Rebels 6 Wheat Kings 3
BRANDON, Man. — The Beatles had the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has Westman Place in Brandon, Man.
If anyone in the Western Hockey League hadn’t heard of him yet, after Friday night’s performance it will be hard to turn a blind eye to the Nuge.
Nugent-Hopkins recorded his first career WHL hat trick in leading the Rebels over the Brandon Wheat Kings Friday night.
“He played unbelievable,” said head coach Jesse Wallin. “He had the puck all night and just seemed to have the puck on a string — it just followed him all over the ice. He played with confidence.
“But the guys around him played very well too. They did a very good job of winning the battles.”
The three goal-performance gives the 16-year-old prodigy six in six games this year, and seven points overall. He is now tied for first in the league in goals scored with Kelowna’s Stephan Novotny, Edmonton’s Brent Raedeke and Kamloops’ Tyler Shattock — Nugent-Hopkins is the only rookie among them.
“I don’t know if we were expecting hat tricks, but we all know he’s a very good player, he’s an elite 16-year-old and it’s just about him playing the way he does,” said Wallin. “He goes out plays hard, he’s a hard working kid, he’s very coachable . . . he wants to be a player and he wants to do well. What comes with it is a result of his commitment and work ethic. With the talent level he has, he is a special player.”
Making the performance that much more impressive is the Rebels have not won in Brandon since Nov. 3, 2003 — a string of 10-straight overtime losses — and the Rebels themselves were coming off of a frustrating 4-1 loss on Wednesday in Moose Jaw.
“It was huge, but our focus tonight was playing well and winning a hockey game and it happened to be the Brandon Wheat Kings,” said Wallin. “We just wanted to play as well as we could tonight, and get a real solid effort and that’s what we got tonight to a man.”
Lost in the play of Nugent-Hopkins was back up goalie Kraymer Barnstable. He gave up three goals on the first 10 shots he faced — although it would be hard to fault him on any of them. He dug deep and shut Wheat Kings out from there on, making several huge saves along the way. He finished with 20 stops on the night while Andrew Hayes made 34 for Brandon.
“I was wondering how Barney was going to respond,” said Wallin. “But he’s a mentally tough kid, he showed that tonight. He stayed with it and calmed himself right down and made some key saves for us in the third period which you need your goaltender to do for you in tight games.”
Nathan Green opened the scoring for the Rebels at 4:06 of the first period with newcomer Andrej Kudrna and Willie Coetzee picking up the assists.
But Brandon struck back with two goals in 80 seconds from Scott Glennie and Jordan Hale shorthanded. Nugent-Hopkins scored his first goal from Brett Ferguson and Coetzee before the first period was out on the power play to send the game into the second period knotted at 2-2.
Jay Fehr put the Wheat Kings up 3-2 with another shorthanded goal at 8:05 of the second frame. However, Coetzee struck back for the Rebels at 13:20 and Nugent-Hopkins scored the go-ahead marker at 15:09 on the power play — Green assisted on both goals while Kudrna was in on the second.
Nugent-Hopkins’ third goal at 5:51 of the third gave the Rebels some breathing room at 5-3 and Jordie Deagle put it away with his first goal of the season at 11:47.
The big stat for the Rebels was going a perfect eight-for-eight on the penalty kill — shutting out a Wheat Kings power play that includes the likes of Brayden Schenn, Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert.
“I can’t think of another power play in the league that has the skill on it that Brandon does,” said Wallin. “We did a great job through the neutral zone and forced them to dump the puck every time and we won the battles.”
The Rebels (3-3-0) are in Regina (3-4-0) tonight at 7 p.m. and are in Swift Current (2-3-0) on Sunday at 7p.m., as they looking to build some confidence.
“The thing for this group is they’ve got to believe in themselves,” said Wallin. “Tonight we played with a lot of energy and we talked this morning about in believing in the group we have here and letting ourselves play. We talked about relaxed intensity, being intense but not tense . . . and we did a great, great job of that.”