Rebels 5 Cougars 1
From somewhat tentative to downright aggressive.
That’s the path the Red Deer Rebels traversed Saturday night at the Centrium in a 5-1 Western Hockey League victory over the Prince George Cougars before 4,343 fans.
The Rebels were outshot 11-10 in an opening period that ended in a 1-1 tie, but notched a pair of second-period markers and put it away with two more in the third.
“We just kind of got back to our game,” said Rebels star forward Brandon Hagel, who tallied twice to bring his season total to 30. “I didn’t think our defensive play was as good as we wanted to be (earlier). We started moving pucks quicker and moving our feet and success started to come.”
The Rebels wasted a glorious opportunity to get the early jump on their guests when they came up empty on a five-on-three power play and managed just three shots on goal during the entire man-advantage opportunity.
But the hosts still opened the scoring when Alex Morozoff threw the puck to the net and it glanced off the skate of Arshdeep Bains and past Cougars netminder Isaiah DiLaura shortly after the power play expired.
“Our power play didn’t start off great early but our five-on-five play was very good,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“I thought our young players were good tonight. They got a big first goal for us early in the game especially after the power play didn’t get it going for us.”
Cougars captain Josh Curtis responded just past the midway point of the first, pouncing on a loose puck from a scramble and catching the far side of the net behind Ethan Anders.
The Rebels gradually gained momentum in the middle frame after leaving Anders on the clothesline with a series of turnovers earlier in the period.
Hagel had a chance to boost Red Deer into the lead but was denied by DiLaura on a penalty shot, but he made good less than a minute later. Cam Hausinger made a determined play to keep the puck in at the Prince George blueline and pushed it ahead to Hagel, who cut to the net and roofed a shot.
“I was just trying to do the same move as I did the past couple shootouts, but the puck flipped up on me,” said Hagel of his failed penalty shot.
“Our goalie coach was putting stuff on the board before the game so it’s getting in my head a bit so I might have to tell him to stop,” he added jokingly. “But really, it didn’t work out but I got him (DiLaura) back.”
As it turned out, Hagel’s 29th of the season was the eventual winner.
“Obviously I was a little frustrated I didn’t bury it (penalty shot),” he said. “But once I got that one there I think it got all the guys going.”
Hausinger made it 3-1 in the final minute of the second period, converting a drop pass from Chris Douglas, who created and odd-man rush when he got behind the Cougars defence after exiting the penalty box.
The Rebels then pulled away in the third, with Hagel working out of the corner and whipping a shot to DiLaura’s short side, and Brett Davis notching a similar goal, his 15th of the season.
“We stayed with it,” said Sutter. “I thought in the third period we did a really good job of managing the game the right way and making sure we understood what the score was.”
The Rebels boss liked what he saw from his younger troops and in fact was pleased with his entire crew.
“We had a lot of good players tonight right through our whole lineup,” he said. “Hauser (Hausinger) was really as was Johny’s line (Reese Johnson with Jeff de Wit and Josh Tarzwell), and what do you say about Hages? It becomes a common theme.
“Hages is certainly a catalyst but we need our older players to be good players, our best players to be our best players and our younger players to just continue to get better and grow every game.
“It’s a big win. We needed two points tonight after last night (a 5-3 home-ice loss to Medicine Hat).”
Sutter didn’t hesitate to give top minutes to his lesser experienced skaters.
“We played them against their top lines, we just let them go,” he said. “They were responsible, they were hard on pucks, they won one-on-one battles and put pucks on net.
“When they’re like that hopefully it’s a sign of them showing improvement and understanding what we want and what we expect from everybody, no matter your age.”
Notable: The Red Deer win, coupled with Medicine Hat’s 3-1 loss to Moose Jaw and Everett’s 9-1 thumping of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, vaulted the Rebels into first place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Tigers, ‘Canes and Edmonton Oil Kings . . . “Points are crucial at this time of the year. We got the two points and we have to be happy with it,” said Hagel, who was selected as the game’s first star. Named second and third stars were Hausinger and Anders, who was excellent with a 26-save outing. DiLaura made 29 saves . . . The Rebels are idle until Wednesday when the Brandon Wheat Kings visit the Centrium.