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Coward man of the hour in preseason shutout win over Hitmen

Photos by Rob Wallator

Rebels 3 Hitmen 0

Chase Coward likes to stay busy.

He was certainly engaged Friday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium, turning aside all 34 shots to backstop the Red Deer Rebels to a 3-0 win over the Calgary Hitmen in a WHL preseason contest.

“I feel like the more shots the better because I stay more in it and I feel warm throughout the game,” said the Rebels netminder. “I’d rather be seeing 30 shots a game than around 20.”

Coward insisted he wasn’t at his sharpest in the opening period, despite making 13 saves, preferring instead to credit his defencemen for keeping the visitors off the scoreboard.

“The first period was a little shaky on my end but the boys kind of picked me up,” he said. “Throughout the game there were some huge blocks, shots than probably could have went in if they weren’t blocked.

“I’m thankful for the guys for helping me out for the big win.”

Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk liked what he saw from Coward, and agreed with the goaltender that the shutout victory was a total team accomplishment.

“He (Coward) was good, absolutely. He made the saves he needed to, some big saves,” said Konowalchuk. “There were some good blocked shots in front of him as well and some good backchecks.

“On one of our goals, we stripped the puck in our slot and took it back and scored. Our goaltender played very well and the team did everything they could to help him in our end.”

The Rebels erupted for all three of their goals in the middle frame.

Kai Uchacz opened the scoring with a power play tally at 7:28 of the period, breaking over the blueline, cutting in off the left boards and beating netminder Ethan Buenaventura from close range.

Jace Isley, from the right circle, made it 2-0 at 15:14, taking a feed from Arshdeep Bains and finding the far side of the net from his off wing.

Uchacz connected again just over two minutes later, chipping a backhand past Buenaventura while parked on the edge of the crease.

Defenceman Jace Weir picked up a pair of assists.

“It was a very energetic game, I’m happy with the way the guys played,” said Konowalchuk.

“In the second period, some of the things we’ve been working on in practice the guys were executing. They were playing hard and playing with purpose and for a coach I thought the second period was fun to watch.

“We want to build off that and get even better.”

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The game was sparsely attended but considering the Rebels played in basically an empty Centrium during the abbreviated 2020-2021 season, even the small crowd looked good to Coward.

“I try not to notice the fans too much but it was definitely different when we scored,” he said. “It wasn’t just the guys going crazy on the bench, you could hear people cheering. When you made a save people were cheering.

“Just looking up and actually seeing faces, it’s so nice. It’s great to have the fans back.”

The win evened Red Deer’s preseason record at 1-1. And although the victory didn’t produce two points, it was still much appreciated, Coward insisted.

“It feels great. We’re missing some key guys right now and it just proves that when they come back we’re going to have an even stronger team. I strongly believe we’re going to make a playoff push this year.”

The Rebels have four players at NHL prospects camps — Jayden Grubbe (NY Rangers), Kyle Masters (Minnesota) and Ben King and netminder Connor Ungar, who are both in Calgary.

In addition, top pairing defenceman Christoffer Sedoff didn’t dress Friday.

The Rebels take on the Hitmen in another exhibition outing Saturday evening in Calgary.

“We’re trying to get better and better every day. We had a week of practice and it’s good that some it showed tonight,” said Konowalchuk.

“For an exhibition, it was a bit better than our last game and we want to be a little better tomorrow.”

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