Brandon 4 Red Deer 0
In just his third WHL appearance, Connor Ungar stymied the Red Deer Rebels.
The rookie Brandon Wheat Kings netminder, who just celebrated his 17th birthday on Jan. 12, shut out the Rebels 4-0 with a 34-save masterpiece at the Centrium Wednesday.
His best work came in the final frame with his club leading 2-0, as the Calgary native turned away 20 shots in the period to pick up his first career win and shutout.
“It was a really special moment. I had a lot of family here and it was just unbelievable. Doesn’t matter if it was in Red Deer or Brandon or Calgary or wherever. I’m really thankful for this moment and my teammates. It feels really good,” said the Wheat Kings call-up, who was first star on the night.
“That third period was exhausting. Just stuck with it. One shot at a time and one minute at a time. Got some fortunate bounces. A post there and a lucky one when I fell behind the net. Just living in the moment the whole time.”
It was the third loss for the Rebels in their last five games and GM/ head coach Brent Sutter said his team was simply unable to capitalize in the first 40 minutes. From that point forward, they couldn’t climb back in. They had just 14 shots in the first two periods.
“I didn’t think we played very well. I don’t think we had enough guys play well enough. It’s too bad, obviously a big game,” Sutter said, as the Rebels lost ground in a tight Central Division race.
“Too many mistakes. We chased the game a lot in the first two periods and our power play is killing us. We aren’t getting any production out of our power play and it’s a reflection of your top players.”
Red Deer didn’t score on five power-play opportunities Wednesday and is just one for its last 17 chances on the man advantage. Without blueline anchor Alex Alexeyev, who is week-to-week with an upper-body injury, the power play hasn’t been able to generate enough.
“We just haven’t produced like we need to,” Sutter said.
“You need key goals out of your power play and it’s got to give you something momentum-wise. That first unit is supposed to be all our top players and we’re not getting production.”
Red Deer outshot the Wheat Kings 6-0 in the first five minutes, but the visitors stole the momentum with a strange tally to open the scoring.
A wraparound by Ty Thorpe caught Rebels goalie Ethan Anders off guard and snuck through his five hole.
“We turn the puck over behind the net and our goalie is not ready for it. Just can’t play that way right now. It has been pretty inconsistent with our play,” Sutter said.
Then, a second unfortunate bounce put the Rebels behind the eight ball midway through the second. A Braden Schneider point shot hit the leg of the Rebels defender and took a strange hop past Anders.
“We talked about it right before in the timeout, making sure we get pucks behind the defence to allow us to forecheck and get our legs moving,” Sutter said.
“Twenty seconds later we turn the puck over at their blue and they come down and it’s in our net.”
Down 2-0 in the third period and starting to mount some pressure, Brandon Hagel hit the post with a wide-open net after a glorious feed from Oleg Zaytsev.
Zaytsev’s second penalty late in the third period with the Rebels behind 2-0 proved costly.
Streaking down the wing, Stelio Mattheos centered to Luka Burzan who tipped his 28th of the season past Anders. Anders allowed three goals on 29 shots.
Red Deer sits second in the central with a 28-16-2-1 record and 59 points, one ahead of Medicine Hat and three behind the Edmonton Oil Kings for top spot.
The Rebels are on the road Friday for a big divisional game in Lethbridge, before hosting the Calgary Hitmen Saturday.