Wheat Kings 6 Rebels 5 (OT)
Well, that one hurt.
Bad. Real bad.
Of all the Red Deer Rebels’ WHL losses this season — and they’re piling up — Tuesday’s setback was the most devastating of all.
The Rebels scored four unanswered goals in a dominant second period to stake themselves to a 5-1 lead, then coughed up four in the third period and another in overtime and fell 6-5 to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“Well, it’s pretty obvious,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter in attempting to explain the outcome viewed before 3,624 fans at the Centrium.
“You play 40 minutes the right way and you don’t play 20 minutes the right way against a good hockey team, that stuff happens to you.
“Obviously the third period was a meltdown and our defence was non-existent. To a man, they couldn’t make a pass, they were backing in . . . our forwards didn’t have a forecheck. We were happy being up 5-1 and we just quit playing.”
Connor Gutenberg sparked the visitors’ uprising with a power-play tally 5:35 into the third, chipping the pick over Rebels goaltender Riley Lamb while stationed at the side of the net.
Evan Weinger then scored from a scramble just over a minute later, prompting Sutter to call a timeout.
“You take a timeout and try to regroup and nothing happens. There was no response,” said the Rebels boss.
Cole Reinhardt notched his second of the contest on a deflection at 13:21 to make it a one-goal game, yet the Rebels appeared to be off the hook when the Wheat Kings were assessed a too-many-men penalty with 2:55 remaining.
However, inexplicably, the visitors pulled even with a short-handed marker, Stelio Mattheos pulling the trigger at 18:16 when he was allowed to skate into the low slot.
“You use two defencemen more often than not in the last two to two and a half minutes of the game just to make sure you don’t give up that scoring chance,” said Sutter of his late power play lineup.
“Then a guy walks right into the slot and scores. For 40 minutes we had a lot of good players and for 20 minutes we had a lot of bad players. That’s really it.”
Mattheos scored with 12 seconds left in the five-minute frame to end the contest.
Reinhardt opened the scoring 9:35 into the contest and Kristian Reichel pulled the Rebels even late in the first frame, taking a cross-ice feed from Brandon Hagel and beating Wheaties stopper Dylan Myskiw with a high shot to the blocker side.
The Rebels owned the second period, outshooting their guests 15-6 while getting two goals from Reese Johnson and singles off the sticks of Mason McCarty and Lane Zablocki.
McCarty made it 2-1 with a rising shot from the high slot at the 37-second mark and Zablocki scored his eighth of the season at 7:20 following a turnover near the Red Deer blueline. Dawson Barteaux fed the puck to Zablocki, who raced down the right side and caught the far corner of the net.
Johnson then connected twice before the period ended to give the Rebels a seemingly comfortable lead, scoring from the high slot after taking a drop pass from McCarty, and finishing off a nifty three-way passing play — which also involved Zablocki and defenceman Carson Sass — with the Rebels on a power play.
But then came the fateful third and the overtime in which both netminders came up with a handful of big saves. Mattheos ended the contest when he skated across the front of the net and beat Lamb with a wide deke.
For the Rebels, it was their sixth consecutive loss and 12th in their last 13 games. Too many of their defeats, Sutter noted, have been the result of weak third periods.
“Again, we’re a team that doesn’t know how to play a 60-minute game yet,” he said. “ You want to dig in and just finish it off the right way. But it’s not something we’re just talking about now.
“We’ve been a 40-minute team all year. I can’t count on two fingers when we’ve played 60 minutes this year.”
On a positive note, the Rebels’ power play came to life with two goals on four extra-man opportunities.
“We moved pucks and did a good job with it,” said Sutter.
Until the last one, of course.
“Again, you have to get assertive with that. You don’t want to play a forward back there (point) because of what the score is. If you’re up two goals you might, but when you’re only up a goal that’s what you do hockey — bear down and try not to give up that goal.
“What do you say? It was a lack of composure in the third and a lot of mistakes. We spent a lot of time in our zone in the third.
“It’s tough. Some of those goals . . . you go ‘wow, how can that happen’? But it does.”
Notable: Four Rebels had a multiple-point night, with Johnson adding an assist to go with his two goals and Zablocki (1-1), McCarty (1-1) and Grayson Pawlenchuk (0-2) each recording two points . . . Lamb finished with 27 saves while Myskiw made 35 for the visitors . . . The Rebels host the Regina Pats on Friday and the Calgary Hitmen 24 hours later.