Rebels leave goals on the table, fall 2-1 to Brandon in overtime
Wheat Kings 2 Rebels 1 (OT)
The Red Deer Rebels could be excused if they tossed and turned when the lights when off either late Saturday or early Sunday.
The Rebels wasted numerous scoring opportunities in Saturday’s WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final contest, and it bit them hard when the Brandon Wheat Kings notched the 2-1 winner in overtime in front of an enthusiastic gathering of 4,547 at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
Riley Ginnell buried a rebound 7:16 into the extra period to tie the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. Games 3 and 4 will be played Tuesday and Wednesday in Brandon.
How many excellent chances did the Rebels gas? Well, there was the extremely rare three-on-oh with Jayden Grubbe, Jace Isley and Jace Weir when two Brandon defenders fell at the Red Deer blueline, and a penalty shot by Kai Uchacz that was turned away by netminder Ethan Kruger.
In addition, there were the three goals Kruger stole off the sticks of Liam Keeler, twice, and Ben King in the first period alone.
“We had a lot of good chances. Credit to their goalie, he played really well,” said Keeler. “Credit to their team, they play hard every single night and in the playoffs you know it’s going to be a battle every game.
“It was a battle tonight and obviously we came up a bit short. But we liked parts of our game. There are things we can work on and we’ll be looking to do that.”
The teams were all square at zeros after one period before Red Deer product Nate Danielson gobbled up a rebound of a point shot by Vincent Iorio and swiped a backhand past goaltender Chase Coward late in the second frame.
The Rebels pulled even just under five minutes into the third period when import rookie Frantisek Formanek worked his way off the boards and beat Kruger from the right circle.
The teams settled nothing through the remainder of the period, setting the stage for Ginnell’s winner.
“Give them credit, they came out hard,” said Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk. “I thought our guys played a fairly solid game, we had a chance to win.
“Give their goalie credit, and Cowie (Coward) also made some big saves. I thought at times we didn’t take that extra second to dig in and score a rebound goal.
“We had some chances and could have had a different fate. They played hard, our guys played hard. Overtime hockey, someone goes away happy, someone doesn’t.
“It’s a seven-game series. We’ll get on the bus and go work for the next game.”
Kruger came up with 38 saves and was hands down Brandon’s best player and well deserving of his first-star selection.
Coward wasn’t as busy but finished with 28 saves, his best being a diving stop — with his stick — in the second period as the puck was creeping over the goal line.
The Rebels lost home-ice advantage with the setback but, as Keeler pointed out, the club posted an impressive 23-9-2-0 away from the Centrium during the regular season.
“We’ve had a good record on the road all year. We keep it simple, play hard and play our style,” said Keeler. “We’ve been maybe even a little better than on home ice.
“We’re looking forward to getting out on the road. We haven’t been on the road in awhile so we’re excited. It’s a great opportunity to play two big games there.”
One thing is all but certain — every game through the remainder of the series will be a war.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less in playoff hockey, two good teams going at it,” said Konowalchuk. “It’s the first time for some guys on both team for playoffs but they know enough to just keep grinding.”
Notable: King and Ginnell were selected as the game’s second and third stars . . . The Rebels were zero-for-three on the power play, the visitors zero-for-four . . . Game 5 will be played next Friday at the Peavey Mart Centrium. Games 6 and 7, if needed, are slated for May 1 in Brandon and May 3 in Red Deer.