Rebels cruise past Hitmen with playoff-like performance
Rebels 8 Hitmen 3
CALGARY — The Calgary Hitmen were supposed to be the desperate team Wednesday evening at the Scotiabank Saddledome, fighting to keep their WHL playoff hopes alive.
But it was the Red Deer Rebels who had the extra step basically all night long while skating to an 8-3 thumping of their hosts in front of 4,323 fans.
The Rebels seldom gave an inch and finished their checks with authority. The visitors led 2-0 after one period and never looked back, getting two goals from each of Arshdeep Bains, Ben King and Dallon Melin while recording their 45th win of the season.
With just one regular season game remaining, Saturday against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings, the Rebels showed Wednesday that they’re already in playoff mode, seldom taking their foot off the gas.
“That’s what the coaching staff would like to see your players do. When you’re out there you have to be competitive,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk.
“It doesn’t matter . . . good athletes, champions, successful people, whatever, in the walk of life they’re competitive at all times and they want to be the best. I certainly thought our guys played like that.”
The Rebels grabbed a lead they would never surrender when Ben King notched his league leading 51st goal of the season 6:55 into the contest. King’s shot from the high slot glanced off a Hitmen stick and also off goaltender Brayden Peters before settling in the net.
Arshdeep Bains made it 2-0 from a goalmouth scramble at the midway point of the first period, and Jace Weir opened the second period with his fifth of the season, moving down from the point and beating Peters high to the glove side after taking a pass from Jayden Grubbe.
Zac Funk got the Hitmen back in the game by scoring on a three-on-two break, but just 18 seconds later Dallon Melin knocked a rebound through Peters’ pads for a 4-1 Red Deer lead.
Funk answered back with another marker in short order, busting past a pair of Rebels defenders and chipping a backhand past netminder Chase Coward.
Down two goals and needing help to qualify for the post season if they didn’t emerge with the win, the Hitmen were expected to come hard in the final frame. Instead, they were outscored 4-1 over the last 20 minutes.
King notched his 52nd during a Rebels power play early in the third, his accurate wrister from the top of the left circle finding the back of the net.
Just under six minutes later, Melin potted his second of the night and 11th of the season, gobbling up the rebound of a point shot by Matteo Fabrizi and stepping around Peters.
Blake Stevenson got one back for the hosts on an odd break pass from Sean Tschigerl, but Kai Uchacz was credited with a Rebels goal two minutes later when the puck deflected in off his skate.
Ollie Josephson recorded his first WHL point with an assist on the goal. Earlier, Josh Medernach registered his first WHL point with the primary helper on Melin’s second period marker.
“It was great to get some other guys involved,” Konowalchuk said of the pair. “Medernach hasn’t played for a long time but he works hard in practice and had a positive attitude. He played well for us so good for him.”
As for Josephson, the Rebels’ first pick in December’s WHL Prospects Draft . . .
“Ollie hasn’t played a lot and he got better and better as the game went on,” said Konowalchuk. “So there was a lot of positive things.”
Bains rounded out the scoring and collected his league best 110th point of the season when he moved over the blueline, cut across the low slot and notched his 42nd of the season with just over two minutes left.
It was a convincing win over what was supposed to be a desperate team.
“I’m not surprised. I have no question our guys are competitive, I’ve seen it all year,” said Konowalchuk.
“We wanted to make sure we were competitive here tonight and from start to finish we were physical and finishing checks.”
Notable: Bains also picked up a pair of assists for a four-point evening and was named first star of the game. His 110 points is seven better than linemate King and eight up on Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers, who have two regular season games left . . . The Rebels were one-for-two on the power play, the Hitmen zero-for-three . . . Coward, who entered the game with a .955 save percentage versus the Hitmen this season, made 27 saves. Peters stopped 28 of 34 shots before being replaced by Ethan Buenaventura following Melin’s third-period goal. The Hitmen backup goalie allowed two goals on three shots the rest of the way . . . The second and third stars: (2) Funk and (3) King . . . Also enjoying a multi-point game were Weir (1g,1a), Liam Keeler and Christoffer Sedoff, who each had two assists.