It was early in the first period of Saturday night’s game against the visiting Spokane Braves when you got the sense that the playoff-bound Castlegar Rebels were playing the game in cruise control.
The pace was slow, the decisions too cute by half, and the results predictable. The Braves turned in a complete game and came out with a 5-3 win, powered by a hat trick and two assists from Elliot Plourde.
The Braves demonstrated quickly that they were playing for real, as they scored a power-play goal just over two minutes in after Vince Bitonti went off for boarding. While that may have looked to be an “uh oh” moment for the Rebels, it quickly dissipated as they returned to form with three straight goals to close out the period and head to the dressing room up 3-1. Chris Breese, Aiden “Bo” Cornell and Kirkland Spencer were the goalscorers for Castlegar.
There was no scoring in a fairly listless second period.
The third is where things quickly unravelled for the Rebels. Kyle Donaldson potted a goal for Spokane just under three minutes into the frame, and that was followed by Plourde’s second of the night. Plourde finished off the hat trick on a power-play goal after the Rebels’ Edward Lindsay was sent to the showers after dropping his gloves and throwing several punches at a shocked and turtling Spokane player. It’s not known what was said to trigger Lindsey’s response. Considering Lindsey’s not known for his PIM count and he is the leading scorer for the Rebels with 75 points in 47 games played, it must have been quite the offensive taunt.
Still, Rebels Assistant General Manager Parker Hickey said after the sobering loss that it was an unwise decision as it put the team behind the eight ball with a seven-minute penalty kill with Lindsey’s two-minute instigator, the five-minute major for fighting and the 10-minute game misconduct.
“I think there were some words exchanged. He probably shouldn’t have fought at that moment in time, but he did and the team has to deal with that,” Hickey said.
Spokane’s Dawson Tritt finished the scoring 15 minutes into the third. Spokane’s Paxton Malone was a standout, demonstrating several lightning-fast breakouts on the power play.
Goaltender Curt Doyle was outstanding for the Rebels, as he was forced to make several highlight-worthy sliding leg saves or dazzle with a quick blocker with shots coming through traffic.
“Some good things out of tonight. First, obviously, Doyle played a pretty good game. I think he didn’t deserve five goals against him. Second I think our power play looked pretty good,” Hickey said.
But the plusses were a short list.
“It’s tough when it’s a game that doesn’t matter for the standings but we’ve still got to be better than that. I think we’re going to try our best to focus on how well we played [Friday] night and not on how poorly we played tonight. A third-period collapse like that that is not something we can’t have against Beaver Valley,” Hickey said.
Because it was a statistically meaningless game, the Rebels are not hitting the red alert button, but they know they have work to do this week to be prepared for the start of the postseason against Beaver Valley.
“It’s not a huge panic, but I think some things that happened were worrisome. But we have a week to bounce back. We’ve got five days of practice this week and we’re not taking our foot off of the pedal at all,” Hickey said. “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and I think these guys will get up pretty easily for the games against Beaver Valley.”
It wasn’t that surprising to see an emotional letdown after Friday night’s playoff-like tilt against the divisional rivals from Nelson.
“Absolutely. Every time we played Nelson, whether that’s personal connections, or because that’s a team we play in the playoffs, I think everyone got up for that game,” Hickey confirmed.
The only real scare came midway through the third as Bitonti delivered a devastating but clean shoulder to the chest of a Spokane forward, and that player took a number and returned the favour with an equally thunderous and clean hit. That ignited an all-out hit-fest that lasted a couple of shifts, which could have turned the game ugly.
“I think we were kind of worried when the hits started flying like that. Obviously, we have a lot more to lose than Spokane does,” Hickey said. “The refs did a good job of calming things down. I think after Vince’s hit and they got one back I think everyone just decided it would probably be best if no one got injured coming out of this game.”
Speaking of the refs, a nod to linesmen Matt Yorston and Jamie Tarron for calling a textbook game, with loud and clear calls and warnings to ensure smooth gameplay. Young, up-and-coming refs should watch a video of their work for inspiration.
With the loss, the Rebels finished the regular season with a 30-13-1-2 record and 63 points, second behind Nelson who had 71. The playoffs begin Friday night in Castlegar with Beaver Valley coming to town for the 7 p.m. start. Game 2 of the series is set for Saturday in Castlegar at 7:30 p.m.
The Grand Forks Border Bruins travel to Nelson to take on the Leafs to start their series.