Rebels fall just short despite gutsy effort versus Americans, earn single point
Americans 5 Rebels 4 (SO)
The Red Deer Rebels came up short in extra time once again, but they picked up a hard-earned point against one of the WHL’s premier squad on Saturday at the Centrium.
After twice fighting and scratching their way back from a two-goal deficit — including scoring the tying goal with less than three seconds left in regulation time — the Rebels dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Tri-City Americans before 4,132 excited and highly entertained fans.
“It was a really good game, back and forth with scoring opportunities for both teams,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose squad dropped its sixth straight extra-time contest.
“I thought both teams did a pretty good job defensively, too. You get down two and you battle back and tie it up. They get up two and then you score two to even it up again.”
The Rebels blew an excellent chance to snare both points when Americans star forward Michael Rasmussen was assessed a hooking penalty early in overtime. But despite some good zone time, the home side couldn’t pull the trigger.
“We had our chances in overtime to win with a power play and when it gets to a shootout obviously anything can happen,” said Sutter. “But I was proud of the kids, they played hard here tonight. It was a heck of a game.”
That the game got to overtime was a credit to the Rebels’ persistence.
With just nine seconds remaining, Mason McCarty busted out of the Red Deer zone and directed a shot at netminder Beck Ward. The rebound was scooped up by Grayson Pawlenchuk and his backhand trickled through Warm’s pads.
“I was kind of excited. I was yelling at Alex (Alexeyev), ‘give it to me’,” said McCarty, who earlier notched his team-leading 15th and 16th goals of the season.
“I knew we were short on time. I was just trying to get up ice and saw ‘Pawl’ driving. I didn’t think a pass was going to get to him so I tried to fire a low one on net and maybe create something. ‘Pawl’ is a big strong guy and he stuck with it. It was a good goal by him.”
Red Deer was slow out of the gate and trailed 2-0 after conceding goals to Morgan Geekie and Isaac Johnson at 4:12 and 12:45 of the opening frame, the latter tally coming on the power play.
Red Deer didn’t record its first official shot on net until Reese Johnson scored on a breakaway at 14:11, but that was somewhat misleading considering the Rebels struck a cross bar, narrowly missed on a handful of shots and had a goal disallowed due to a high stick.
The Rebels pulled even with five seconds remaining in the period as Lukas McKenzie fed Pawlenchuk who in turn passed to McCarty, who put the puck upstairs while driving to the net.
The remainder of the game was pretty much even up, with the Rebels outshooting their guests 10-9 and 13-9 in each of the second and third periods.
“Tri-City is a big team, they’re a tough team,” said McCarty. “They play big and try to bully guys out of the rink. We responded well and played well after a slow start.”
Carson Focht restored the visitors’ lead at 12:13 of the second stanza and were up by two when Dylan Coghlan potted a power play marker just over four minutes later.
From there, McCarty hauled in a two-on-one pass from McKenzie and beat Warm high to the glove side with 1:16 left in the period, setting up a thrilling final 20 minutes of regulation time highlighted by the late tying goal.
Despite falling just short when the Americans scored twice in the shootout and the Rebels were shut out, Sutter was impressed with his team’s gutsy effort.
“That’s a very good team,” he said. “Tri has a very good hockey team, they’re well put together, well coached and they have some top end players, and I thought we handled all that really well tonight.”
Special teams were the difference in the contest, with the Americans going two-for-four on the power play and the Rebels firing blanks during five man advantage situations.
“One area of our game we really have to shore up is our specialty teams,” said Sutter. “We have to find a way to get our power play going. You miss guys like Reichs (Kristian Reichel, currently with the Czech national junior team) out there, but that being said it is what it is and other guys have to step up.
“Tonight it could have been a difference in a positive way. We had our chances on it but we just didn’t generate enough.
“We just have to keep working on it. We work on it almost daily in practice, do different things, try different personnel on it. We have to try to get something going in a positive way.”
As for his club’s penalty kill . . .
“Penalty killing is tough. We have some guys who are good penalty killers who aren’t in the lineup,” said the Rebels boss. “You’re working some young kids into this now.
“Even with the power play, the one unit had all 17-year-olds on it and one time tonight I put ‘Bainsy’ (midget call-up Arshdeep Bains) on it, a 16-year-old. But we’ll keep plugging away, that’s all you can do. It certainly hasn’t been a lack of effort and a lack of trying.”
Saturday’s game was the fourth in succession that the Rebels turned in a solid 60-minute performance. But they’ve managed just one win in the process — snapping an 11-game losing streak with a 4-1 win Friday at Medicine Hat — despite a much improved and consistent work ethic.
“It’s kind of been rolling through my head about this stretch we’ve been through,” said McCarty. “To be honest, I don’t care what anyone says, we’ve deserved a better fate. Unfortunately numbers don’t lie but over the last four or five games we’ve made strides.
“We’ll have a good Christmas, come back for the second half (of the season) ready to play and anything can happen.”
Added Sutter: “The last four games have probably been the best hockey we’ve played all year. We’re taking strides now and that’s what you want to see, you want to see players progressing and we’re starting to see some of that.
“We’re a younger team than we were three weeks ago and we’re playing better hockey. That’s encouraging.”
Notable: Warm finished with 25 saves, one fewer than Rebels netminder Ethan Anders . . . Selected as the game’s three stars were (1) McCarty, (2) Isaac Johnson and (3) Pawlenchuk . . . Bains, in his second game after being summoned from the BC Major Midget League, where he’s the leading scorer, recorded his first WHL point with an assist on Johnson’s goal . . . The pre-Christmas portion of their schedule now complete, the Rebels will return to action Dec. 27 versus the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings.