Tigers 9 Rebels 1
There goes home-ice advantage.
With a thud.
The Medicine Hat Tigers invaded the Centrium Friday and laid a 9-1 beating on the Red Deer Rebels, scoring six power-play goals in the process to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal that continues tonight.
The Rebels roared out of the starting gate, hitting everything that moved while carrying the play. Then, with just 3:23 gone in the contest, Boston Leier beat Rebels netminder Darcy Kuemper with a wrist shot from well outside the Red Deer blueline, stunning the home club and most of the 5,926 fans.
From there, it went downhill in a hurry for the Rebels, as Thomas Carr connected with the visitors enjoying a two-man advantage and Emerson Etem beat Kuemper with another softy from the top of the faceoff circle, again on the power play.
The second period was nothing short of a nightmare for the home side. After Rebels winger John Persson scored on a wrap-around just 17 seconds into the frame, the Tigers’ Kale Kessy replied at 3:50.
Kuemper appeared to have the puck frozen on the play, but Kessy bumped a Red Deer defenceman into the netminder, the puck came loose and the Tigers forward slipped it home.
“We came out strong in the second and scored, then gave up another tough one. We just weren’t sharp as a team, from our goaltender on out,” said a surprisingly calm Rebels head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin.
The floodgates opened following Kessy’s goal, with the Tigers striking for another four man-advantage markers — two by each of Linden Vey and Jace Coyle — and a short-handed tally by Wacey Hamilton before the intermission.
Kuemper was replaced by Dawson Guhle following the Tigers’ fifth goal and returned at the start of the second period.
While Tyler Bunz was his usual steady self in making 36 saves for the Tigers, Kuemper stopped 12 of 17 shots and Guhle blocked four of the eight he faced.
“At the end of the day we didn’t have very many good players,” said Wallin. “We just weren’t very sharp tonight.
“We gave up a tough goal to start the game and then put ourselves in penalty trouble.
“We gave up a couple of tough goals and all of a sudden we were down 3-0. I thought we lost our composure from there. We really lost our focus in the second period. The guys were frustrated and taking penalties that were uncharacteristic of our team. We just seemed to get rattled.”
“We let our emotions get the best of us and that can’t happen,” added Rebels captain Colin Archer.
“That hasn’t happened to us all year. It’s something we take very seriously and something we can use to our benefit tomorrow. We knew what we had to do tonight and obviously we didn’t do it. We’ll come back tomorrow ready to play.”
Tigers head coach Shaun Clouston was almost at a loss for words following the contest that was certainly one-sided on the scoreboard but not in terms of territorial play.
“It was really an interesting game,” said Clouston. “Territorially there wasn’t a whole lot of difference, but we capitalized on our chances.
“We got the lucky goal early and that seemed to shake things up a bit. Then we scored on the power play and did a good job of defending.”
The Tigers also got a stellar outing from Bunz.
“For sure. There were points early in the game when Red Deer could have got right back into it,” said Clouston. “Tyler came up big for us. He made a couple of big saves that come to mind.”
The Medicine Hat bench boss clearly didn’t anticipate what transpired Friday.
“It was an interesting game and obviously we expect things to be a lot different tomorrow,” he said.
Wallin suggested his team will use the embarrassing outing as motivation for Game 2.
“A loss like that can sometimes be good for you,” he said. “Every great team, every championship team, runs into adversity at some point during a playoff series.
“We haven’t had a game like that all year. It was a good wake-up call.”