Rebels 4 Blades 3
On a night they dominated their guests, the Red Deer Rebels almost let the game slip away.
But they shrugged off some late adversity and pulled out a 4-3 WHL overtime win over the Saskatoon Blades Friday courtesy of Alex Morozoff’s second goal of the season witnessed by 4,073 fans at the Centrium.
“I thought we played really well. Right from the opening faceoff we were good,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“They got some momentum near the end of the game but overall it was as solid a game as we’ve had all year.”
The hosts were up 3-1 in the third period when former Rebels defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus beat Red Deer netminder Ethan Anders at the 12-minute mark with a rising wrister from the low slot.
“We made a bad line change and created an odd-man rush for them,” said Sutter.
Later, with the Rebels badly in need of a line change, the Blades controlled the puck in the Red Deer zone and Kirby Dach notched an equalizer at 17:55 with a high shot from the right circle.
But the Rebels owned the puck in overtime before Morozoff beat Blades netminder Nolan Maier through the five-hole from the top of the left circle 81 seconds into the extra frame.
“(Alex) Alexeyev gave me a nice pass. I saw some open ice, just took the shot and it went in,” said Morozoff. “We competed for 65 minutes out there and we came out on top, so that’s good.”
Sutter said the mood on the Rebels bench remained upbeat when the Blades tied the game late.
“It was fine, we were still pushing to win the game,” said the Rebels boss. “In overtime they (Blades) didn’t touch the puck and we talked about that — winning the opening faceoff. We won two draws and both times were able to keep the puck.”
Schuldhaus had a strong game for Saskatoon, setting up the contest’s first goal at 3:55 of the opening period with a timely feed to Max Gerlach, who tipped it past Anders while driving to the net.
But Rebels leading scorer Brandon Hagel tallied back-to-back with a goal at the midway point of the first and another early in the second frame.
Hagel tied the game at one when he took a touch pass from Reese Johnson and scored from close range, and potted the go-ahead marker after hauling in a stretch pass from Alexeyev at the Blades blueline , breaking in alone and beating Maier over his blocker.
Hagel’s goals were his 11th and 12th of the season and the 20-year-old sits second in league scoring with 25 points.
“He’s got will and determination. He’s driven, he wants to win,” said Sutter. “He’s shown great leadership, all of our guys have. Our older core group has been fantastic with their leadership and that just needs to continue.”
Jeff de Wit made it 3-1 with his eighth of the season at 11:01 of the second period, putting a great move on Maier after receiving a corner pass from Johnson.
The Rebels outshot their guest 13-7 in the third period but couldn’t buy a goal while watching the Blades strike twice.
No matter, they scored when it counted the most for their ninth win of the season.
“I thought we were really, really good tonight,” said Hagel. “It was a bit of a wake-up call in Medicine Hat (a 4-1 loss Wednesday). We came back here and knew what we had to do and we did the job.”
With normal first-line centre Oleg Zaytsev out day-to-day with an upper body injury, Johnson moved up to play between Hagel and de Wit and the line was dominant.
“That line was good but everyone was good,” said Sutter.
Hagel, who now has 202 points in his WHL career, welcomed Johnson as a linemate.
“He’s a smart player. It’s always nice to have a guy like that on your line.”
Notable: The Rebels peppered Maier with 48 shots while Anders faced 26 . . . Selected as the game’s three stars were (1) Hagel, (2) Maier and (3) Johnson . . . The Rebels return to action Sunday versus the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook.