When a team heads into the final 20 minutes of a contest with a two-goal lead, there is a good chance they will come out on top at the outset of the game.
Brandon headed into Friday night’s action 23-1-1-3 when leading after 40 minutes. Red Deer had plans to change that after their slow start to the contest.
It wasn’t the start the Rebels were hoping for, the Wheat Kings hit the scoresheet before the game was four minutes old.
As an early Rebels penalty expired, Ridly Greig got the puck deep into Rebels territory for Ben McCartney. His move from the corner to the middle of the faceoff circle evaded everyone. His shot fooled Ethan Anders, as he went down and the shot went high on the glove side. The puck just tucked itself under the crossbar and the Wheat Kings had the early 1-0 lead.
For the duration of the first period, both goaltenders were sharp. Jiri Patera had to make a few high risk saves but kept his team in front.
The second period started off with two quick Brandon goals and their lead was extended to three.
Cole Reinhardt entered the offensive zone with the puck and whipped a pass across the ice to Luka Burzan. With the puck coming in hot, Burzan needed to let the puck bounce off the boards and back to him. His quick pass to the front of the net following the bounce led to Stelio Mattheos redirecting the puck past Anders. It was his 42nd goal of the season.
Just one minute and four seconds later Chad Nychuk threw the puck towards the net from the point and with all kinds of traffic in front of Anders the puck sailed into the back of the Rebel net. It was Nychuk’s second goal of the season and it came unassisted.
A controversial goal started to turn the tide in Red Deer’s direction.
With Brandon Hagel headed down the ice on a breakaway, there was some commotion going on in the Rebels end between Mattheos and Reese Johnson. The referee in the back of the play blew the whistle at about the same time as Hagel was taking his shot on Patera. Hagel beat Patera under his blocker arm.
After some review and discussion between the on-ice officials, the goal was allowed to stand. It gave Brandon Hagel his 39th goal of the year and the Rebels had some momentum with a little over half the game remaining.
Shortly after their penalties expired, Mattheos and Johnson fought after Johnson took a boarding penalty. The tilt was spirited and got the crowd excited to see the two captains throw down and settle their earlier dispute.
The second period ended without any more goals being scored but the momentum had turned to the Rebels side and they were poised to come back.
“You’d have to ask them” answered head coach Brent Sutter when asked about what he told his team in the locker room between the second and third stanzas.
Whatever was said must have worked, as the Rebels came out of the gate with pizzaz.
In many facets, they outworked and out-chanced the Wheat Kings in the final 20 minutes. There
Just beyond the midway point of the period, the Rebels started to see their hard work pay off.
Johnson, Hagel and Cameron Hausinger broke into the Wheat Kings zone three-on-one. Johnson had the puck and outwaited the defender and passed behind himself. Hagel went towards the net and Hausinger roofed a shot by Patera. It was his 18th goal of the season and closed the gap to a single goal.
The fans at the Westerner Park Centrium didn’t need to wait long to see their team tie up the game as one minute and 45 seconds later Josh Tarzwell scored his ninth goal of the year. With a burst of speed entering the Wheat Kings zone, Tarzwell zipped past the defense and wristed a shot beyond Patera.
An ugly incident resulted in Alexander Alexeyev being carted off the ice on a stretcher. With the puck in Rebel territory, a Brandon player made contact with Alexeyev sending him to the ice. As he fell his leg buckled under him and he landed on it awkwardly. The Washington Capitals prospect was in immediate agony as he was laying on the ice, waving for the play to be stopped. The trainers rushed to his side and had the paramedics take him off the ice.
Shortly after the delay, the Rebels completed the comeback and scored their fourth goal of the evening. Zak Smith picked up the puck behind Patera and attempted a wrap around. His shot bounced in off of Patera’s stick and into the net to give the Rebels their first lead of the night.
“The first two periods, we were just over-complicating things, and in the third, we just got simple, we got pucks deep and outworked them,” game-winning goal scorer Zak Smith said post game.
“Seeing Alex go down and knowing what he’s been through, it just drove the players to finish the game off for him,” continued Smith
With less than a minute to go the Wheat Kings nearly tied the game back up at four when a Conner Gutenberg shot hit the inside of the post but stayed out.
The Rebels iced the game with nine seconds to play when Oleg Zaytsev collected a loose puck and shoveled it into the empty Wheat Kings cage.
“I thought we played kind of passive for a good part of the game. We were on our heels too much,” said Sutter. “Then we got going, got moving, we got some urgency in our game in the third, and we capitalized. I just didn’t think we had enough guys going for the first two periods, but we came back and that’s what we needed.”
Brandon Wheat Kings head coach David Anning was pleased with his team’s efforts on the night despite the late game loss.
“I thought we had a good start to the hockey game, I thought both teams had opportunities in the first period, it was an important goal for us to get up one early. A good start to the second, obviously put ourselves in a good place. I thought the three-one goal really shifted the tide of the period, I thought it gave Red Deer momentum and they started to get their legs under them. We needed to respond better than we did.”
When asked about the remaining four games for his team, Anning was also positive in his description and added, “It’s short term memory at this point. We have to learn from our mistakes from tonight, get better in certain areas and come puck drop we reset and we are ready to go. Our main focus now is Medicine Hat.”
Rebel Yell… The three stars were announced as Reese Johnson, Josh Tarzwell and Cole Reinhardt. The Rebels won 42 of 61 faceoffs led by Jeff de Wit (11-of-12). Brandon Hagel led all shooters with 7. With the win, Red Deer is now two points clear of Brandon with a game in hand. The team is also currently in the first wild-card spot with a game in hand on Medicine Hat, the two teams play on Wednesday night. Red Deer’s next action is on Saturday against the visiting Kootenay Ice.