Sliced and diced

The Saskatoon Blades headed into this season as one of the top-ranked teams in the Western Hockey League, and after experiencing a few hiccups are starting to look more and more like a finished product.

Despite Red Deer Rebel Willie Coetzee’s goal on Saskatoon Blade goalie Steven Sandford Friday

Blades 6 Rebels 3

The Saskatoon Blades headed into this season as one of the top-ranked teams in the Western Hockey League, and after experiencing a few hiccups are starting to look more and more like a finished product.

As for the Red Deer Rebels, they remain a work in progress.

The Blades, fresh off an 8-4 win over the visiting Kootenay Ice 48 hours earlier, took it to the Rebels on Friday before an announced gathering of 4,666 at the Centrium, skating to a convincing 6-3 victory.

“We’ve played well our last two games and we’re starting to score some goals, which is the big thing,” said Blades GM/head coach Lorne Molleken. “Tonight we got lots of traffic and found the net. A lot of the goals we scored tonight we worked hard to get.”

Despite their territorial and physical dominance, the Blades led only 4-3 after 40 minutes, then sealed the deal with third-period goals from Sam Klassen and Gaelan Patterson.

Darcy Kuemper was busy in the Rebels net, turning aside 35 of 41 shots. Blades goaltender Steve Sanford, meanwhile, faced just 17 shots and had no chance on the three that beat him.

“That was Stanford’s first game for us (since being acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders this week) and I thought all three goals that Red Deer scored were well-executed,” said Molleken, who was dead-on with that assessment.

Rebels forward Nathan Green opened the scoring 5:37 into the contest, cashing a cross-crease, power-play feed from Andrej Kudrna, and after the Blades got markers from Derek Hulak, who walked out of the corner and whipped high shot by Kuemper, and Burke Gallimore on a breakaway, Willie Coetzee one-timed a saucer pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins past Stanford.

The visitors snapped the 2-2 tie when Walker Wintoneak scored directly off a faceoff 12 seconds into the middle frame, and Jyri Niemi blew a slapshot past Kuemper eight minutes later for a two-goal Saskatoon lead. Kudrna drew the Rebels to within one at 12:53 of the period, taking a stretch pass from Cullen Morin and catching the top corner from the left faceoff circle, but that was it for the home side.

“There’s not much to say,” stated Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, clearly dejected with the manner in which his team was man-handled down low.

“I just thought we were real soft in our own zone, I didn’t think we were anywhere near involved enough,” he continued. “We had a few guys that battled pretty hard but also a lot of guys who looked intimidated. They were chasing the puck, not finishing their checks. You can’t play that way. It was a good example of what can happen when you don’t play hard enough defensively.”

The spotty defensive-zone play prevented the Rebels from generating much in the way of scoring chances.

“You can’t create offence without the puck,” said Wallin. “When you’re chasing the puck around in our own zone like we were, once you get it back you turn it over because you’re tired and have to get off the ice.

“We worked on defensive zone coverage three days this week and it looked at times like we had no idea what we were doing in the D-zone. The first guy has to finish his check and separate someone from the puck. Tonight we were just too soft in general.”

While the Rebels fell to 3-6-0-0, the Blades improved to 4-2-0-2 and secured a share of first place in the East Division.

“It’s a big win for our hockey club,” said Molleken. “We have to try and string something together here. Our division this year is very competitive.”

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