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Rebels coach Truitt impressed by team’s resilience in preseason win

The one aspect of the Red Deer Rebels’ performance that stood out for Jeff Truitt more than any other during the past weekend was the team’s ability to respond positively to the roughhouse tactics employed by their hosts.
“I really liked our compete level against Tri-City,” the Rebels associate coach said Monday, reflecting back on Friday’s 3-2 win over the host Americans in a WHL preseason tournament at Kennewick, Wash.
“They’re a bigger team that plays a heavy game, (but) when push came to shove we were pushing back and the intensity rose up. Our character came through in the third period, getting one (goal) to get the win. But I really liked our compete and battle level. The guys pushed back. We stuck together and pushed together.”
Truitt, once again, is in charge of the Rebels defensive corps, a group that — for the most part — features plenty of promise but lacks major junior experience.
The lone veteran with more than one full season of WHL savvy is 19-year-old Brandon Schuldhaus. The rest of the blueline brigade consists of five second-year players and rookies Hunter Donohoe and Sam Pouliot.
Still, the returnees should be able to build on last season’s experience and put their talents to good use.
“With the group in general, we’re mobile,” said Truitt. “We have good speed and awareness back there. We’re still working out some kinks with D-pairs, but I like where the guys are going.
“Of the guys who have returned, (Jacob) Herauf and (Dawson) Barteaux have done a good job (during preseason play) and we’re expecting them to take another step up.
“Take a look at (Carson) Sass, he is what he is — a good, steady, defending defenceman. Then you have Alex (Alexeyev) and Schuldhaus, who have done a really good job of kind of being that top pair.
“We’re expecting an awful lot out of this back end, defending-wise and position-wise. Those are the guys (including Ethan Sakowich, currently attending the Boston Bruins rookie camp) who are going to have to lead the group in our defensive zone.”
The Rebels’ overall team speed should be a strength this season, although — with five players attending NHL rookie camps — they were second-best in that department in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Portland Winterhawks.
“We had a younger lineup against Portland and they’re a speedy team and we didn’t win as many races as we wanted to,” said Truitt. “They were throwing pucks around quite a bit and we kind of got out of position a couple times. But it’s just a reaction. For guys like Hunter Donohoe and Sam Pouliot, this was kind of their first kick at the cat when it comes to this type of competition.
“It’s a learning process. We’re certainly not disappointed but as time moves on it’s something they’re going to face every night.”
The Rebels are using this week’s practice sessions to prepare for their final preseason contest — on Saturday against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers — and even more so for the regular season.
“We’ll be working on more systems stuff and structural stuff,” said Truitt. “That’s going to be the biggest thing. We want to take another level up in our awareness off the rush and in our defensive zone. Offensively, we want to make sure we’re generating more with puck possession and putting pucks at the net.”
Red Deer’s regular-season opener is Sept. 23 versus the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Centrium.

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