Oil Kings 4 Rebels 1
The Red Deer Rebels bolted out of the starting gate Saturday with an early goal and looked intent on delivering a late-season victory for the sell-out audience of 7,135 at the Centrium.
Lane Zablocki took a pass from Austin Glover along the left well and, from the high slot, ripped a rising shot past Edmonton Oil Kings rookie netminder Josh Dechaine 87 seconds into the contest.
But from there . . .
“That might have been our worst game in a month. To be quite honest, we were brutal,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following a 4-1 WHL loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“After the first two minutes we were terrible. Their goalie was better than ours, our defence as terrible tonight, our centre icemen were terrible tonight, our right wingers were terrible tonight and our left wingers were terrible tonight.
“So when every position is that bad that’s the result you get.”
For the Rebels — and the non-playoff Oil Kings, for that matter — the game meant nothing in regards to the final standings. But for Sutter, whose club will finish third in the Central Division and have drawn the Lethbridge Hurricanes as a first-round post-season opponent, it presented an opportunity for his squad to maintain the pace and intensity that was key to them winning their previous four outings.
“It’s nothing against our opponent, because they played hard,” said the Rebels boss. “But we knew they’d do that.
“But you’d think there would be more juice with us as far as keeping our game at a level it needs to be at. We do it to ourselves so many times.”
The visitors pulled even 90 seconds after surrendering the first goal as Brian Harris buried a loose puck in the crease following a save by Rebels netminder Lasse Petersen, then grabbed a permanent lead when Anatoli Elizarov scored from the right faceoff circle at 13:26 of the opening frame.
Riley Stadel gave the visitors a 3-1 lead at 14:11 of the second period and Graham Miller added an empty-netter with 1:33 remaining in the contest.
The Rebels actually drove the play from the second period on — outshooting their guests 24-12 during that stretch — but couldn’t beat Dechaine, who was selected as the game’s first star with a 33-save performance.
Still, the Rebels failed to generate much in the way of sustained pressure and didn’t make life overly difficult for the Edmonton keeper.
“Our best players weren’t our best players tonight. To a man, they were terrible,” said Sutter. “When they’re bad you get what you get.”
The Rebels conclude their regular-season schedule Sunday with a 4 p.m. rematch with the Oil Kings in Edmonton and Sutter will be looking for a much-improved performance with the playoffs opening next Saturday at Lethbridge.
His worst fears revolve around the possibility that the Rebels will slip back into a routine that resulted in a lengthy losing streak earlier in the season.
“That’s what we’ve been stressing since Wednesday,” he said. “It’s our habits . . . making sure we prepare right for this weekend. I don’t know if guys came to the rink tonight thinking they wouldn’t be playing . . . I don’t know.
“But habits are everything and that’s why with this group — and they’ve show time and time again — when they get away from it and drop their guard and don’t bring any emotion to succeed and have success . . . they get what they get
“Like I told the guys, maybe the game doesn’t mean zippo in the standings but it means everything to what we are as a hockey team. This team can’t let it get away from them, as soon as it does it takes a month to get it back. As coaches we’ve been harping on it but the response tonight wasn’t what we needed.”
Notable: Alexanders Alexeyev and Evan Polei were the chief recipients of the honours when the Rebels presented their individual season awards prior to the game. Alexeyev was presented with the Laebon Homes defenceman of the year and Big 105 top rookie awards, while Polei picked up the Players Award and the ATB Financial humanitarian award . . . Other winners included Jared Freadrich and Carson Sass, co-winners of the Darcy Robinson under-rated award, and Michael Spacek (Booster Juice three-star and Hampton Inn and Suites top scorer), while Rebels trainer Dave ‘Radar’ Horning was presented with the WHL Milestone Award.
Oil Kings 4 Rebels 1