The Red Deer Rebels are winless in 2011 after opening the year with back-to-back losses in Saskatchewan.
Riding a three game winning streak heading into their New Year’s Day match up with the Blades in Saskatoon, the Rebels lost 7-3 to the Eastern Conference leaders in what many described as a chippy affair.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got into his first ever WHL fight in that one, handling himself well in a tilt with Blades’ forward Lukas Sutter, but they may have lost Josh Cowen to a suspension after he hammered Blades defenseman Stefan Elliot shortly after the fight with a neutral zone hit that got him kicked out of the game.
Darcy Kuemper, meantime, who was coming off a 5-0 win against Lethbridge on Dec. 30th, a win that saw him set franchise records for shutouts in a season (6) and shutouts in a career (12), was pulled after giving up six goals on 18 shots.
Back up netminder Dawson Guhle would go the rest of the way, stopping seven of the eight shots he faced, while Tyson Ness, Colten Mayor and Byron Froese scored Red Deer’s three goals.
Fast forward to Sunday, and the Rebels were in Prince Albert to face a Raiders squad they had already beaten twice this year.
But it was the Raiders managing to get a measure of revenge, dumping the visitors 5-4.
Guhle got the start in that one, and stopped 21 shots in taking the loss.
“At the end of the day, we gave up too many easy goals,” lamented Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin after Sunday’s loss.
“We turned the puck over too much and we gave up easy goals. When you’re giving up four or five goals against, it’s just too many. We’re a team that takes pride in our goals against and we just allowed them to score too easily.”
The Rebels got off to a good start, as Adam Kambeitz put Red Deer ahead at the 3:45 mark of the first period with his 12th of the season.
But the Raiders would reply with two goals of their own to make 2-1 Prince Albert heading to the second period.
John Persson, with his first of two on the night, would tie the game at 2-2 about halfway through the second period before the Raiders made it 3-2 with 20 left to play.
“The first three goals were all a direct result of careless, completely unforced turnovers. First one, we try and beat a guy one on one in our zone, and the next two, we just panicked with the puck and cleared it to the wrong team for no reason and all three of them end up in the back of our net,” said Wallin.
“That was the difference in the hockey game. I just thought we didn’t do a good enough job of moving the puck out of our zone or taking care of the puck through the neutral zone. And we didn’t generate enough pressure. I mean 21 shots on goal, for us, that’s just not good enough. We weren’t able to generate enough pressure because we weren’t able to move the puck up the ice well enough to do so.”
The Rebels will get a good week of practice in this week before hosting Regina on Friday night and then travelling to Cranbrook on Saturday to battle the Central division leading Kootenay Ice, and you can bet puck possession and maintenance will be high on the list of things to work on.
“It’s been an issue here for a couple of games so it’s been something we’ve been addressing and we’ll continue to address it this week here and we’ve got to do a better job of it. The puck has to be able to move out of our zone. We’ve got to have some patience and some poise, and make some plays coming out of the zone,” said Wallin.