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T-Birds steal momentum from Rebels en route to shootout victory

Photos by Rob Wallator

Thunderbirds 5 Rebels 4 (SO)

The Red Deer Rebels were cruising with a 2-1 lead over the Seattle Thunderbirds Friday night at the Centrium.

To that point in the second period, the Rebels owned the only three power plays. But that scenario flipped in a big way in a stretch of roughly six minutes, and although the home squad came up with back-to-back-to-back penalty kills, the mood of the contest changed.

Despite failing to cash in on three consecutive power plays late in the period, The T-Birds gained some life, shrugged off a late Rebels rally and in the end were rewarded with a 5-4 WHL shootout victory before 3,933 fans.

“The first half of the game we were in really good shape,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “I thought we were playing well then we took three minor penalties in just under six minutes.

“They got some momentum off that and I didn’t think we played as well after that point in the game.”

Andrej Kukuca, from the edge of the crease, buried a pass from former Rebels defenceman Ryan Gottfried with 20 seconds left in the second and the T-Birds grabbed a lead 5:17 into the third period when Luke Bateman split the Rebels defence and notched his first goal of the season.

Barely a minute had passed when Seattle struck again, as Matthew Wedman stripped Arshdeep Bains of the puck behind the Red Deer net and passed out front to Henrik Rybiski. The Florida Panthers prospect was all alone with the Red Deer defencemen not yet fully in the play following a sloppy line change.

“In the third period we made some bad line changes, had some defensive zone lapses and didn’t handle a one-on-one situation very well,” said Sutter. “I thought our young D struggled in the last half of the game. We gave them some life, they got skating and moving and we got on our heels a bit.”

To their credit, the Rebels were able to pull even on a pair of late goals from Zak Smith, who took advantage of a Seattle turnover and beat netminder Roddy Ross from the high slot, then cashed a two-on-one feed from Josh Tarzwell a mere 16 seconds later.

“We battled hard to get back in the last four minutes,” said Sutter, who gave passing grades to veterans Smith, Tarzwell, Bains and Chris Douglas as well as the Dallon Melin-Jayden Grubbe-Jaxsen Wiebe line and rookie forward Keaton Sorensen.

“We had some guys who played really well and we had some guys who fought it the last half of the game,” said Sutter, who also praised netminder  Ethan Anders.

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Ethan Sakowich opened the scoring for Red Deer midway through the first period, his wrist shot from the left circle finding its way past Ross.

Jared Davidson pulled the T-Birds even just under two minutes later, crashing the net and jamming the puck by Anders, before Rebels rookie blueliner Christoffer Sedoff scored his first WHL goal — on the power play — early in the second period with a point shot through a crowd.

Following a scoreless overtime which Douglas nearly ended with time winding down, Seattle was one-for-three in the shootout, with Simon Kubicek pulling the trigger. Red Deer’s three shooters — Brett Davis, Cam Hausinger and Smith — all fired blanks.

Looking back, Sutter saw the trio of late second-period penalties to his squad as the turning point in the contest.

“It takes you out of the flow,” he said of the infractions. “You use certain guys to kill penalties and they get wore down.” 

And for a team with just two veteran rearguards in Dawson Barteaux and Sakowich, the game can change in a hurry, and often in a bad way.

“Look at our D, we only have two experienced defencemen back there in Barts and Sak,” said Sutter. “I thought some of our young defencemen struggled and with those young guys you’re going to have games like that, some tough nights.”

“We tried to regroup (during the second intermission) and in the third we didn’t get our game back. There were too many mistakes, some terrible line changes.

“Those are mistakes you can’t make. Hopefully we learn from it and get ready for a long trip next week.”

Anders made 36 saves in a losing cause, making exceptional stops on Lucas Ciona —on a first-period, short-handed breakaway — as well as Rybiski and Kukuca.

Ross turned aside 32 shots for Seattle, which was zero-for-four on the power play. Red Deer was one-for-four.

The Rebels are idle until next Friday when they open a six-game trip in Moose Jaw.

° Rebels 2019 WHL bantam draft picks were front and centre in the WHL Cup Friday in Calgary.

Hunter Mayo scored twice and Jhett Larson had a goal and assist in Saskatchewan’s 4-3 loss to Manitoba. Carter Anderson scored his second goal of the tournament for the winners.

In the other contest, Justen Maric made 30 saves for Alberta in a 2-1 win over British Columbia.

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