The Red Deer Rebels can go into Christmas break knowing they left it all on the table against a division rival.
The Rebels closed out their pre-Christmas schedule this past weekend with a home and home set against Kootenay, with the Ice taking the first game in Cranbrook 4-1 on Friday night.
Saturday night, the series shifted to the Enmax Centrium, where the Ice found themselves leading the home town club 4-1 after the opening 20 minutes, thanks to two goals each from Drew Czerwonka and Red Deer native Matt Fraser and a power play that scored three times on six chances.
But it was all Rebels after that, as Red Deer scored five unanswered goals in the final 40 minutes to take the game 6-4.
“I liked our effort all night long. I thought we competed hard, but we were maybe a bit too wound up in the first period,” admitted Rebels bench boss Jesse Wallin.
“We got into some penalty trouble, some of them were certainly questionable in my opinion, but I thought there were a couple of others that were definitely penalties.
“We wanted to establish a physical presence, and I thought they did that to us Friday night in their building and we wanted to push back the same way. Obviously, it didn’t work out early for us. Digging that hole, down 4-1, was tough and certainly looked a bit imposing when you look at the opponent, but I was really proud of the way the guys stuck with it.
“We bent, but didn’t break and we talked after the first period that we felt we were playing alright. We’d had some tough breaks and some tough goals, you know, with two five on three goals and really it was just go out there, and take the same effort but be a little more composed and just stay the course, do things right and take it one shift at a time.”
Forward Brett Ferguson, who scored Red Deer’s only goal of the first period and added two more assists in the final frames to finish the night with three points, agreed with his head coach.
“That was huge because their power play was going,” said Ferguson when asked if cutting down on the penalties helped Red Deer in its comeback effort.
“We wanted to be intense, but I think we took that a little bit too far in the first period. We definitely didn’t back off in the physical aspect. We had some big hits and kept taking it to them physically. I think that really wore them down, and that was huge for us.”
In a move that surprised a few fans, Darcy Kuemper came back out to start the second period after allowing four goals on 11 Kootenay shots in the first, and he was rock solid, not allowing the Ice another tally.
“I really felt that going into the second period, we were playing well. I just thought we limited their opportunities and when we did give up a couple, Kuemper was there for us,” said Wallin.
“I was really proud of Kuemps. We had a tough start, a couple of tough goals on him early. He’s had a great season thus far, and the difference I see in him between this season and last is when things are going well, last year he was really high and the lows were really low.
“This year, he’s stayed really even keel and I thought he regrouped really well, composed himself and went out there and made some key stops. There were periods of time through the second and third periods where he didn’t see a shot for a while, and then he had to make a big save.”
With the win, the Rebels still trail the Ice by just one point for top spot in the Central Division standings, with their next game set for next Tuesday at the Enmax Centrium against Brandon.