Gard strikes twice as Rebels cap weekend sweep of Hitmen
Rebels 3 Hitmen 2
Matthew Gard picked a perfect night to notch his first two Western Hockey League goals.
The six-foot-four rookie forward helped the Red Deer Rebels secure a 3-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen Saturday at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
The Rebels, playing their first home game in three weeks in front of 5,512 fans, were in need of a victory to further close the points gap on the Hitmen and the 16-year-old played a major role in the contest.
“That was awesome, a great way to do it too,” said the Winnipeg native, whose pair of goals gave the Rebels a second consecutive win over their QE II rivals — following Friday’s 3-0 conquest in Calgary — and pulled them within one point of the ninth place Hitmen in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m just getting more comfortable all the time. Getting the first goal definitely lit a fire in me and I was going.”
His first goal came a mere 2:20 into the game when he took advantage of a turnover in the Calgary end and from 12 feet out beat netminder Ethan Buenaventura to the top corner.
A beauty first career goal for Matthew Gard! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/tMXSI8mAgu
— Red Deer Rebels (@Rebelshockey) November 19, 2023
Rebels head coach Derrick Walser liked what he saw of the 16-year-old, who played on an effective line with Talon Brigley and Ollie Josephson.
“I couldn’t be happier for the kid. He’s such a good kid and the guys love him,” said Walser.
“He’s getting stronger each day, each game. He had that touch tonight so we made a little adjustment and put him up with Brigs and Ollie and all of a sudden there it is . . . bang, it’s in the net.”
The Rebels outshot their guests 16-5 in a dominant first period but couldn’t get another puck past Buenaventura.
Red Deer’s narrow lead held until Hitmen forward Keets Fawcett lifted a rebound over goaltender Rhett Stoesser at 13:05 of the second period. Stoesser made a brilliant sprawling save on Carson Wetsch but had no chance on Fawcett’s shot.
The Rebels killed back to back penalties early in the third period before captain Kai Uchacz scored on a breakaway from the Red Deer blueline.
Just over a minute later Gard potted his second of the night, depositing a loose puck after a wrap around attempt by Josephson.
The Hitmen pulled to within one with 59 seconds remaining when Ben Kindle, from the corner, rimmed the puck behind the net and Sean Tschigerl scored on a one-timer from the goal line. It was a six-on-five marker with Buenaventura on the bench.
Calgary nearly pulled even with a few seconds on the clock but Stoesser denied Wetsch from close range, allowing the Rebels to post a well deserved win considering they peppered Buenaventura with 46 shots.
Defenceman Elias Carmichael also came up big with a great shot block in the dying seconds.
“It’s one of those things, teams are desperate,” said Walser, in reference to Calgary’s late goal. “When that puck gets down in the corner you have to be ready for it.
“It put us back our heels, but hey, a win is a win.”
The Rebels, as the 46-28 shots differential would indicate, were the better team for the majority of the evening.
“I was trying to get our guys on their toes and be hard on the forecheck,” said Walser. “I thought our neutral zone play was really solid and our game plan was really solid too.”
As was Stoesser, who made a handful of 10 bell saves, following up Friday’s shutout performance in style.
“He didn’t have to work too hard early on but he came through for us,” said Walser. “Right now he’s seeing the puck well.
“We just have to clean up a couple things. I didn’t like the opportunities we gave them in the hole, in the slot, today.”
Notable: Uchacz fought Hitmen defenceman Aleksey Chichkin just 33 seconds into the game. Chichkin injured Rebels top six forward Kalan LInd during a 7-4 Hitmen win Oct. 28 in Calgary and was assessed a major and game misconduct for checking from behind and was also served with a one game suspension. Lind, with an upper body injury, hasn’t played since . . . The three stars: (1) Gard, (2) Stoesser, with 26 saves, and (3) Buenaventura, with 43 stops. Stoesser made a timely poke check on Ethan Moore who was in alone and robbed Wetsch on three occasions in the third period. Buenaventura, meanwhile, made a tremendous diving stop on Josephson and took two goals away from Evan Smith . . . Prior to the game, Rebels defenceman Mats Lindgren accepted the Mitchell and Jewell Player of the Month award for October and Smith was presented with the monthly scholastic award, sponsored by TELUS . . . The Rebels will return to action Friday versus the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings and will host the Regina Pats the following evening.
(Photos by Luke Pasishnik)