Thursday, November 28, 2013

REBELS: Big Weekend Ahead

With the spectacle that was the Subway Super Series now in the books, the focus for junior hockey fans in Central Alberta returns squarely on the exploits of the Red Deer Rebels.

The Rebels are coming off of what was perhaps their best home effort of the season thus far, definitely their best since their return from November’s ArgiTrade induced road trip.  My question for Lukas Sutter on Thursday, what was the key to success that night?

“Our consistent work ethic,” Sutter told me prior to hitting the ice for practice.  “It was the first night in a long time where we played the full sixty minutes.  And when you look at our lineup, when we play a full sixty minutes we are going to beat a lot of teams.  That wasn’t the case in the games leading up to that.”

That’s putting it mildly.  Unfortunately, the Rebels, especially last Friday versus Regina, have not come close to playing a “full sixty minutes” at the Enmax Centrium.  The club has earned just five wins in thirteen tries at home this season.  Only Saskatoon and Lethbridge have worse home records this season.

But the 5-1 win over the Prince George Cougars last Saturday provided (finally) a glimpse of what this team is capable of doing.  The next question for Lukas, can the game serve as the starting point for better things to come, home and away)?

“Absolutely.  It’s something that we can use as a measuring stick for ourselves.  We know that we are capable of it now and for us to take a step back would be unacceptable.”

So, what is the mood of this team right now?

“We’re confident but we can’t become complacent,” said Sutter.  “We are still a .500 team and that’s not acceptable and we know that.  This weekend is a big weekend for us when you look at the teams that we have, it’s a big four points in the standings that we need.”

It certainly is a big four points.  Points the Rebels would absolutely love to earn to climb back into the top eight in the WHL Eastern Conference standings (they sit one point back of 8th place Brandon).  But, it sure as heck won’t be easy as the Rebels find themselves up against the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers and East Division leading Swift Current Broncos.  Yup, the top two teams in the entire conference.

Says Sutter “These are games that shouldn’t be hard to get up for.  When you look at the standings, they are two of the teams that everyone is gunning for.  I think there’s going to be no shortage of inspiration for us.”

Lukas, I (and the entire Rebels fan base, no doubt) certainly hope you are right.  If you’re not, well, things could get uglier than a Clark Griswold Christmas sweater.

Because I don’t have enough time to write it and you don’t have enough time to read, let’s keep our focus on Friday night’s game at Medicine Hat.  The tabbies are good, real good.  They bring a balanced scoring attack (13 players with 10 or more points, four are averaging a point per game or more, are solid in their own and have an outstanding goaltending tandem (both Marek Langhamer and Daniel Wapple sport a .916 save percentage). 

Sutter is looking forward to the challenge of taming the Tigers.

“I grew up watching those playoff battles back in the day and I’ve seen some pretty wild things in the [Medicine Hat] Arena.  I’ve played against them in the playoffs each of the last two years with Saskatoon and know how good of a team they are and how capable they are.  If there’s anything extra I can bring, that what I want to do.”

Lukas, studiously, feels the Tigers are a team the Rebels should take a few notes on. 

“You look at who they are getting scoring from, it’s not just the top end guys.  They are getting it from everyone and that’s a team that we can look to emulate in some ways.  It’ll be a good game for us for sure.”

While the Rebels are dealing with very few injuries heading into Friday’s game, the injuries they are dealing with long-term in nature.  Grayson Pawlenchuk remains out with an elbow injury and is hopeful to return sometime in December.  Christian Stockl remains out with an upper body injury for an indeterminate period of time.  And, most recently, Matt Bellerive suffered a lower body (knee) injury versus the Cougars and is now out indefinitely.

The loss of Bellerive prompts a roster change in the form of Scott Feser.  The Red Deer native has been recalled from Alberta Junior Hockey League where he now toils with the Okotoks Oilers.  Feser has collected five assists in six games played with the Oilers since coming over from the Camrose Kodiaks, where he had amassed five assists in twelve games.

It will be interesting to see if lightning can strike twice for Feser.  He played some pretty good hockey after being recalled by the Rebels at around this same time last year.  Count Lukas Sutter among those who wants to see him succeed.

“He can be an emotional leader for sure.  He’s a guy who has been through the battles with this team and hasn’t been dealt the best hand.  We’re excited to have him back and it’s an opportunity he wants to take advantage of.”

So, there you have it.  My first Rebels blog of the season.  Sorry it took me this long to get back to it.  Frankly, if I had the time and stamina I could have wrote another couple thousand words based on what I’ve seen from the club so far this season.  But, I’ll stick with this much for now.  Here’s hoping it won’t be another three months before I write another one.



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