Rebels 4 Hurricanes 2
Clearly, Justin Weller picks his spots.
Either that, or he’s extremely patient.
The Red Deer Rebels defenceman certainly chose the right time to notch his first-ever Western Hockey League goal on Friday, his picturesque short-handed marker at 11:10 of the third period standing up as the winner in a 4-2 triumph over the Lethbridge Hurricanes before an announced Centrium gathering of 4,424.
“It took me a long time to get my first goal out of the way,” said Weller, following his 85th WHL contest. “To score one like that is great. After I shot the puck I had a hard time believing that I scored. I’m really happy about it.”
The six-foot-three rearguard, a fourth-round selection of the Phoenix Coyotes in this year’s NHL entry draft, pounced on a turnover at the Lethbridge blue-line, then carried the puck into the right faceoff circle and ripped a high shot past netminder Michael Tadjdeh.
“I saw something short side and I was lucky enough that (the puck) went where I shot it,” said Weller.
Four minutes later, Brett Ferguson beat Tadjdeh with a low wrist shot from 40 feet out and the Rebels had their insurance.
Despite the positive result, Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin found some holes in his team’s game, given the fact the ‘Canes held a 37-27 advantage in shots.
“It’s a big win. They all are and especially at this time of the year,” he said. “But it certainly wasn’t our best game, and we know that. At times we were too soft in our own end of the rink and relied on our goaltender a little more than I’d like to see. Our power play (zero-for-five) didn’t general enough opportunities and we really just didn’t seem to get a whole lot going offensively. There were times when we got down low in the offensive zone and had possession of the puck, but weren’t moving our feet and driving out of the corners and getting pucks to the net.”
But as Wallin pointed out, it wasn’t all negative, considering that the Rebels rallied from an 2-0 first-period deficit to pull out the victory.
Czech forward Radim Valchar gave the ‘Canes a 1-0 lead 4:37 into the contest and then added a power-play goal at 12:04, firing a rebound off the end boards past goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with his third of the season, replied for the Rebels just over a minute later on a one-timer of a back-door feed from Colten Mayor, and Landon Ferraro drew the home side even 24 seconds into the middle frame, wiring a wrist shot past Tadjdeh after taking a nifty backhand pass from Willie Coetzee.
“We got down two goals early and showed some resilience to get back in the hockey game,” said Wallin. “We showed some mental strength and at the end of the day we found a way to pull out a win. There’s going to be nights in the course of a 72-game season when you’re at your best and still have to find a way to win the game, and we did that tonight.”
Last season, the Rebels — more often than not — would have found a way to lose due to a lackpower of firepower and a knack for turning the puck over at crucial times.
“I’ve already noticed a difference in the team this year. We don’t panic when it’s a tight game,” said Kuemper. “Last weekend we scored seven goals (against the Kootenay Ice), and tonight with the game on the line we need a goal and we go out and get two. That’s what teams need to win.”
After a rough season-opener in which he was yanked in a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Hitmen, Kuemper has posted two wins while surrendering only three goals. The 19-year-old Minnesota Wild draft pick faced only 15 shots in last Saturday’s 7-1 win, but was busy on Friday with a 35-save performance.
“Tonight was definitely a different game than the last one, when I was just trying to stay focused,” said Kuemper. “There was a lot more action tonight, but I prefer that. It’s easier to stay in the game and I enjoy being a big part of the win.”
Wallin praised his netminder.
“‘Kuemps’ stood in there. He stood his ground and was very solid,” said Wallin. “That’s what we need from him and that’s what we’ve come to expect from him. The message he’s got is that we expect him to be a top guy in the league. To be an elite team you need that from your goaltender and he certainly stepped up tonight.”