Knights Roll Over Rebels In Tournament Opener
Knights 6 Rebels 2
The London Knights’ 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament opener Friday was memorable.
As for the Red Deer Rebels . . . no so much.
The host Rebels had the sold-out crowd at the Centrium hopeful for the first half of the opening period as they carried the play to the OHL champions and in fact held a 7-2 advantage in shots at one point.
But a roughing penalty to defenceman Haydn Fleury at the 13:28 mark led to the Knights’ first goal — courtesy of Aaron Berisha — and the visitors then sniped five unanswered markers en route to a 6-2 victory.
“I thought we had a good start, that the first 10 minutes of the game was kind of where we want it to be,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“From a coach’s perspective you’re always worried about the first 10 minutes but we did a good job.
“But the whole momentum of the game changed when we took a bad penalty and they got the power play goal on it. We never regrouped after that and we went through 30 minutes of hockey where we didn’t play well at all and they generated a lot of offence from that.”
Indeed, the Knights struck for two more first-period goals, with Christian Dvorak connecting on a give-and-go with Olli Juolevi and sniping a second two minutes later on another feed from the Finnish defenceman.
The second period was more of the same as Knights kingpin Mitch Marner scored at 13:04, beating netminder Rylan Toth with a rising shot and then connecting later in the frame on a similar play.
In between, rearguard Victor Mete beat Toth with Rebels forward Adam Musil serving a tripping penalty.
Up 6-0, the Knights were well on their way to victory.
“It was awesome,” said Knights forward Matthew Tkachuk, who along with Marner and Dvorak make up the club’s lethal top line.
“Once we settle in and play our game we’re effective. Tonight was one of those nights when everything seemed to be clicking, especially after the 10 minute mark of the first period.”
The Rebels finally got on the board with 15 seconds remaining in the middle frame when Luke Philp tipped Colton Bobyk’s point blast by Tyler Parsons, who was outstanding the entire evening while turning aside 30 shots.
The Rebels were better in the third period and got the game’s final marker off the stick of Adam Helewka, who one-timed a cross-ice feed from Fleury near the midway point.
Toth also made 30 saves, but Parsons won the goaltending battle, taking a goal away from Jeff de Wit on a short-handed two-on-one with Michael Spacek, denying Fleury with a pad stop and absolutely robbing Evan Polei late in the contest.
Otherwise it was the Knights’ top line that stole the show. Marner assisted on all three first-period goals and finished the game with five points, one short of the Memorial Cup single-game record.
“I don’t really think about that. You just want to win, it doesn’t really matter about points,” he said.
‘The first 10 minutes wasn’t how we wanted to play, but after that we really got into the game and took over.”
The game might have gone in a different direction if the Rebels had cashed in on at least one of the excellent scoring chances they created early.
“For sure. We had a couple of cross bars and a couple two-on-ones we didn’t capitalize on. We didn’t handle adversity well,” said forward Conner Bleackley, who made a surprise return to the Red Deer lineup after being out since late in the regular season with a severed wrist tendon that required surgery.
“I figured I was playing no matter what,” added Bleackley, who along with his agent decided to seek a second opinion regarding his return after the surgeon who performed the operation ruled him out for roughly three months.
“It’s been a long time coming for me, I’m excited to be back on the ice. It was a tough one tonight, but we can’t dwell on it.”
Bleackley wasn’t regarding the firepower the Knights showed.
“They come in with that top line that generates offence and they were really good tonight,” he said. “But we stopped playing, were kind of in awe a bit and it cost us.”
“We took 30 minutes off after the penalty I took, which took away our momentum,” said Fleury. “We got back to it in the third and played a bit better.”
Fleury was penalized for dislodging Tkachuk’s helmet during a stoppage in play.
“He gave me a little spear there, but I can’t retaliate. That’s on me,” said the Rebels defenceman.
Sutter was somewhat concerned that his club’s three-week layoff since their last WHL playoff game might affect his players early. Instead, they bolted out of the gate, only to struggle following the Knights’ first goal.
“It was a terrible penalty by our best defenceman,” said Sutter, in reference to Fleury’s infraction. “I’m not trying to be critical, but that’s stuff that we addressed all year.
“From that point on we started doing things that throughout the year got us into trouble. We weren’t assertive enough and didn’t play with the emotion we needed to have.
“We needed someone to take charge and no one grabbed the bull by the horns. It just started to snowball on us and obviously with the talent they have they’re going to make you pay.”
When it was all said and done . . .
“We didn’t play a game that you have to play in a tournament like this to expect to have success. We got what we deserved tonight,” said Sutter.
The WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings and the QMJHL representatives, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, meet in the second game of the tournament tonight at 5 p.m.
The Rebels return to action Sunday at 5 p.m. against the Huskies.