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Rebels show signs of lengthy layoff in loss to Wheat Kings

Photos by Rob Wallator

Wheat Kings 4 Rebels 1

The Red Deer Rebels looked very much like a team that hadn’t played for two weeks Friday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium.

The Rebels were somewhat out of sorts while their guests, the Brandon Wheat Kings, were full marks for their 4-1 WHL victory witnessed by a recorded audience of 2,649.

“There were times we definitely weren’t sharp. That would be the issue,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk. “We weren’t sharp enough at times and (that includes) some of our key guys. There were plays to be had and there were defensive lapses from our key guys.

“It wasn’t a momentum thing, it was more of a breakdown thing where we weren’t ready to execute when we had the puck on our stick in the offensive zone. It was a combination of things.”

The Rebels started reasonably strong and were outshooting the visitors 10-1 when they surrendered the game’s first goal. Ridly Greig, a member of this year’s Canadian national junior team, cashed a rebound 15:02 into the contest with the Wheat Kings on the power play.

Brandon built on the lead a mere 15 seconds into the middle frame when Greig fed Rylan Roersma for a 2-0 goal on a two-on-one break.

The Rebels finally broke through when Ben King potted his league-leading 13th man-advantage goal late in the period, burying a rebound from the edge of the crease.

But Wheat Kings forward Chad Nychuk was credited with a fluke goal just under three minutes later as the puck bounced off the end glass and then off the leg of netminder Connor Ungar and into the net.

It was a momentum killer.

“They get that goal and it’s a bigger hill to climb,” said Konowalchuk. “We could have gone into the third period one goal down and with maybe a bit more momentum.

“But that being said, you’d like to come back and tie it up, but we didn’t.”

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The Rebels picked up the pace in the second half of the final frame but didn’t generate enough solid scoring chances.

Then, with Ungar on the bench and with two minutes left, Roersma sealed the deal with an empty-net marker.

While the Rebels were clearly missing the spark and finishing touch they’ve displayed through much of the season, Konowalchuk wasn’t using the long layoff — a result of league-wide COVID cases, including with his team — as an alibi.

“There was rust. I guess you can use any excuse you want,” he said. “But that doesn’t matter, the bottom line is we weren’t sharp at times . . . some of our play away from the puck but also with the puck.

“I thought our guys worked, some guys blocked shots. But definitely we have to get sharper and we have to get better with our structure. You have to work hard but you have to work smart as well.”

The Rebels will be back on the ice Saturday to prepare for a Sunday meeting with the Tigers in Medicine Hat.

“We have to get dialled back in with sharper passing, executing and finishing chances,” said Konowalchuk. “That’s where we have to get to. We’ll take about it tomorrow and get back at it.”

Notable: Defenceman Jackson van de Leest and Czech forward Frantisek Formanek made their Rebels debut Friday. Van de Leest was paired with Kyle Masters on the Red Deer blueline and Formanek skated on a line with Liam Keeler and Kalan Lind . . . Ungar made 27 saves while Carson Bjarnason turned aside 25 shots at the other end . . . The Rebels were one-for-four on the power play, the Wheat Kings one-for-three . . . The three stars: (1) Greig, (2) Red Deer native and Wheat Kings second-year forward Nate Danielson, who had four assists, and (3) Nychuk . . . Following Sunday’s contest, the Rebels will host the Prince Albert Raiders Monday, just hours after the league’s trade deadline has passed.

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