Speed doesn’t necessarily kill, but it can be scary.
“They’re a team that has a lot of speed and skill and I thought we seemed to be a little bit intimidated by their speed in the first period,” said Red Deer Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin, reflecting on a 4-1 Western Hockey League loss to the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday.
The Tigers struck for two first-period goals, including a marker — which was confirmed following a video review — by Matt MacKay just 87 seconds in, and despite being pushed by their hosts over the final 40 minutes, never surrendered the lead.
Coming off an impressive 4-1 home-ice win over the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday night, the Rebels simply weren’t ready for a hard-charging and well-rested Medicine Hat squad.
For the Rebels, the intent was there; the execution was not.
“They didn’t play last night and we knew they were going to come hard,” said Wallin.
“They were going to want to get a jump on us and they did that. We got back on our heels as a result. We really tried to focus on that first 10 minutes and have a real good start, but it just seemed to take us a little while to get our feet going.”
The Rebels were back in the contest when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins buried Willie Coetzee’s fine feed a mere 1:52 into the middle frame, and the clubs battled through 17 minutes of scoreless play before Kale Kessy broke in alone following a Red Deer giveaway and gave the Tigers a two-goal margin.
Then, two minutes following Kessy’s tally,
Bretton Cameron added an empty-netter with 2:40 remaining in the contest. Emerson Etem notched the other Medicine Hat goal, a power-play strike at 15:33 of the first period.
The Rebels, who got a 34-save effort from Darcy Kuemper, outshot their guests 29-23 through the last two periods, but Tyler Bunz, who finished with 32 stops, sparkled in the Tigers cage and was named third star of the evening as a result.
“We played really well in the second and third periods,” said Wallin.
“We certainly created enough opportunities to get ourselves back in the game, but that first period hurt us. We played five real good periods of hockey this weekend, but the one bad period hurt us.”
While a weekend sweep was in the Rebels’ plans, they had to settle for Friday’s conquest over one of the league’s more explosive clubs.
“We had a real commitment to playing a solid two-way game and being very good in our own end of the rink, and I think everybody was,” said Wallin.
“We had real good leadership and guys like (Landon) Ferraro and (Andrej) Kudrna contributed offensively but also got those opportunities as a result of good defensive play.”
Unfortunately, the Rebels weren’t as sharp 24 hours later, but they were able to take a few positives out of the contest, including the performance of 15-year-old rearguard Matt Dumba.
Dumba also suited up against the Warriors, arriving in Red Deer from Calgary just 20 minutes before game-time due to bad road conditions.
“He had a lot on his plate Friday and it took him a while to settle in, although he was still nervous because it was his first (WHL regular-season) game,” said Wallin, in reference to the Rebels’ first-round selection in last spring’s WHL bantam draft.
“Tonight he looked more like himself, he looked confident out there moving the puck and he handled himself very well. We certainly wouldn’t look at him as a 15-year-old kid. He was out there against a good team with a lot of speed and he didn’t look out of place at all.”
The Rebels are idle until Friday when they visit Lethbridge for an engagement with the Hurricanes. Red Deer hosts the Saskatoon Blades the next night.