The Red Deer Rebels got their Memorial Cup hosting season off to an explosive start this past weekend.
The Rebels swept the Edmonton Oil Kings in a two game home-and-home series, winning their season opener by a score of 4-1 in front of a crowd of 6,399 at the ENMAX Centrium last Saturday before heading north on the QEII Hwy. to spoil the Oil Kings’ home opener in a 3-2 overtime thriller, despite being without three of their top players due to ongoing NHL camps.
Saturday’s game got off to a shaky start when, just 40 seconds in, Brett Pollock of the Oil Kings intercepted a pass across the blue line and fired a shot past Rebels goaltender Rylan Toth to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead. The Oil Kings would outshoot the Rebels 10-5 in the first period.
“I don’t know if we really expected much more in the first,” said Rebels Head Coach Brent Sutter after the game. Sutter added that because the team had had only one practice together and one game with their lines, he expected them to take a little while to settle in.
But settle in they did, as that was the only goal the Rebels would give up that night.
“I think we were not nervous. I think we were just too ready. We’ve been thinking about it for the past five days and I think we just over thought about it,” said newcomer Ivan Nikolishin, who picked up an assist and earned himself the second star of the game.
Michael Spacek, who the Rebels acquired in the 2015 Import Draft, knotted the game up at the 6:57 mark of the first with his first of three goals on the weekend. Centreman Presten Kopeck picked up the assist on the goal.
The home team came flying out of the gates in the second, outshooting the Oil Kings 13-7.
The Rebels took the lead at 3:57 of the second frame thanks to Spacek’s second of the night, which he scored on the power play, with assists going to Nikolishin and veteran Adam Musil.
From that point onwards the Rebels were absolutely dominant, adding two more tallies thanks to goals from Grayson Pawlenchuck and Jeff de Witt. Goalie Rylan Toth was solid, stopping 23 out of the 24 shots he faced.
“I thought our work ethic, I thought our game as we went on we did a lot of things better and our details were better,” Sutter said.
The second game of the weekend was a much closer affair.
The Rebels came out with the same drive they showed in Saturday’s matchup, peppering Oil Kings’ starter Patrick Dea with 19 shots in the opening frame while allowing only four on their own goaltender.
Dea, however, was outstanding, turning aside every single puck he faced, including a late period penalty shot, to keep the score tied 0-0 after one.
It took the Rebels until the 3:59 mark of the second to finally solve Dea thanks to a goal by Red Deerian Colton Bobyk. Nikolishin and Spacek picked up the assists.
The lead wouldn’t last long, however. Edmonton responded just three minutes later with a goal from Lane Bauer to tie the game up at one going into the third, although the tie wouldn’t last long either.
Nine minutes after the start of the third period, Tyler Robertson fired a shot past Toth to give Edmonton a 2-1 lead.
The Rebels managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, though, thanks to some late-game heroics by none other than Spacek and Nikolishin. With just 29 seconds left in the game, Toth on the bench for an extra attacker and the Rebels on the power play, Bobyk fired a one-timer, which Dea turned aside. Spacek scooped up the rebound right in front and fired a quick pass over to Nikolishin, who made no mistake, wiring the puck over the stick of a sprawling Dea and into the wide open net to score his first goal as a Rebel and tying the game at two with no time to spare.
That set the stage for Spacek to become the overtime hero. Just 54 seconds into the extra frame, Spacek picked up the puck behind the net, and skated it up the ice with a two on one opportunity. Spacek skated over the blue line, looked to pass, then fired the puck past Dea to cement the victory with his fifth point in just two games.
The Rebels play two games this weekend. First up, on Friday, the Swift Current Broncos will pay a visit to the ENMAX Centrium. Then, on Saturday, the Rebels will square off against the defending WHL Champions when the Kelowna Rockets come to town.