Too close for comfort

The Red Deer Rebels were in control of Friday’s game for 57 minutes, but the ending got a little too close for comfort.

Rebels 4 Warriors 3

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — The Red Deer Rebels were in control of Friday’s game for 57 minutes, but the ending got a little too close for comfort.

The host Moose Jaw Warriors scored twice in a 61-second span in the final minute-and-a-half with their goalie pulled to send the game to extra time.

Fortunately for the Rebels all they gave up from there on out was the bonus point for a regulation tie as Willie Coetzee scored the winner in the shootout for a 4-3 win.

“We had complete control of the hockey game — for the first 17 minutes of the third period I thought we played absolutely outstanding, we played exactly how we needed to . . . and then they got the goaltender out and we got back on our heels,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin.

“I’m glad we won the game, it was a game we certainly deserved to win, I felt, and we were in position to win, but the lesson tonight is we’ve got to find a way to buckle down in that position. There’s no reason for us to give up an extra point.”

Thomas Frazee kick started the comeback at 18:27 when the Rebels failed to clear the puck off a defensive zone faceoff.

Then, like the game before in Brandon on Wednesday, a controversial goal was key as Quinton Howard got credit for chipping home a goal with 32 seconds left that Wallin says never crossed the goal-line.

“The puck wasn’t in the net before the whistle, and our guys on the ice were quite certain the puck wasn’t in the net before the whistle went, but unfortunately the call went the other way. It ended up tying the game up and we were fortunate enough to pull that game out in a shoot out,” said Wallin.

Rebels rookie phenom Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played one of his better games of the season, scoring twice and was a threat every time he was on the ice.

He opened the scoring for the Rebels on a nice move off a Brett Ferguson feed just 1:23 into the game.

Then with the score tied at 1-1, 6:42 into the second period, Nugent-Hopkins scored his 21st goal of the season, ripping a shot high blocker side on Brandon Glover in the Moose Jaw net.

“Hoppy was outstanding tonight, he was strong on the puck and it seemed every time he got it he had it on a string,” said Wallin. “He was just making things happen, and was good at both ends of the rink.”

Justin Weller made it 3-1 with his second goal of the season, when he also drilled a shot high blocker side on Glover from the top of the slot at 4:42 of the third period.

Darcy Kuemper was huge in the Rebels net, making 41 saves to pick up the win, including turning away all 18 shots he faced in the middle frame.

“He was very good, especially in that second period,” said Wallin. “In the second period we got into some trouble where we just didn’t seem to be assertive for about a 10-minute span and they were a desperate hockey team. They came at us hard in that second period and we were too casual and our battle level slipped a little bit.”

The game was played with a playoff intensity with both teams battling tooth and nail for every point in a race for the playoffs — the sixth-place-Rebels hold a four point lead on the eighth-place Warriors — and that lead to a second-period fight between Rebels defenceman Alex Petrovic and Warriors blue-liner Dylan McIlrath, who also scored the Warriors first goal.

It was a rematch of their one-sided tussle at the CHL prospect game in January where McIlrath dominated Petrovic. This time the Rebels rear guard held his own with one of the WHL’s top heavyweights..

“It was a good fight,“ said Wallin. “It started off a hit Petrovic made behind the net and . . . McIlrath came in and attacked him and got the instigator on the play. Petrovic was kind of taken aback, he didn’t know it was coming, but he got his gloves off and hung in there and hit him with a few. Petro’s not a guy who does a lot of it but he’s playing with an edge and he’s got himself some fight and he’s not going to back down from anyone.”

The Rebels (30-20-0-4) will close out their four-game road trip tonight in Swift Current(27-25-0-3) at 6:30 p.m.