Ungar shuts out Hitmen as Rebels excel defensively
Rebels 3 Hitmen 0
As Connor Ungar was en route to his first shutout as a Red Deer Rebel, he enjoyed the view in front of him.
“Obviously it feels great when the team comes together to play as perfect a game as it gets,” said the 19-year-old Rebels stopper following a 3-0 WHL win over the Calgary Hitmen in front of 3,203 fans Friday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium.
Ungar turned aside 24 shots and while he was full value for the goose egg, not many were of the dangerous variety thanks to a quality defensive effort from his teammates.
“That’s what Steve (head coach Konowalchuk) wants from the defence and that comes from the forwards too,” said Ungar. “They’re backchecking hard and we’re keeping a good third man high in the O zone.
“That’s how you shut team’s chances down and give yourself a chance to win every night.”
The Rebels got the only goal they needed just prior to the halfway point of the opening period, as Ben King, from the outside edge of the trapezoid, fed the puck into the low slot where Arshdeep Bains fired it past Hitmen netminder Brayden Peters.
The Rebels carried the play through much of the period and probably deserved another goal or two.
“A good, solid effort from our guys,” said Konowalchuk. “I liked our first period, we were ready to go and had some chances.
“I thought we could have had a couple of goals in the first period but we stuck with it and give them (Hitmen) credit, they kept battling on their side.”
The second period was a saw-off, with neither team finding the back of the net, but the Rebels took over in the third and basically clinched the victory when Blake Stevenson notched a short-handed marker 31 seconds into the final frame.
The overage forward took advantage of a Hitmen turnover in the Rebels zone, broke in alone and slipped a backhand through Peters’ pads.
“I let a big breath of air out there,” said Ungar. “They go on the power play and we can take one away from that. That’s huge and kind of won us the game.”
Indeed, the Rebels were in control of the contest the rest of the way, especially after getting a third goal from King, on a pass from Bains, at the 6:37 mark.
Neither team was able to cash in on the power play, with the Rebels going zero-for-three and the Hitmen coming up empty on five man-advantage situations.
“Our special teams were good. The power play didn’t get one today but they moved the puck well and our penalty kill was huge when we needed it. It was a big goal by Stevey there, that second goal,” said Konowalchuk.
The Rebels’ penalty kill has been a force all season thanks in part to an aggressive nature.
“We definitely want to be on our toes on the PK,” said Konowalchuk. “You can’t run out of position but when you have time to pressure and it’s time to go, you want to be able to go.”
It’s also a well known fact that the goaltender is often a team’s best penalty killer.
“He played well all night long, it’s nice to have two guys we can throw in the net,” said Konowalchuk, referring also to Chase Coward.
“He (Ungar) played great in there and the team played real well in front of him too. It was kind of a nice grind it out win. It was a battle, a grind.”
The Rebels will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their 2021-22 schedule with a Sunday afternoon rematch with the Hitmen in Calgary.
“We’ll try and continue this energy going into the last game and put ourselves in a good spot at kind of the half way point,” said Ungar.
Notable: Bains and King each had two points — a goal and an assist, and both extended their points streak to five games . . . Ungar has won his last four starts and improved his record to 10-2-1-0 . . . The three stars: (1) Ungar, (2) Bains and (3) King.