Hitmen 6 Rebels 2
The Red Deer Rebels would have needed a backhoe to dig themselves out the excavation they were in after 20 minutes Saturday at the Centrium.
Down 4-0 to the Calgary Hitmen after one period, the Rebels — adorned in one-time ‘special’ jerseys — at least partially crawled out of the cavity with a pair of unanswered second-period tallies, but were simply in too deep and eventually fell 6-2 to the Calgary Hitmen in front of a WHL crowd of 5,787.
“When you dig yourself a hole like that it’s pretty tough to come back,” said Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin.
“We just made too many mistakes in the first period. On the first two goals we were just too soft on the puck and the next two goals were just due to mental errors.”
Wallin was referring to tallies by Trevor Cheek, who opened the scoring 2:40 into the contest, Cody Sylvester, Danny Gayle — whose two-on-one marker chased Rebels starting netminder Deven Dubyk — and Jimmy Bubnick, who beat Bolton Pouliot on the first shot the Red Deer back-up faced.
The Rebels were without the services of veteran defenceman Aaron Borejko, who was cut for a multitude of stitches after being checked face-first into the boards during Friday’s 3-2 loss at Edmonton and likely won’t be back any time soon.
As a result — with Justin Weller already out for the season and Kayle Doetzel and Devan Fafard also nursing injuries — Red Deer went with only four rearguards, including rookies Stephen Hak and Cody Thiel.
“Young Hak and Thiel . . . we’ve asked them to play a lot of minutes the last few nights,” said Wallin.
“It caught up to them a bit tonight. They were trying hard but they made some mental mistakes that you see when guys are over-played a bit. “
The Rebels finally got on the board when John Persson’s backhand from the side of the crease slipped past netminder Chris Driedger at 1:32 of the second period with the hosts enjoying a two-man advantage.
Alex Petrovic tallied with a point shot late in the middle frame, but that was it for the Rebels despite dominating the last five minutes of the period.
“I liked the way we battled in the second period,” said Wallin. “We got ourselves back in the hockey game and didn’t show any quit, which was good to see.”
The Hitmen sealed the deal when Cheek notched his second of the evening five minutes into the final frame, and Bubnick potted his second — and 24th of the season — into an empty net with three minutes remaining.
Driedger finished with 26 saves, while Dubyk and Pouliot combined for 18 saves at the other end.
“We had some jump in the first period, had a few chances and capitalized. We got some breaks and that was the difference,” said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson. “Red Deer worked extremely hard in the second and third periods. We just had puck luck in the first and held on.”
For the Hitmen, the victory was their eighth in the last 10 games and moved them to within one point of Medicine Hat for third place in the Eastern Conference. With Brandon winning 6-3 at Swift Current, the Rebels fell four points back of the eighth-place Wheat Kings but have two games in hand.
“We’re finding ways to win for the most part right now and I think our guys realize that there’s still a lot of hockey to be played and there’s still a lot of improvement we have to make,” said Williamson.
Pouliot tended the Red Deer net over the final 48 minutes of the game and Wallin was OK with the rookie’s performance.
“He gave up a goal on his first shot and settled in after that,” said Wallin. “He didn’t allow that to rattle him and he made some stops for us the rest of the way. It was good for him to get in the net and hopefully he can gain some level of comfort for being in the net.”
As for Borejko . . .
“Aaron’s in rough shape,” said the Rebels bench boss. “Right now it’s looking like he’s going to be out long term.”
The Rebels are idle until Wednesday when they host the Prince Albert Raiders at 7 p.m.
• Saturday’s special-jersey auction raised over $26,000 for KidSport Central Alberta.