Broncos 4 Rebels 1
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter was in a better mood Friday than was the case two days earlier.
But while his team was markedly better in terms of effort than in Wednesday’s 7-3 WHL loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the result was the same — a 4-1 setback at the hands of the visiting Swift Current Broncos.
“I thought our intention was in the right place here tonight,” said Sutter, following the contest viewed by 4,665 fans at the Centrium. “Certainly it was a significant difference from our last game at home.”
The Rebels didn’t help themselves, failing to create much offensive push until the third period and turning over two pucks that led directly to Broncos goals.
Sylvan Lake native Tyler Steenbergen opened the scoring a mere 1:17 into the game following a giveaway at the Red Deer blueline, and he notched his second of the evening — and 42nd of the season — off a defensive gaffe by Michael Spacek.
Steenbergen’s second marker at 9:53 of the third period was a back-breaker, coming just 27 seconds after the Rebels had closed the gap to 2-1.
“You look at the two goals that were gift-wrapped, their first and third goals. When you allow two-on-ones inside your own blueline, it’s tough,” said Sutter. “We had a push, we made it 2-1, and they got that one right away on a bad turnover.”
Lane Zablocki notched Red Deer’s lone goal on a power play, catching the top corner of the net from the left circle, and was robbed by Broncos netminder Taz Burman — with a diving save on a one-timer — with roughly four minutes remaining.
Steenbergen then sealed the deal — and completed his hat trick — with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“I was happy with the kids’ effort, I was happy with our purpose here tonight,” said Sutter.
“I talked to them after Christmas about how there has to be more focus and more discipline in how we play. We have to take more pride in our systems and we have to have a work ethic with that.
“If not we’re going to be a below .500 hockey team and pushing to try and find a playoff spot, and that’s where we’re at right now (with a 23-24-5-3 record).
Sutter was critical of forwards Spacek, Brandon Hagel and Austin Glover following Wednesday’s loss, but liked what he saw from the trio Friday.
“Hopefully they’re taking strides because we need our best players to be our best players,” said the Rebels boss.
The Rebels’ four rookie defencemen struggled at times Friday, but Sutter pointed out that veteran blueliners Colton Bobyk, Jared Freadrich and Brandon Schuldhaus also had their problems in the first period.
“We know we have a young defence and there’s going to be some things that happen out there that just happen with young defencemen in this league,” he said. “Yet from a general manager’s perspective I have to have an eye on the future. Those young guys are going to get thrown to the wolves a bit and they’re going to learn.
“It wasn’t so much them in the first period, it was our older guys. I thought Bobs and Freddy and Brandon struggled in the first, but they were better in the last two periods, so that’s encouraging.”
Glenn Gawdin gave the Broncos a 2-0 lead when he cashed a drop pass from Riley Stotts in the second period. The Rebels couldn’t mount a push-back in the frame due to being assessed four consecutive minor penalties.
On a positive note, the Red Deer penalty killers erased all six Swift Current power plays during the course of the evening. The Rebels were one-for-three with a man advantage.
“Absolutely, we took too many penalties,” said Sutter. “That’s 12 minutes you’re trying to kill off. We deserved all the penalties, probably, but our PK was good.”
Burman made 26 saves for his 12th win of the season, while Petersen stopped 28 shots, including several of the high-grade variety.
“Petey was really solid,” said Sutter. “Even the other night (Wednesday) when I took him out of the game . . . it had nothing to do with him, he was solid that night too.”
The loss was the third in succession for the Rebels, and with 17 games remaining in the regular season, Sutter stressed the importance of getting back on the right track sooner than later.
“It is what it is, you have to man up right now,” he said. “We have to make sure we keep our heads up. We have to dig out of this together. There’s nothing easy about it and there’s nothing easy about our schedule coming up.”
The Rebels host the Regina Pats Saturday before heading out on a five-game road trip beginning Tuesday at Seattle.
Just notes: Rebels captain Adam Musil sat out Friday, serving a one-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of Wednesday’s outing. Meanwhile, Cam Hausinger completed his two-game suspension that followed a charging major and game misconduct he was assessed Feb. 4 in Saskatoon.
Broncos 4 Rebels 1