Rebels’ recent play gives hope that slide may end soon
The Red Deer Rebels have experienced all types of WHL losses this season, many of them self-inflicted and others due to a serious shortage of puck luck.
But foolish penalties, poor puck decisions and bad bounces aside, the club in recent games has at least offered some evidence that the steady slide — as in eight consecutive losses — might be on the verge of ending.
“It’s not like we’ve played terrible hockey. We’ve played some pretty good hockey, but we just seem to find ourselves on the wrong side of the line every night through this period of time,” GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Tuesday.
“A certain thing happens here or there, it could have gone the other way.”
For example, if the Rebels had cashed in on just one of their 14 third-period shots Saturday night at the Centrium and/or stayed the course for what turned out to be a disastrous one-minute stretch in the second period, a victory would have resulted. Instead, the Calgary Hitmen skated off with a 4-3 shootout win.
In their previous three contests, the Rebels lost twice in overtime — to the Hitmen at Calgary and at home versus Brandon after blowing a four-goal lead — and fell to the visiting Regina Pats in what was essentially a one-goal game.
It’s truly been a myriad of unfortunate circumstances that have kept the Rebels out of the win column over the past couple of weeks. Included have been an occasional — and untimely — lack of discipline and goaltending that hasn’t been steadily reliable.
“We have tons of scoring chances but don’t capitalize. Then we have some bad goals against us when you need saves,” said Sutter. “You take a bad penalty at a bad time and put the team down on a five-on-three when it’s a tie game or a one-goal game.”
The Rebels celebrated just one win in November and after winning their first three games of the season, are 6-16-3-1 ever since.
“It’s been one of those years. You have to stay with it and like I tell the kids, you have to man up about it,” said Sutter. “This is where we’re at and we have to meet it head on, face reality and get ourselves through it.”
Perhaps, just perhaps, the tide is turning.
“I see signs of us getting out of it,” he said. “As a coach, you’re worried two weeks ago that you don’t see the team progressing like you would hope, but now I see some really good signs and that’s encouraging.
“There’s still a lot of hockey left to play, it’s still early in December with nearly four months of hockey left. It’s just rectifying it as quickly as you can. You have to get playing and winning games.”
The Rebels will be better served in their quest if a handful of veterans can consistently perform to their expected level, Sutter noted.
“We’re still looking at consistency with some guys. You know they’re good players and you just want them to be the players they can be for the whole game,” he said. “We’ll get one or two good periods and then a tough period out of certain individuals. That’s just a focus thing.”
Trading Akash Bains and Jared Dymtriw and releasing Jack Flaman in the past two weeks has allowed more ice time for the likes of younger forwards like Austin Schellenbeg, who was particularly impressive in Saturday’s setback.
That’s a positive and will likely pay dividends down the road.
For now, though, the Rebels have to find a way to be better in virtually every aspect of the game.
“Sometimes we ask a lot of the players and maybe expectations from the (coaching) staff’s side are not realistic at that point in time,” Sutter conceded. “But you have to get the players to want to shoot for the stars. That’s the way they get better.
“We certainly wish we weren’t in this position, but we are and we have to deal with it. There’s no sense in feeling sorry for yourself. You just have to work to improve every day.”
Notable: The Rebels are in Lethbridge Wednesday to face the Hurricanes, then host the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos Friday and Saturday . . . On the injury front, winger Brandon Hagel (upper body, week-to-week) will be lost to the club until after Christmas, and goalie Ethan Anders (upper body) and rookie winger Justin Svenson (lower body) are listed as day-to-day. As a result of Anders’ injury, Riley Lamb will likely start all three Red Deer games this week, with midget AAA call-up Byron Fancy in a back-up role . . . The Rebels will be minus the services of forward Kristian Reichel for their final two games prior to Christmas and four to six games following the break. Reichel leaves Dec. 13 to join the Czech Republic team for the world junior championship starting Boxing Day in Buffalo. Meanwhile, defenceman Alex Alexeyev will depart Dec. 17 to attend try-outs out for the Russian junior team.