If the old adage that a break-even record constitutes a successful road trip, then the Red Deer Rebels’ Western Hockey League Eastern Conference jaunt which concluded with Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Swift Current Broncos, was a failure.
The Rebels opened their four-game venture with a disappointing 4-1 loss at Moose Jaw on Wednesday, then stunned the Brandon Wheat Kings 6-3 on Friday evening before falling 7-3 to the Pats 24 hours later in Regina. Then, with an opportunity to close the expedition with a .500 slate, Red Deer came up just short with a third-period rally on Sunday night, coughing up an empty-net marker in the final minute and suffering a 4-2 loss to the Swift Current Broncos.
“We made a push at the end and had some opportunities, but fell short,” a dejected Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin said following the match in Swift Current.
And with that result, the trip fell short of expectations.
“Overall, we just didn’t play well enough,” said Wallin. “We played a very good game in Brandon and outside of that . . .”
The Rebels bench boss clearly had problems with his team’s effort at Regina.
“We were coming off a good game (at Brandon) and we just didn’t keep the pedal down,” said Wallin.
“I hate to say that we got complacent, but I think we were feeling a little too good about ourselves. We didn’t play the way we needed to play last night and tonight was kind of the same thing.”
The Rebels started OK at Swift Current, but soon fell victim to human error as the Broncos got unanswered first-period goals from Justin Dowling and Taylor Vause, the second coming on a Swift Current power play.
“We made a couple of mistakes that we can’t make and the guys who were at fault know better,” said Wallin.
The Broncos stuck again in the second period, with Cody Eakin pulling the trigger on another power play, before the Rebels scampered back into contention with a pair of third-period goals from Willie Coetzee — even-strength and power-play.
But Dillon Wagner scored into an empty Red Deer net with 47 seconds remaining to dash any hopes of a comeback win by the visitors.
“The mistakes we made ended up in our net and all of a sudden we were playing from behind,” said Wallin. “We came out in the third period and made a good push to get back in, but it was too little, too late. We needed that kind of urgency and desperation through the entire 60 minutes.”
Wallin wasn’t particularly enamoured with either of his goaltenders. Kraymer Barnstable stood out at Brandon, but was pulled in favour of starter Darcy Kuemper after giving up four goals on 21 shots at Regina. Kuemper didn’t fare much better, with 11 saves on 14 shots.
“We can’t pin it solely on goaltending, but our goaltending wasn’t stellar,” said the Rebels coach. “‘Barney’ was solid in Brandon and he was good early Saturday, but at the end of the day our goaltending was like the rest of the team. There’s another level there.”
On a positive note, new Rebels winger Andrej Kudrna made an impact during the trip, collecting five points in the four games, including three power-play goals at Regina.
“He’s played really well since he’s got here. He’s been effective,” said Wallin. “He’s a big guy with good hands and he’s been a nice addition.”
Premier sniper Landon Ferraro, who might have returned too early from a knee injury suffered in a 7-1 win over visiting Kootenay on Sept. 19, was pulled from the Moose Jaw contest and missed the next three games.
“Landon will see our doctor this week and we’ll determine where he’s at,” said Wallin. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to go on Friday (versus the visiting Saskatoon Blades).”