A road-trip that started out with so much promise now teeters on the edge after back-to-back losses for the Bruins.
Chilliwack started the trip with impressive wins over the Lethbridge Hurricanes (4-3) and Medicine Hat Tigers (4-1).
But Tuesday night saw the good guys drop a 3-2 decision to the worst team in the Western Hockey League, the Calgary Hitmen (10-22-2-0).
On Wednesday night, the Bruins gave up a whopping 57 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Eastern conference powerhouse Red Deer Rebels.
“I think the loss to the Hitmen bothered me more because we had a chance to guarantee ourselves a .500 road trip,” said Chilliwack head coach Marc Habscheid. “Probably the worst thing we did was score the 2-0 goal because we took our foot off the gas.”
Six and a half minutes into period two the Bruins had a two goal lead on tallies by Brandon Magee and Jamie Crooks.
But the Hitmen battled back on goals by Chilliwack native Justin Kirsch, Trevor Cheek and Jimmy Bubnick to steal the win.
“We beat ourselves because we didn’t bring it,” Habscheid observed. “If we’d have brought what we did against Medicine Hat we would have been fine. But we tried to find an easier way, and that never works.”
The Bruins welcomed back Ryan Howse for the Red Deer game, but waved goodbye to Roman Horak and Robin Soudek — both off to the Czech national junior team tryout camp in Detroit.
Chilliwack was also missing defenceman Brandon Manning (injured) for the third straight game.
“You never want to make excuses, but facts are facts and those three are big parts of our team,” Habscheid said.
For the first 40 minutes the Bruins appeared completely overwhelmed.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins found out at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning that he’d been cut from Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp.
By 7:11 p.m. he was back in Red Deer setting up the game’s first goal. The projected top-five National Hockey League draft pick flew down the right wing and fed a pass to linemate Turner Elson.
Chilliwack netminder Lucas Gore came across with a great initial save, but couldn’t corral the rebound. Elson crashed the crease with some uncalled interference, giving Swedish sniper John Persson an unguarded net for his 10th of the year.
Red Deer kept coming in waves, and Alex Petrovic gave them a 2-0 lead at 14:49. The Florida Panthers second rounder hammered a shot from the right faceoff dot, blowing the puck past Gore for his third of the season.
The Rebels continued to dominate in the second period, and if not for Gore the game would have been completely out of hand.
Still, Red Deer added to their lead in the final minute on a goal by ex-Everett Silvertip Byron Froese. Froese took a pass from Nugent-Hopkins, strolling right up the gut and blasting a slap-shot past Gore for his 13th of the season. His goal came on the power play, with Kevin Sundher serving two minutes for slashing.
The Rebels throttled back in the third, but the final shot total of 57 still set a new franchise mark for Chilliwack, eclipsing the 56 shots given up during a year-three loss to Vancouver.
“Yeah, but you have to take shot clocks in this league with a grain of salt,” Habscheid said. “They definitely out-played us, but sometimes shots just go up on the board at some rinks. I don’t pay much attention to that.”
The Bruins waited until the final minute of the game to break up the shutout bid of Rebels keeper Darcy Kuemper. Steven Hodges got his fourth of the year with a mere nine seconds remaining, scoring off a nifty feed from fellow rookie Brandon Magee.
Kuemper turned aside nine shots in the final frame, and 26 overall, but was deprived of what would have been his sixth shutout of the year.
Gore meanwhile set a new franchise record for saves in a game (54), but didn’t even warrant three-star mention at the Enmax Centrium.
“The goaltending has been fine on this trip,” Habscheid said. “Both guys have played pretty well, and you need that. There’s a little bit of a battle going on between the two, and that’s a good thing.”
The Bruins wrap up the pre-Christmas road trip tonight in Edmonton facing a suddenly capable Oil Kings squad (16-14-0-2).
“We’re still missing those three players, which doesn’t help,” Habscheid said. “We need to play a solid simple team game to get the result.”