Rebels 4 Oil Kings 1
Turnabout is fair play, and it must feel better than merely revenge when your victim is the No. 1 ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.
One night after falling 4-1 to the host Edmonton Oil Kings, the Red Deer Rebels got payback at the Peavey Mart Centrium Saturday, downing their northern neighbours by the exact same score.
The Rebels outshot their guests 21-15 through 40 minutes and were full value for their 2-1 lead, then got an outstanding 18-save effort from netminder Chase Coward in the final period.
“The guys battled hard, they played hard all game,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk. “There was a lot of unselfish team play with guys playing their roles and just competing for one another right to the very end.”
Many of the fans had yet to settle into their seats when defenceman Blake Gustafson gave the Rebels an early lead, his rocket from the top of the left circle beating Detroit Red Wings first-round NHL draft pick Sebastian Cossa.
The lead held up until the Oil Kings were gifted a fluke goal at 7:23 of the middle period. The puck bounced off a stanchion behind Coward, struck the goalie in the back and fell into the crease, where Jakub Demek chipped it home with the visitors on the power play.
The Rebels responded three and a half minutes later on a power play of their own, as Ben King, from just in front of the goal line, flipped the puck home from a sharp angle.
From there, it was the Chase Coward show until the final minute and change when the Rebels got a pair of empty-net markers from Jhett Larson and Kai Uchacz.
Coward foiled Arizona Coyotes first-round pick Dylan Guenther on a partial breakaway, robbed Tyler Horstmann from in tight and made a glorious glove stab on Josh Williams in the dying minutes.
“He had a very nice game. That team had some push in the third period and you’re going to need some saves,” said Konowalchuk. “They’re a good team, they’re going to get some chances and when they did he (Coward) was there.”
Larson notched the clinching goal with 1:13 left after Uchacz made a sliding block on a shot just inside the Red Deer zone. Larson pounced on the puck, turned on the after-burners while fighting off an attempted check from Jalen Luypen and scored into an empty net.
“He showed a lot of energy through camp and every game he contains momentum with his forecheck and his speed. And he’s strong for a shorter guy,” said Konowalchuk of Larson. “He played a heck of a game.”
Uchacz followed with another empty-netter with four seconds remaining after creating a turnover near centre ice, and the Rebels closed out their WHL season-opening weekend with a 1-1 slate.
“After last night’s game we wanted to have a good one at home and get the win and obviously we did that,” said King. “The boys fought hard and we got the outcome we wanted so we’re happy.”
The Rebels won more than their share of puck battles and forced giveaways with their speed and ensuing pressure, areas of their game that weren’t evident on a consistent basis Friday.
“We just back pressured hard tonight, we limited the turnovers at the blueline and finally capitalized on our chances,” said King. “We didn’t let off. Last night in the third we kind of came out slow and they took over the game from there. Tonight we just kept pushing and stayed on the gas pedal.”
“The difference tonight was playing a full 60 minutes,” added Konowalchuk. “At times I didn’t mind our game yesterday but we had a couple big breakdowns and maybe got off the rails a bit for about 10 minutes.
“We tried to build off the things we did well last game in this game and improved in some areas as well.”
Tempers flared on several occasions Saturday, setting the stage for what should be a heated rivalry this season, one that was stoked during the shortened 2020-21 campaign.
“We played them a lot in the past and we’re going to play them a lot this year too,” said King. “It’s nice to get the win and even the series and we’re looking to win the series this season.
“Just keep playing the way we know we can and we’ll be good.”
Notable: Playing in front of a lively audience was a boost for the players, King noted. “It’s amazing, the cheering from the start of the puck drop. The cheering gets you going and gives you momentum. It’s nice to have the fans back.” . . . Coward turned aside 32 shots while Cossa made 24 saves at the other end . . . Rebels defenceman Joel Sexsmith sat out Saturday’s contest after absorbing a high hit from former Red Deer forward Jaxsen Wiebe Friday. Wiebe was assessed a major and game misconduct and has been dealt a suspension, the length of which has yet to be determined . . . The three stars Saturday — (1) Coward, (2) Uchacz and (3) Demek . . . The Rebels are in Swift Current Tuesday to face the Broncos, then host the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday.