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Rebels get shootout goal from Reichel to sink Hitmen

Photos by Rob Wallator

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (SO)
Perhaps the breaks are starting to go the Red Deer Rebels’ way.
The Rebels haven’t fared well in the majority of the WHL extra-time games they’ve been involved in this season, but they pulled out a vital 3-2 shootout win over the Calgary Hitmen Wednesday at the Centrium.
Kristian Reichel opened the skills competition with a somewhat fortunate goal. His rang a shot off the post, but it struck netminder Nick Schneider and trickled back over the line.
The marker stood up as the winner after Schneider turned aside the next two Red Deer shooters — Mason McCarty and Brandon Hagel — and Rebels netminder Ethan Anders denied Hitmen attempts by Jake Kryski, Carson Focht and Jakob Stukel.
“We got a break, no question,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “It was certainly a lucky goal, but sometimes you earn your luck and maybe in the last couple of weeks we’ve earned some.”
The victory was the Rebels’ sixth in their last eight games — with the two losses coming in overtime — and pulled them to within four points of the third-place Kootenay Ice for the final playoff berth in the Central Division. The Ice suffered their fifth straight loss Wednesday, 4-3 at Prince Albert.
The see-saw contest featured excellent goaltending at both ends and a bizarre first period in which — likely due to excessive snowfall — the Centrium lights dimmed twice, causing a pair of delays, and the fire alarm sounded.
In between the mayhem, the Hitmen opened the scoring on a redirect by Conner Chaulk and the Rebels replied with a goal from Mason McCarty, his team-leading 27th of the season. The overage winger cruised into the low slot and buried a perfect feed from Arshdeep Bains.
Red Deer moved in front at 13:37 of the second period when Reese Johnson, during a Rebels power play, broke over the Hitmen blueline and fed Chris Douglas, who scored with a clean shot from 30 feet out.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Tristen Nielsen notched a short-handed tally at 15:03, beating Anders with a high shot from a sharp angle.
Anders came up with a pair of huge saves — on Focht and Riley Stotts — early in the third period and Schneider turned aside all 14 shots he faced in the frame to force a scoreless overtime period.
The five-minute, three-on-three stanza featured a handful of grade-A opportunities. Schneider robbed Rebels captain Grayson Pawlenchuk on a breakaway right off the opening faceoff and made a sizzling glove stab on Hagel, and Anders flashed leather to take a goal away from Mark Kastelic.
“We did a good job in overtime. I just felt that our focus was better and we were handling the man-on-man situations well,” said Sutter. “We knew when to generate a chance and when not to make a high risk play to give up an opportunity.”

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The game wasn’t a classic, but kept the vast majority of the 3,545 fans in their seats until the end.
“It wasn’t beautiful, but it was two big points obviously,” said Sutter. “To find a way to get two points . . . that’s important. It’s nice to get rewarded in a shootout.
“There were certainly chances at each end, both goalies made some big saves. It wasn’t an overly well played game, there was a lot of turnovers tonight but they (Hitmen) were at the end of their road trip and we just came back from a long trip, so those types of games happen.”
No matter, the Rebels got the job done and could catch the Ice by the weekend with a pair of wins over the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday (at home) and Saturday and Ice losses at Regina and Moose Jaw.
“We kept them to not a lot of shots tonight, which was great,” said Anders. “I got caught on that second (goal) but other than that we all played really well.”
The Rebels rookie stopper admitted he was harbouring a slight case of the jitters with the game on the line during the shootout.
“It was a little nerve wracking,” he confessed. “I made sure to stop my buddy (Focht) and other that I just kind of played the guy and we came out with the win, which was super nice.”
With defenceman Colin Paradis (injury) and Alex Alexeyev — who will return to the club Thursday after travelling to his home country of Russia following the death of his mother — out of the lineup, Sutter summoned Sam Pouliot from Powell River of the junior A BCHL.
“Pouls did a good job and we needed that from him,” said Sutter. “And the other guys played well.”
Notable: Alexeyev is scheduled to arrive in Calgary at 3 p.m. Thursday and will practise Friday morning, prior to the evening game versus the Oil Kings. “We’ll get him into a practice and sees how he feels,” said Sutter. “He hasn’t been on the ice for two and a half weeks now. We’ll get him back into the flow of things, take it day to day with him, and Colin too, and see how he does.” . . . Anders, who finished with 29 saves, was honoured prior to the game as the Mitchell and Jewell Rebels player of the month for January. The 17-year-old was recently named the WHL goaltender of the week and WHL rookie of the month. Schneider made 38 saves and was selected as the game’s first star, followed by Douglas and Anders . . . Following Friday’s contest, the Rebels visit the Oil Kings Saturday afternoon, then head west on a four-game road trip that will include stops in Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria and Vancouver.

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