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Rebels struggle defensively in loss to Hitmen

Photos by Candice Ward/Calgary Hitmen

Hitmen 5 Rebels 3

CALGARY— Lightning always strikes twice.

The Red Deer Rebels don’t have to be reminded of that.

Less than a minute after pulling into a 2-2 tie with the Calgary Hitmen early in the third period of Friday’s WHL contest at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Rebels surrendered two goals just over two minutes apart in an eventual 5-3 loss witnessed by 5,411 fans.

Simply put, the Rebels couldn’t stand success, because after drawing to within a single goal late in the contest, they watched Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman pot his second of the evening — an insurance marker — at 18:24.

With a faceoff in the Red Deer end and 48 seconds showing on the clock, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter replaced starting goaltender Ethan Anders with rookie Byron Fancy.

Was the Rebels boss making a statement with the move?

“Yep. We just didn’t get any saves in the third,” he said.

Indeed, Anders couldn’t come up with a timely stop in the final frame and turned aside just five of the eight shots he faced.

But Sutter wasn’t pinning the entire blame on his second-year stopper, who has struggled somewhat in recent weeks.

On the contrary  . . . 

“In the second period he was fine, the other 18 guys weren’t,” said Sutter, in reference to the 20-minute stretch controlled by the Hitmen.

Otherwise . . . 

“The first period was fairly even but in the third we didn’t get any saves,” he added as a brief summation of the 60 minutes.

Neither club was able to break through in the first period and Zimmerman broke the scoreless tie when he converted a rebound off the end boards 3:41 into the second.

Red Deer drew square just over two minutes later when Cam Hausinger raced down the right side and directed a shot at Jack McNaughton. The Hitmen netminder kicked out a long rebound to Brett Davis who quickly pulled the trigger.

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Bryce Bader restored Calgary’s lead late in the stanza, beating Anders to the glove side from the low slot, but Rebels defenceman Dawson Barteaux notched a power-play marker 1:08 into the third when Brandon Hagel circled high and fed his teammate who moved in from the point.

However, just 52 seconds had expired when Luke Coleman fought through the Rebels defence and beat Anders with a backhand deke, and at 4:19 Kaden Elder scored short side from the high slot.

“(Jacob) Herauf is beat one-on-one on their third goal, and on their fourth one we cheat in the O-zone and they make it an odd-man rush and score,” said Sutter.

Reese Johnson gave the Rebels some late hope, sniping from the middle slot after Davis worked out of the corner and put the puck on the captain’s stick.

But that goal, at 16:16, was all for naught, as Zimmerman placed a backhander over Anders at 18:24 to erase any lingering suspense.

“We cheated again, they got an odd-man rush and scored,” said Sutter, who didn’t see enough positive signs to dole out passing marks in any area.

In fact, outside of last Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win over Edmonton, there have many far too many games — four since the Christmas break — in which the Rebels have leaked goals.

“I’m not happy with our hockey team right now,” he said. “We’re not getting the effort as far as our overall team game and we continue to give up four to six goals a game,” he said. “That tells you you’re not a team that’s committed to being competitive.

“We just give up too many quality scoring chances. Andy hasn’t played as well as we need him playing but a good defensive team is always a hard-working team and when you give up that many goals you’re not competing enough.”

Fancy will start for the Rebels when the Victoria Royals visit the Centrium Saturday.

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