Calgary, Alta. – No captain, no problem for the Calgary Hitmen.
With the CHL on Sportsnet Saturday Showcase spotlight shining brightly on the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, the Hitmen eked out a 2-1 overtime victory over the Red Deer Rebels, all while captain Matteo Gennaro was dealt to the Swift Current Broncos in a blockbuster trade announced midway through the second period.
Mark Kastelic ended the game in electric fashion, executing a strong power move, taking the puck hard to the net off the right side before jamming a backhand shot past the right leg of Rebels goaltender Ethan Anders and inside the post to secure the bonus point for the host Hitmen only 30 seconds into the extra period.
It appeared as though Calgary goaltender Nick Schneider was going to escape with a shutout performance until Rebels forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect Brandon Hagel beat him with only 42 seconds to go in the third period to tie the game 1-1, forcing overtime.
Despite surrendering the late goal, Schneider steered aside 24 of 25 shots, earning second-star recognition for his efforts.
Jake Kryski opened the scoring for Calgary, converting on a power-play opportunity late in the first period with Rebels defenceman Sam Pouliot serving a double minor for checking from behind.
Looking to find Kastelic with a pass in front of the net, the 19-year-old Kryski banked the puck off a Red Deer defender, past a helpless Anders, giving the hosts a 1-0 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
Late in the second period on the heels of killing another Hitmen power play, Rebels captain Grayson Pawlenchuk broke in alone on Schneider for arguably the best scoring chance of the middle period. Once again, the Calgary Flames prospect was tall to the task, rejecting the veteran forward to protect the Hitmen’s one-goal advantage with five minutes remaining in the second period.
Early in the third period with the two teams playing four-on-four hockey, Lane Zablocki fed Pawlenchuk two-on-one for another glorious opportunity at the Calgary net. Schneider kept his stick strong along the ice, stretching right to left to reject the Red Deer captain for a second time.
Kryski remained dangerous in the third period. Looking to add some insurance to the Hitmen lead five minutes into the final period, the product of Vancouver rang one off the iron in behind Anders. The veteran Kryski finished the afternoon with one goal on three shots, being named first star for his energetic play.
Pressing for the equalizer, Russian defenceman Alexander Alexeyev opened some space in the high slot before dropping to the ever dangerous Mason McCarty, who ripped a hot shot in at the Calgary cage. Once again, Schneider was aggressive at the top of the blue paint, swallowing up the puck to collect one of his 24 stops at a critical moment late in the third period.
Apart from the impact of Kastelic, Kryski and Schneider, the Hitmen received a gutsy effort from rookie forward Orca Wiesblatt, who took on additional ice time with the departure of Gennaro. The 17-year-old Wiesblatt generated a couple quality scoring chances early in the proceedings, notching two shots on goal and was an efficient 8-for-12 in the face-off circle by the end of the afternoon.
The all-around effort by the host Hitmen was admirable, considering the circumstance under which they played Saturday’s contest. After taking warmups with the team and anticipating being in the lineup, Gennaro was a last-minute scratch from the affair. By the midpoint of the second period, the Hitmen and Broncos had announced a massive seven-player swap, with Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn headed for Speedy Creek while Connor Chaulk, Riley Stotts, Dom Schmiemann, Josh Prokop and Ethan Hein trek west to Cowtown.
For the Hitmen, Saturday’s triumph ended a seven-game winless skid, while the loss represented the fifth consecutive defeat for the Rebels.
The overtime outing ensured the Central Division remained a complete logjam, with only two points separating the third-place Rebels, fourth-place Lethbridge Hurricanes and fifth-place Hitmen. Calgary improved to 7-14-3-1 (18 points) on the season, while the Rebels sit 9-15-2-0.
The Hitmen return to action Friday, December 1 (7 p.m. MT), when they host the Prince Albert Raiders at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Rebels will look to rediscover the win column on Tuesday, November 28 (7 p.m. MT), when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings at the Enmax Centrium.