. “Right now our shooting average is one goal for about every 20 shots and that’s not very good.
“We need to get going a lot better. It’s just not there right now, but it will come. We’re getting back into it. We played pretty good today but we can still play better, especially in the offensive zone.”
He agreed that the Rebels are too often playing like perfectionists.
“We’re working it to the point where guys are trying to get that cute, fancy goal,” said Bakke. “We just need to bear down like Finnigan did on his goal — he takes a shot and it goes in. These goalies are good, but they’re not that good. We have to crash the net and get shots on net and rebounds and the goals will come.”
Added defenceman Joel Topping, named Red Deer’s player of the game: “It was a little closer than what we wanted but the boys battled all the way through. We buried enough chances to win the game, so we’re happy.
“We’re working the puck in a little too close. We just have to get into that scoring area and start shooting the puck hard, just like Finnigan on his goal. That’s all he did — he grabbed the puck and fired it. We just have to simplify it a bit and get more traffic in front of the netminders.”
After going zero-for-three on the power play versus Saskatoon, the Rebels were zip-for-12 with a man advantage Tuesday. On the flip side, Red Deer was 10-for-10 on the penalty kill including a lengthy two-man disadvantage in the second period.
“That was a big kill,” said Quinn. “I thought we had control of the game but the back-to-back penalties gave them (Flyers) a chance to get control. We had some great penalty kills at key times in the game.”
As did the Flyers, with Armstrong acting as their best penalty-killer.
“Our goaltender kept us in there and I thought our penalty-killers did a great job today,” said Moncton head coach John Decourcey. “We killed a lot of penalties and our guys were blocking shots. We battled hard.
“There was a lot of (penalty) calls and some of them we weren’t sure about, but we decided to battle through them. I think it went both ways.”
The one-goal setback was the second in succession for the Flyers, who fell 5-4 to the host Leduc Oil Kings Monday night.
“We’re disappointed but we think we can play with anybody here so we think we’re still in the tournament, for sure,” said Decourcey.
The Optimist Rebels have certainly looked like one of the premier teams in the six-team event and will attempt to improved to 2-0-1 when they take on the Oil Kings tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve controlled the pace in our first two games and worn the teams down with our forecheck,” said Topping. “We feel we’re well-conditioned and that it will pay dividends for us later in the tournament. We’ve been happy with our work ethic, we just have to focus on the execution a bit more.”
As for tonight’s battle against their Alberta Midget League foes . . .
“We know them pretty well, but they’ll have the home crowd and will be ready to go,” said Topping. “It’s going to be a battle. We’ll focus on getting the two points and then move on to (games against) Quebec (Thursday at 4 p.m.) and Ontario (Friday at 9:30 a.m.)”
• The Quebec champion Phenix du College Esther-Blondin improved to 2-0 with a 6-2 win over Saskatoon (0-1-1) in Tuesday’s first game.
Leduc also moved to 2-0 by downing the Ontario champion Sudbury Wolves (0-2-0) 6-3 in the evening contest. Jody Sick of Red Deer scored a second-period goal for the Oil Kings.
The semifinals are scheduled for 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday with the bronze- and gold-medal games to follow at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday.