The Red Deer Rebels showed up to play in the first period and ultimately, that’s all they really needed to do en route to a 5-2 victory over the Kootenay Ice in Western Hockey League action from Western Financial Place in Cranbrook Friday night.
“There’s a team who is rolling pretty good, they’re the Memorial Cup hosts, they’re playing against the last-place team in the league and they come out with that type of passion,” said Luke Pierce, head coach of the Kootenay Ice, following Friday’s loss. “We need to understand that and bring that ourselves.
“That’s back-to-back games with that team where they’ve scored on us on our first shift. That’s unacceptable. Our veteran guys are out there and I don’t know how to explain that one. From there, you’re nervous, you’re sitting back and maybe we’re overthinking. It just spirals.”
The downwards spiral began 34 seconds into regulation as Rebels centre Adam Musil banged a rebound past Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin for a 1-0 lead.
With Jared Legien serving a hooking minor, Colton Bobyk sent a long-range shot from the right point towards the cage and somehow, the rubber found a hole in Hoflin, trickling across the line for a 2-0 Rebels lead only 7:03 into the festivities.
Before the mid-period media timeout rang, Evan Polei was left all alone in the slot, taking a pass from Michael Spacek and depositing it past Hoflin for a 3-0 Red Deer lead.
“We take lots of pride in our starts,” said Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury, who was lethal in a shutdown role and tallied two assists upfront by the time the final buzzer sounded. “The last time we played these guys in Red Deer, we got off to a good start, scored a goal the first shift just like we did tonight. When we can get out there and get our feet under us early, it helps us a lot.”
The visitors definitely had their feet under them by the midpoint of the first period and in the process, they had completely knocked the hosts off their own feet and onto their backsides.
“We had a real slow start,” said Ice defenceman Cale Fleury. “It cost us. We played well in the second period and towards the end we kind of slowed down a bit, but I think the first period cost us the game.
“We just need to make more simple plays — chip pucks out, chip pucks in — so we can get some more momentum and play in their end a little bit more.”
After the Rebels outshot the Ice 13-6 in the first period, the tide did in fact turn during the second as the hosts put up the lone goal while Red Deer held a more competitive advantage in the shot department by a 13-11 margin.
With Ty Rattie already serving a tripping minor for the Rebels early in the second period, Musil charged into Ice territory on the penalty kill and absolutely bowled over Hoflin behind the Kootenay cage. While the arms of both officials immediately shot to the sky to denote a delayed call on the Rebels pivot man, no response came from Hoflin’s teammates, who more or less stood by idly as the 6-foot-3, 196-pound prospect of the St. Louis Blues was allowed to get away with a serious liberty on a defenceless goaltender.
“They run over Wyatt Hoflin and we did absolutely nothing about it,” Pierce said. “That was really concerning to me. There’s a guy who battles every day and who is the backbone of our team. I’m not saying we need to fight the kid, but somebody needs to do something.”
One might argue the response came on the scoreboard as Zak Zborosky sent a heavy slap shot from the high slot past Rebels goaltender Trevor Martin on the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage. But realistically, the Rebels ran roughshod and continued to do so after Zborosky’s tally.
Ice right winger River Beattie answered the bell later in the second period.
After Musil took a run at the native of Sherwood Park, Alta., Beattie went right back at the 2015 fourth-round NHL draft pick, leading to a spirited scrap. Musil ended up ejected from the game after his sweater came loose due to a tie-down strap not securely fashioned.
After the the Ice gained a bit of life in the second period, the third period quickly saw the pendulum swing back in the other direction, as Grayson Pawlenchuk converted 4:45 into the final period for a 4-1 Red Deer lead.
Rebels winger Adam Helewka piled on shortly after, finishing off a nifty passing play featuring Brandon Hagel and Jake DeBrusk, to give Red Deer a commanding 5-1 advantage.
Finally, Ice import Roman Dymacek rounded out the scoring with a power-play tally late in the third period.
Between the pipes, Hoflin was stellar for the hosts, turning aside 34 of the 39 shots sent his way.
The native of Spruce Grove, Alta., was sharp early on and throughout. After the Rebels killed off the backend of a 5-on-3, Pawlenchuk tested Hoflin with a quick shot that brought out the leather mitt of the Kootenay keeper for an electric save, keeping the game within reach.
Moments later, Hoflin was left alone to deal with Pawlenchuk once again, this time from in tight. Diving to his stick side, the 20-year-old goaltender got the paddle down to rob the Rebels forward of an almost surefire goal, once again keeping the score 3-1.
By the end of the night, Hoflin reached a career milestone, surpassing 8,000 career minutes played. He is only the third goaltender in Kootenay Ice history to achieved such a feat and now sits with 8,013 minutes to his name. In Kootenay Ice history, only Jeff Glass (8,206 minutes played) and Nathan Lieuwen (9,781 minutes played) have seen more crease time than Hoflin.
At the other end, Martin was equally as sharp, though not tested as often as his Kootenay counterpart.
The 19-year-old native of Ardrossan, Alta., turned aside 23 of the 25 shots sent his way, including a fantastic reactionary save on a redirection and another in tight on Legien during the second period.
Next up, the Rebels (33-16-1-2) return home to host the Moose Jaw Warriors (25-21-6-1) Saturday evening, while the Ice (8-40-4-0) welcome the Lethbridge Hurricanes (37-15-0-0) to Cranbrook.
For Red Deer, the focus remains on catching the Hurricanes for first place in the WHL’s Central Division.
“We’ve just got to play the same way each and every night,” Haydn said. “Some nights we get away from that. But we’re a big, heavy team that can skate well and I don’t think there’s many teams that can skate with us in this league. That’s the big key for us going forward.”
For the Ice, times continue to get worse as the club has lost 10 consecutive games, dating back to a 7-1 loss Jan. 9 in Lethbridge.
“We try not to look at the streak too much,” Cale said. “We try to focus on trying to end it, but we’re not really dwelling on it too much.
“We definitely have to have a good start [Saturday against Lethbridge] and play a good, full 60 minutes. We can’t really take a period off.
“They’re a pretty fast-paced team. We don’t really want to get in a foot race with them, or a track meet.”
Puck drop between the Ice and Hurricanes is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook.
Daily Townsman Three Stars:1) #4 Haydn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels (2A, plus-3) 2) #35 Trevor Martin, Red Deer Rebels (23 saves)3) #23 Michael Spacek, Red Deer Rebels (1A, plus-2)
Notes: The Kootenay Ice went without D Dallas Hines, RW Jaedon Descheneau (shoulder) and RW Austin Gray (concussion) Friday…The Red Deer Rebels were without D Josh Mahura (lower body), C Conner Bleackley (lower body), C Luke Philp (ankle) and LW Braden Purtill (upper body)… Announced attendance in Cranbrook Friday night was 1,859… A total of $1,900 was raised for the B.C. SPCA East Kootenay Branch as a part of the Tennis Balls on Ice initiative hosted during the second intermission Saturday at Western Financial Place…