By DANNY RODE
BRANDON, MB – With one of the youngest teams in the Western Hockey League, the Red Deer Rebels need their veteran players to show up every night.
When that doesn’t happen it drags the whole team down, which was the case Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings before 3,074 fans at the Westoba Place.
The teams were tied 1-1 after 20 minutes with the Wheat Kings taking control in the second period with three unanswered goals.
“Our effort and accountability dropped off … we got soft and didn’t play the game the right way,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We didn’t have enough engagement to carry on after the first period.
“They took their game to a different level. We talked about that after the first period in that we had to step up and raise our game to a different level as well, but we didn’t do that.
“We had some older players who didn’t show what they needed to show for us to do that.”
By the third period some of the veterans found themselves on the bench.
“They need to be responsible,” added Sutter. “They need to step up their play and make a difference in a good way. Tonight we never got enough of that in the second and third periods. They didn’t play at the standard level they need to be at.
“We’ve talked as a group about the way it has to be and what we expect when it comes to accountability and where that has to be at. They have to shoulder more responsibility and when they’re not we’ll give the others that chance.”
He noted the younger players are still learning so there will be some mistakes on their part as well.
“We can live with that as long as they’re working on those mistakes,” he said. “But if there’s a lack of compete and structure from the whole group it hurts and when that comes from the older guys there’s more of an impact because they are getting the key minutes.
“Even the older guys we can live with mistakes but can’t lack emotion and competitiveness. When they do that and make mistakes it’s unacceptable and as a result they sat and watched.”
Sutter felt all three goals in the middle stanza could, and should have been prevented.
“On the second goal we get beat wide and weren’t tough enough on the puck while their third goal we turn the puck over in the offensive zone and they get a breakaway. On the fourth we were soft around the net. Basically their second, third and fourth goals were all preventable.”
The Wheat Kings grabbed a 5-1 lead at 5:03 of the third period when Duncan Pierce was awarded a penalty shot after being obstructed on a shorthanded breakaway. He gave Red Deer goaltender Byron Fancy no chance on a perfect shot in off the bar.
Mason Ward completed the scoring for the Rebels with his first WHL goal on a great shot from the right wing, beating Brandon netminder Ethan Kruger at 17:47 of the final frame.
Sutter was glad to see it.
“Ward struggled in Moose Jaw, but played well in Regina and was good here too. It’s a process and it’s coming. As it is with all the young players.
“And we are a young team. We know every night we step on the ice we’ll be the youngest team. Now we just need to continue to develop to a level we need to develop to … make sure we play the right way by learning the fundamentals and details and not using youth as an excuse.
“If the older players use that as an excuse it impacts in a negative way. They need to take the bull by the horns, take the kids on their backs and show them the right way to do things. If they don’t want to do that they’ll find their game dropping off and as coaches we’ll give the younger players the ice time.”
Ben McCartney opened the scoring for the Wheaties with his first of two goals at 4:40 of the first period with Arshdeep Bains evening the count at 9:56.
Luka Burzan, at 1:22, McCartney, at 7:10, and Nolan Ritchie, at 15:23, accounted for the second-period goals.
ICE CHIPS – Fancy, who was playing his second straight game, finished with 33 saves while Kruger faced 25 shots … Jaxsen Wiebe had a pair of helpers for the Rebels who killed off six Brandon power plays and were zero-for-four on the power play … Rebels saw their record drop to 5-9-0-2 while Brandon is at 8-10-0-0 … Rebels continue their six-game, nine-day road trip Wednesday as they make their first trip into Winnipeg. They visit Saskatoon Friday and Prince Albert Saturday, returning home Nov. 15 against Medicine Hat.