So far, so good.
After coming up short in their first two games of the season, the Red Deer Rebels have racked up five consecutive victories. Meanwhile, their special teams are both among the top 10 in the WHL (power play is third overall, penalty kill is eighth) and, contrary to popular opinion heading into the current campaign, the club hasn’t exactly struggled offensively while averaging nearly four goals per game.
The Rebels’ success, for the most part, has been keyed by the players at the top of the roster, GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Tuesday.
“I think the biggest thing with our group is that our leadership has been really good,” he said, referring not only to captain Reese Johnson and alternates Brandon Hagel, Alex Alexeyev and Dawson Barteaux, but also the likes of fellow veterans Josh Tarzwell and Jacob Herauf.
“Whether we’re up one or down two or down three, it doesn’t matter, the leaders respond the right way. They’re the ones doing it by example.
“Our older group has been really good that way, but I shouldn’t expect anything else from them because they have to ability to do it.”
Puck-stoppers Ethan Anders and Byron Fancy have also pulled their weight,” Sutter noted.
“Goaltending makes a big difference. Andy has been good in all (six) of the games he’s played and Byron has been good in the one game he’s played in.”
The club has also displayed a strong work ethic to date by playing with energy and tenacity.
“Two things we want to be good at every night is being competitive and being courageous,” said Sutter. “Those are two factors that define ‘hard working’.”
The Rebels boss added that although the current game is perhaps more convoluted than ever with more systems and the influx of video training , over-coaching is not the way to go.
“With a young team you don’t want to complicate things,” said Sutter. “Older guys, because of their experience, they find their way. With young players you have to keep it simple, keep the basics in line all the time.
“Our system doesn’t need to be complicated. I want our players to play, I don’t want to be over-coaching our team.
“You have to allow young players to develop their skills, you have to allow them to go out and do things. They’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to have some turnovers, which are acceptable as long as they’re learning from them and getting better. Mistakes are going to happen with a young team but if you play the right way they’re not so noticeable.
“Every day is a new day for this team, but as long as we’re taking strides in the right direction . . . “
Patience among the coaching staff is another key to the Rebels’ success now and down the road, Sutter noted.”
“When you have younger guys you have to spend a lot of time with them, and that’s the whole coaching staff,” he said.
Fortunately, the roster consists totally of coachable players.
“They come in and they want to see video,” said Sutter. “We show video daily because visualization is a big part of learning now, and all the guys downstairs (assistant coaches) are good at the video side of the game.
“The most important things are being patient and being positive, let the players be and let them grow with it.
“That’s what’s so nice about the coaching group — it’s a young staff that understands that. They relate really well with the players, who are comfortable coming to them. It seems to be a very comfortable setting where the players and coaches can relate to each other.”
Despite the fact five of their seven games to date have been at home, the Rebels haven’t had an easy schedule considering Edmonton, Saskatoon and certainly Prince Albert are in the contender category.
“We’ve had a tough schedule and it won’t get any easier,” said Sutter, referring partly to the team’s next three games — at Saskatoon and Prince Albert this Friday and Saturday and at Edmonton Oct. 19.
“We have a 5-2 record, but it’s so early in the season. But we’d certainly rather be 5-2 than 2-5,” he added.
“There’s been a lot of mistakes made in these wins but we’re going to continue to compete every night and we’re going to play with courage. We want to be a skating team that’s hard on pucks.
“For the most part, we’ve been really good at those elements. It’s just a real good group of kids who are team-minded and I want their skills to come out.”