By Dale Woodard on October 12, 2021.
The calendar said early-October, but the atmosphere said late-April.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels renewed acquaintances as the Canes prevailed 2-1 in overtime in Western Hockey League play Saturday night at the Enmax Centre.
In his second game back from the Detroit Red Wings camp, overage blue-liner Alex Cotton scored 13:49 into the second period to knot the game at 1-1 before delivering the winner in the three-on-three overtime for a win that improves the Canes to 3-1-0-0 in the early-going of the season.
At each end of the ice, both goalies threw up a wall for the most part as Hurricanes goaltender Bryan Thomson made 31 saves and Rebels netminder Connor Ungar kicked out 34 of 36 shots in a heated affair that featured a couple dustups along the way.
A little hate was established, and for his part, Cotton loved it.
“Those games are always the most fun when it’s physical and a couple of fights,” said Cotton, who now has three points in two games since his return to Lethbridge. “It was an unreal game to play in.
“We have a really big team. That’s how we’re going to beat teams, by being physical. But definitely against these guys, we don’t like these guys.”
With Thomson and Ungar not giving up much, the Rebels were first on the board when Kalan Lind capitalized on a turnover 2:25 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
It stayed that way until late in the second when the Hurricanes went to the power play and Cotton netted his first of the season at the 13:49 mark.
Just prior to that, Hurricanes veteran Logan Barlage and Red Deer’s Kyle Masters filled their dance cards a little over four minute into the second.
“I hit him and he kind of grabbed me,” said Barlage.
“So I thought maybe I would get the boys going a bit more. I want to make sure I’m playing a lot more physical this year and being a physical presence with my size.
“I think we’ve always had a rivalry with Red Deer and there are games that get heated. Those are my favorite games to play in and I think as a team we get excited when we play these games. It’s fun when the whole team is involved and the bench is involved. It was a really fun game and we love playing teams like that, that we don’t like.”
The teams skated through a scoreless third period with the Rebels outshooting the Canes 11-8.
“The guys were skating on both sides of the puck,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio. “I thought Red Deer was playing a really good, solid game and they were getting some opportunities. They have some forwards up front who can really capitalize on us. I thought we did a good job pushing back and creating ours as well and both goalies played a good game.”
Midway through the OT session, Cotton took a feed from Justin Hall and was able to shovel a shot past Ungar for the game-winner.
“(Hall) made a good play to beat that guy off the wall to create a three-on-two and then I kind of just got lost like I usually do and I chipped it over him,” said Cotton. “It got in my skates and I had to chip it over him a little it.”
“He was very good and we expect that from him,” added Kisio of Cotton. “He’s going to be one of the better defencemen in the league. He loves to step up in the right moments and he sure did tonight.”
But Kisio said Saturday was one of the weaker starts his team has had in the early stages of the season.
“I thought we found our legs as the game went on. It was probably one of our looser games we’ve played. We know we can be better, but sometimes you’re not going to have it on some nights and I was really proud of our guys just finding a way to win.”
Using their size this year will be key, said Kisio.
“We’re a big team and if you’re a big team you have to play physical,” said Kisio. “If you’re not playing physical there’s no use being big. I thought we did a good job playing physical tonight and we answered the bell a couple of times and played a solid game that way.”
Meanwhile, Thomson – the first Canes goaltender to start the first four games of a season since Stuart Skinner in 2017-18 – made 31 saves to give himself a 1.50 goals against average and a .959 save percentage.
“If he keeps playing like that we’re going to go really, really far,” said Cotton. “He’s made a big step this year, for sure. I’m so happy for him. I’m sure he’ll keep going.”
The Hurricanes are in Edmonton Friday night to face the Oil Kings and head to Red Deer for a rematch with the Rebels Oct. 22.
The team return to the Enmax Centre Oct. 23 when the Prince Albert Raiders come to town.
Follow @@DWoodardHerald on Twitter