Zablocki makes solid first impression in Rebels win
Rebels 4 Cougars 1
The latest forward to be inserted into the Red Deer Rebels lineup wasted no time in making his mark with his new team.
Lane Zablocki, acquired earlier in the day from the Regina Pats, notched his 10th goal of the season Tuesday to help the Rebels post an impressive 4-1 WHL win over the visiting Prince George Cougars.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” said Zablocki, who left Regina on an afternoon flight. “I showed up about 10 minutes before warm-up and didn’t have a stretch, just threw the stuff on and went out and I think it went pretty well.”
The 18-year-old winger admitted he was somewhat disappointed when he was informed of the trade news Tuesday morning. However, he didn’t dwell on that aspect of the deal and instead focused on the fact that he’ll be playing bigger minutes with his new team.
“It was tough to leave a great group of guys in Regina, but I think it’s best for me here,” he said. “I’ll excel more here so I’m really excited.”
Zablocki is also happy to be back in Alberta, less than an hour from his hometown of Wetaskiwin.
“I had a bunch of buddies come out today so it’s great to see them and be closer to home,” he said.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter certainly had no qualms regarding Zablocki’s performacne.
“I think you guys saw what type of player he is,” Sutter told the assembled media. “He brings speed and he’s going to get scoring chances. He plays hard and that’s the beauty about this — he has hardness in his game and he’s smart, he knows how to play.
“That’s why we wanted to get him, because he’s a top-six forward.”
A gathering of 3,905 braved the extreme cold to watch the Rebels turn in one of their most complete performances of the season.
“It was a solid game. I thought right from the get-go we did a lot of good things,” said Sutter. “We stuck with it, we paid attention to our details and in a way it was a carry-over from the last two games. That’s the way we have to play.”
The Rebels got a power-play goal from Adam Musil 8:57 into the contest and never looked back. Michael Spacek started the play, hitting Evan Polei at the side of the net, and Polei promptly fed Musil with a cross-crease pass that the Rebels captain deposited into a gaping net.
Polei made it 2-0 seven minutes later, crossing the blueline, cutting to the middle and beating netminder Ty Edmonds with a rising backhand.
Second-year Rebels forward Austin Pratt closed out a dominant opening period with his 11th of the season at 17:42, moving into the left faceoff circle and firing a shot to the top corner.
Zablocki added extra insurance just prior to the midway point of the middle stanza, knocking a loose puck in the crease past Nick McBride, who replaced Edmonds at the start of the period.
Rebels netminder Lasse Petersen had his shutout bid ruined with 2:33 remaining in the game when Aaron Boyd tipped home a point shot by Shane Collins.
Petersen finished with 23 saves, including a sensational pad stop on Jackson Leppard and a robbery of Jared Bethune off a one-timer from close range.
“I was proud of the kids tonight. They just stayed with it and stayed with it and Petey made some big saves at key times,” said Sutter. “They had a couple of quality, quality scoring chances and he was huge for us.”
The Cougars seldomed threatened and never created much in the way of sustained pressure.
“There’s a certain way we want to play,” said Sutter. “You have three zones on the ice and you have to play a certain way in each zone when you have the puck and you don’t have the puck.
“Our focus has been better with that tonight and the last couple of games. “We try to keep (opposing fowards) to the outside as much as we can. You’re going to give up the odd scoring chance, especially with some inexperienced defencemen, but if we play the right way as five-man units, we’re going to limit that.”
The Cougars added towering Russian forward Nikita Popugaev in a trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors last week and improved their team even more with Tuesday’s acquisition of forward Radovan Bondra from the Vancouver Giants.
Bondra had yet to join the Cougars Tuesday and the visitors were also without top defenceman Brendan Guhle. Red Deer, meanwhile, was asbent the services of injured top-six forward Brandon Hagel.
“Obviously that’s a very good hockey team we played tonight and they’re just going to get better when they add some guys to their lineup,” said Sutter. “But we’re going to get better too.”
Added Zablocki: “I think we were the better team out there so if we keep playing like that we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Edmonds stopped 12 of 15 shots before being replaced by McBride, who turned aside 15 of the 16 shots he faced over the final 40 minutes.
The Rebels leave Thursday on a three-game East Division trip starting Friday in Prince Albert and including stops in Saskatoon and Swift Current Saturday and Sunday.