Blades 3 Rebels 1
A great goalie often makes all the difference in the world in the WHL.
For most of the season, it has been one of the two Red Deer Rebels’ netminders that have turned the stellar performance but on Friday, it was Saskatoon Blades goalie Nolan Maier.
Maier was spectacular in a 3-1 victory for the Blades – a pair of game-saving stops in the final minute with his team up a goal and the goalie out for Red Deer, including a five-bell stop on Rebels’ forward Arshdeep Bains.
The 20-year-old netminder finished the night with 40 saves, including 13 stops in the final frame.
“Nolan is spectacular. He just makes me feel so confident all the time. No surprise, I expect those things from him every night,” said Blades defenceman Charlie Wright, an Olds native who had a large cheering section with plenty of friends and family in the crowd.
The Rebels out-possessed the Blades by a wide margin in the contest but were unable to get enough traffic in front of Maier, beyond a power-play goal in the opening frame by Ben King.
“I thought we could have come away with a victory. Our guys played a fairly hard game. Their goalie made some good saves,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
“We needed to get some traffic in front of the net more at times. I think we made it easy on him at times. There were certainly some chances there to be had. Our game wasn’t perfect but I don’t know at any level you play a perfect game. For the most part, I thought our effort was there. We just have to make sure we come back (Saturday) with the same effort.”
King notched his 10th power-play marker and 15th goal of the campaign, burying a ridiculous no-look pass from winger Arshdeep Bains, high over the outstretched blocker of Nolan Maier 4:55 into the game.
As Maier held the fort down from there, Saskatoon drew even early in the second just after a Rebels’ power play expired. Blades forward Trevor Wong beat Connor Ungar high blocker off the rush to tie the game.
On just their second shot of the third, Wong scored just before the midway point of the period to make it 2-1, ripping a shot from the slot past Unger for his second of the night.
“We got down one early and I thought we responded really well,” Wright said.
“We were playing to our game, playing fast and we didn’t turn the puck over as much as we have in the past. Those little things that we cleaned up, we found success with those.”
Liam Keeler had a glorious chance to tie the game with five minutes to play after a giveaway from Maier but couldn’t tuck the puck past the Blades netminder.
Bains and Kai Uchacz each had shots to tie in the final minute of the game but Maier stood tall once again. Kyle Crnkovic buried an empty-net goal with nine seconds left to seal the victory for the Blades.
“You always wish you had one more shot when you’re one goal short,” Konowalchuk said.
“At times we were slow to get shots off, maybe get more pucks to the net and you talk about shooting but at the end of the day, the players still have to see the play there. You can talk about shooting too much, next thing you know you’re burying it in the shin pads.”
Three stars: Wong (1), Maier (2), Melin (3).
Rebels forward Kalan Lind is away from the team this week, participating in the Captial City U17 Challenge. In the opening game of the tournament, Lind scored a goal in a 7-3 victory for Team Canada White over the Canadian National Women’s team.
Red Deer is back on the ice Saturday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium when they host Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats.