Wednesday, March 19, 2014

REBELS: The Final Curtain

Just like that… it’s all over.

After a frantic finish to the regular season that centred on an ultra-tight race for a playoff spot, the finality of the Red Deer Rebels’ tiebreaker game loss to the Prince Albert Raiders is tough to stomach, real tough.

Many observers had high hopes for the 2013-14 Red Deer Rebels, and it was with good reason that they did. They brought back a large chunk of the roster that last season rallied to finish 4th in the WHL Eastern Conference and swept the Prince Albert Raiders in the opening round of playoffs. They had the reigning WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year, a stud defenceman to build around, a promising group of forwards, and a solid coaching group with a ton of pedigree. Seemingly, the ingredients were there for a recipe for success this season.

In the end, those ingredients didn’t mix as well as many had expected and the Rebels are on the outside looking in for this year’s playoffs. It certainly wasn’t a boring season, no season ever is in my opinion, and here some of the highs and lows, as I saw them, from the campaign that was…

HIGHS...

THE BARTY PARTY – There is nothing I can say about Patrik that hasn’t already been said. The Czech netminder did everything his club had asked of him and then some. It will be fun to watch him as he begins his professional career as part of the Los Angeles Kings organization.

SCOTTY ON FIRE – The “feel good story” of the Rebels season… in my humble opinion, at least. For the second straight season, Feser was greeted at the end of training camp with a ticket to the AJHL. He was recalled by the Rebels shortly after being traded from Camrose to Okotoks and never looked back. By season’s end the line of Feser-Johnson-Musil was leading the way at both ends of the rink for the Rebels, providing a shimmer of optimism heading into next season.

FANTASTIC FLEURY – The lanky blueliner from Saskatchewan was dropped into the #1 slot with the departure of Mathew Dumba. Fleury responded big time with solid play at both ends of the rink while, vitally for the Rebels, playing a ton of minutes along the way. Fleury will undoubtedly become the next Rebel to have his name called in the 1st round of the NHL Entry Draft.

KID CAPTAIN – A lot of eyebrows were raised, including mine, when the High River native was named as the new Rebels Captain at the somewhat tender age of 17. The expectations for Bleackley, a former 1st round bantam draft pick, were already high and being asked to take on the ultimate leadership role for his club raised them even higher. While his offensive production tailed off late in the season, Bleackley, in my opinion, did indeed prove he was worthy of having the “C” on his chest. He too will have a trip to the NHL Entry Draft podium in his near future.

FUTURE STARTS NOW – Along with Feser… Adam Musil, Vukie Mpofu, Grayson Pawlenchuk, Mason McCarty showed everyone that the Rebels have an up and coming group of forwards that will be worth watching for the next two to three seasons.

LOWS...

HOME ICE HORRORS – Including the tiebreaker, the Rebels finished a game below .500 at the Enmax Centrium this season. “Mentally, we were much better on the road,” lamented Brent Sutter following Tuesday’s tiebreaker loss to Prince Albert. “We were a much better road team for whatever reason.” “When you’re a below .500 team at home it’s tough to say you’re a playoff team.”

DUMBA DILEMMA – In hindsight it was pretty clear that the Minnesota Wild had no intention of having Mathew Dumba play with the Rebels this season. This was made evident by his quick assignment to Portland following the World Juniors. In the meantime, the club was left sitting and waiting for Minnesota to make a decision regarding Dumba’s status. The eventual trade that saw Presten Kopeck and draft picks come from Portland has already paid dividends for the Rebels and will continue to do so moving forward. But, in the short term, the Rebels suffered by not having their top blueliner.

SUTTER STRUGGLES – In acquiring the 20-year-old forward from the Saskatoon Blades last off-season the Rebels felt they had the power forward they needed to solidify their group of top six forwards. For the first couple of weeks, that’s exactly what Lukas did for the club while playing on a line with Bleackley and Brooks Maxwell. Unfortunately, an early season shoulder injury sent his season off the rails. Despite coming back to play a couple dozen more games, Lukas was never the same (through no fault of his own) before finally being shut down for the season in order to have his shoulder fixed in time for training camp this fall with the Winnipeg Jets (with whom he has yet to sign a contract).

FEELING BLUE – Brent Sutter makes no effort to hide it… the Rebels group of defenceman was simply not good enough this season. Changing that will be the number one priority for the club in the off-season and will be the main focus of the Rebels in the CHL Import Draft.

Those are just a few of the things that stand out in my mind as I look back on the newly-completed season. You can visit my soundcloud page for today’s full comments from Brent as well as some tidbits from Bartosak, Bleackley, Fleury and Dieno.

TG


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