Rebels 5 Wheat Kings 3
The Red Deer Rebels switched the script Friday night at the Centrium.
After performing admirably for two periods and then struggling in the third in each of their three previous road games, the Rebels cranked it up in the final 10 minutes and pulled out a clutch come-from-behind 5-3 WHL win over the Brandon Wheat Kings in front of 4,085 appreciative fans.
The victory pushed the Rebels two points clear of Brandon for the second wild-card playoff berth — and final post-season spot — in the Eastern Conference and they also moved into a tie with Medicine Hat for the first wild-card position.
“I thought we played kind of passive for a good part of the game. We were just kind of on our heels too much,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We got moving and got some urgency in our game in the third period, got some scoring chances and capitalized on them. I just didn’t think we had enough guys going for the first two periods of the game, but we got playing in the third and came back and that’s what you need.”
Brandon struck first when Ben McCartney wheeled out of the corner and whipped a high shot past Red Deer netminder Ethan Anders 3:48 into the contest, then built a 3-0 lead on two quick goals early in the second period.
Stelio Mattheos broke to the net and converted a corner pass from Luka Burzan at 1:36 of the middle frame and Chad Nychuk scored a fluke goal just 64 seconds later, his wrist shot from the point deflecting off a Red Deer player and by a screened Anders.
Brandon Hagel ignited the Rebels’ comeback near the midway point of the period, hauling in a feed from Jeff de Wit, breaking down the right side and beating Wheaties goaltender Jiri Patera with a shot to the far side of the net.
Down 3-1 entering the third period, Red Deer fired four unanswered goals in the final nine minutes and change.
Cam Hausinger struck at 10:45, when, as the trailer on a two-on-one break, he buried a drop pass from Reese Johnson, and Josh Tarzwell pulled the Rebels even just under two minutes later, cutting wide on a Brandon defenceman and catching the top of the net on Patera’s short side.
“He has a good shot and I thought in the third period he got his feet moving, he was skating,” said Sutter. “But he was like a lot of other players through two periods where we weren’t quick in what we wanted to do. We were slow with our passing, we were slow in making plays.
“But we got our feet moving and started working along the boards and did some good things in the third. We put pucks to the net and got to the net and made some plays.”
Zak Smith notched the winner at 16:33, directing the puck in front from behind the net, then watching it glance off Patera’s stick and in.
“Someone cycled it down low, I think it was Zayts (Oleg Zaytsev). I just got the puck and went to throw it on net,” said Smith. “We’ve talked about throwing pucks on net all year. I just threw it on net and it happened to go in.”
Patera was pulled with 2:02 remaining and after some great work by Hagel behind the Brandon net, the puck squirted out front and Zaytsev buried an empty-netter with nine seconds left.
“For the first two periods I think we were just over-complicating things,” said Smith. “In the third we got simple, got pucks deep and just outworked them.”
The Rebels may have been dealt a serious blow when defenceman Alex Alexeyev suffered what appeared to be a knee injury following an open-ice collision with the score tied 3-3 and was transported off the ice on a stretcher.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he is in the next 48 hours, 72 hours. I don’t know any more than that right now,” said Sutter.
The unfortunate incident sparked his teammates to victory, said Smith.
“Seeing Alex go down and seeing what he has been through this season and last season, I think it just drove the players to finish the game off for him,” he stated.
Notable: The Rebels, who have five regular-season games remaining as compared to four for each of Brandon and Medicine Hat, host the Kootenay Ice Saturday . . . Anders made 17 saves while earning his 27th win of the season, while Patera turned aside 26 shots . . . Selected as the three stars were (1) Johnson, (2) Tarzwell and (3) Brandon’s Cole Reinhardt, who recorded one assist . . . The game featured two scraps, with Johnson and Mattheos squaring off and Alex Morozoff dropping the gloves with the Wheat King’s Ty Thorpe. The Red Deer players fared well in both fights . . . . Prior to the game, Alexeyev was honoured as the Mitchell and Jewell Rebels player of the month for February.