You’d be forgiven if you thought the Castlegar Rebels were paying tribute to recently departed musician Tom Petty with their performance on Friday night.
It was an earnest effort, but they were done in by several “breakdowns” that the visiting Nelson Leafs pounced on to trounce the Rebels 7-3 in front of 200 fans at the Castlegar Complex in KIJHL regular season play.
The Leafs used their size advantage and a heavy forecheck to force several turnovers that turned into Grade A scoring chances. The Rebels also had discipline breakdowns that led to frequent visits to the penalty box, including one glass-slam that cost the Rebels Vince Bitonti a game misconduct in the second period, although Rebels coach and general manager Bill Rotheisler said the refs got the wrong guy on the call.
“They didn’t see it, but one of our guys who was in the box was upset and he hit the glass and they just automatically went to Vince and kicked him out,” Rotheisler said.
But the pendulum swung to the Leafs side well before the toss-out.
“I think we were already on the down-slope of the morale train at that point. I don’t think that was a turning point, I think we were already there,” Rotheisler said.
Rebels defenceman Dallas Goodwin had a good night, showing poise and composure against the unrelenting Leafs forecheckers. Several times he created time and space with a quick shimmy or stickhandle.
“Goodwin was a forward through a lot of last year and finished off as a D and we had plans to make him a forward again. He and Chase Daniels have had such good chemistry together, so it allowed us to try to find a dancing partner for Vince and that’s why we ended up getting [Scott] Rademaker,” Rotheisler said.
“I really like our top four and Goodie’s been a big part of that. He’s a guy over the last two years, you ask him to play D, you ask him to play forward, you could probably ask him to do the intermission show and he wouldn’t say anything. He’s been unreal. He’s good at everything he does.”
The Leafs improved their road record to 4-0 and 8-2-1 overall and were tied with Grand Forks for first place in the Neil Murdoch Division with two games in hand. The Rebels dropped to 5-4, good for fourth in the division, one point ahead of Spokane.
The Leafs David Sanchez had a goal and two assists to lead the point-getters, while Shawn Campbell, Tanner Costa and Everett Hicks replied for the Rebels.
While the Rebels outshot the Leafs 47-37, the Leafs kept them to the perimeter of the red zone and many shots were easy for goaltender Josh Williams to catch or block and smother.
“They did it in the playoffs last year, too. They’ve got big D-men, that’s all,” Rotheisler said.
“We outshot them. I thought maybe we were the better team if you were 51 to 49 per cent, but at the end of the day, they had Grade A chances. We were letting them get some pretty good shots from some pretty important places, and a lot of outnumbered situations — three-on-twos, two-on-ones, partial breaks. No matter how good you are [in the offensive zone], you gotta be better in your own end. It’s a good lesson for our guys.”
Rotheisler said the Rebels knew what to expect from the Leafs, and they went through the gameplan and the video.
“Everybody knows, and everybody takes accountability for it as well. It’s just a matter of actually doing it,” Rotheisler said.
“We’ll get over it, we’ll figure it out, but we’re struggling. We’re struggling to get inside those tough areas right now.”
Rebels goaltender Curt Doyle actually made several point-blank stops on some of those chances, but there were too many in the end.
The Rebels travel to Spokane to play the Braves Saturday night at 7 p.m. and are next at home on Oct. 20 when they host Beaver Valley.