The Red Deer Rebels are enjoying a couple of light days this week after a grueling stretch last week saw them play four games in five nights.
After picking up a 5-0 win over Kootenay at the Centrium on Tuesday, and losing 5-4 in a shootout in Lethbridge on Wednesday, the Rebels closed out their week with a 4-3 win over the Hitmen in Calgary on Friday and a 3-2 shootout win over Vancouver at the Centrium on Saturday.
“It was a tough hockey game, no question about it. I thought we looked like a mentally tired hockey team,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin after Saturday’s win over Vancouver.
“The first period, our detail just wasn’t there. The guys were working hard, but when you’ve played the amount of hockey we have here lately and gone through some of the things we have the last couple of weeks, we just seemed to be a step behind. We made a lot of mental errors, as far as little break downs here and there and a lot of turnovers. We made it hard on ourselves, but at the same time, you’ve got to find ways to win those hockey games and we were able to gut it out.”
It was Rebels defenseman Matt Dumba who got things going for Red Deer against the Giants, scoring a first period goal that looked like it might just stand up as the winner before Colin Archer added his third of the season at the 1:46 mark of the third period to give Red Deer a two goal cushion.
But just 16 seconds after Archer’s goal, Giants all-star defenseman Neil Manning cut the deficit to 2-1 before Jordan Martinook got the visitors back on even footing at 4:46 of the final frame.
“I thought we put some pressure on at the end of the game,” said Wallin, who watched his club pick up its first shootout win in three tries this season.
“The last six-seven minutes of the third period might have been as well as we played all night. It’s a huge two points and coming off the four games in five nights, I thought the guys competed hard. We made it tough on ourselves but we found a way to win and it ended up being a pretty big week for us.”
Rebels’ netminder Darcy Kuemper, who had an off night against Calgary, giving up three goals on 15 shots, was back to his stingy self against the Giants, making 38 saves for his 18th win of the season.
“I got into the game early. They had a lot of shots in the first period and I got my confidence up,” said the 20-year-old Saskatoon native.
“I’ve felt confident all year so I just went out there and wanted to pay the team back for kind of bailing me out on Friday night, where I wasn’t at my best. I wanted to make sure I had a sharp performance and I thought I did that.”
Wallin had no doubt that Kuemper would bounce back after a sub-par outing on Friday.
“He really held the fort there when we needed him to and you know, that’s what we expect out of Kuemps,” said Wallin.
“We know what he’s capable of and that’s why you carry a 20-year-old goaltender, to hold you in those situations and I thought he stood tall. He was big and confident and battled hard and was good positionally and he’s been that way all year.”
Next up for the Rebels is a two-game homestand against Prince Albert (Friday) and Brandon (Saturday).
Rebels forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, meanwhile, found out Monday that he is one of 39 players invited to try out for Team Canada ahead of the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship.
Nugent-Hopkins, who leads the Rebels in scoring this season with 36 points in 28 games, will attend Hockey Canada’s selection camp, which runs Dec. 12–15 in Toronto.