Rebels Penalty Kill Clutch In Game 1
By Greg Meachem
Photo by Rob Wallator
Rebels 3 Hitmen 1
The Red Deer Rebels played with fire Friday night at the Centrium, but their penalty killers — including netminder Trevor Martin and his water bucket — were flame extinguishers.
The Rebels were six-for-six on the kill and pulled out a 3-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen before 6,357 fans, in the process grabbing a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
Game 2 goes Saturday night at the Centrium. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
“That was huge,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said of his club’s infraction-erasing prowess. “I didn’t like the fact we took six minor penalties, but our penalty killing was great and our goaltender was not only our best penalty killer, he played very well throughout the game.
“There are some areas we have to get better at and that’s one of the areas. We have to be more disciplined.”
Rebels second-year centre Jeff de Wit scored 2:48 into the contest and the goal held up through the remainder of the opening period and the entire middle frame.
The Red Deer product took a stretch pass from Evan Polei near the Calgary blueline, cut to the middle and beat netminder Cody Porter with a wrist shot from the high slot.
Martin came up big on several occasions to keep the visitors off the scoresheet, but defenceman Keegan Kanzig finally pulled the Hitmen even at 14:20 of the third period, his blast from just inside the Rebels blueline catching the back of the net.
Adam Helewka notched the winner just 51 seconds later, bringing the fans out of their seats with a nifty move deep in the Calgary zone. The 20-year-old cut inside of Hitmen defenceman Jake Bean and from close range tucked the puck between the Porter’s pads.
“(Teammate) Luke Philp made a great effort to win a battle. I came and picked it up, got inside body position and snuck it five-hole,” said Helewka, who sealed the deal with an empty-net marker at 19:54.
“The last few times we’ve played the Hitmen it’s been a battle and it was again tonight. Playoffs are always going to be a war. Both teams battled hard and I didn’t expect anything less.”
With Porter on the Calgary bench, Helewka found the empty net from inside the Red Deer blueline with six seconds remaining.
“It’s always good to win games at home, especially Game 1 of a series,” said the San Jose Sharks prospect. “Now we just have to keep moving forward.”
The teams engaged in some extra-curricular antics late in the first period, a scrum that produced 10 minutes in penalties and put Red Deer down a man when defenceman Colton Bobyk picked up the extra minor.
The Rebels were two-for-two on the penalty kill in each period, while the visitors were short-handed just once. The Rebels’ lone power play, however, was cut short when forward Jake DeBrusk was called for roughing after drilling Calgary’s Taylor Sanheim into the Red Deer bench and unleashing a flurry of punches.
“It was playoff hockey, there was a little bit of everything in the game,” said Sutter. “There are things we can get better at, but at the end of the night we win Game 1 of the playoffs.
“A win is a win, we’ll take it and start getting ready for the second game.”
Martin turned aside 32 shots as the Hitmen enjoyed extensive zone time, particularly in the second period. Porter was credited with 23 saves.
“It’s going to be a tough series, a long series,” said Sutter. “We have to make sure we handle this the right way and stay level-headed.
“As a group we know we can be better and that’s no disrespect to Calgary because I thought they played a heck of a game. But we can get our game to another level, too.”
° Defenceman Josh Mahura made his return to the Rebels Friday. Mahura suffered a serious knee injury in late September which required surgery. “It was nice to have him back. He was excited to be back in the lineup and I know the kids were excited to have him back,” said Sutter. “He’s a big part of our team. It was unfortunate that he had the injury but we have him back now and every day his timing and everything like that will get better and better. This was his first game in five and a half months and I thought he handled himself very well.” . . . Games 3 and 4 are set for Sunday at the Calgary Saddledome and next Friday at the old Stampede Corral.