Rebels entering crucial make-or-break point of the WHL season

Photo by Rob Wallator

These are desperate times for the Red Deer Rebels.

At one time the proprietors of the WHL Central Division penthouse, the Rebels are now battling to secure a wild-card berth in the postseason.

It’s safe to assume that there’s a sense of urgency in the Red Deer locker room, particularly with the proverbial four-pointer versus the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings coming up Friday.

“For sure, and I think we’ve played pretty hard in the last few games,” veteran centre Jeff de Wit said Tuesday. “We’ve had the effort, it’s been there, but we’ve had trouble scoring goals and that’s what hurt us in the last two games especially, in P.A. and Saskatoon.”

The Rebels, who as of Tuesday afternoon were two points up on Brandon for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and one back of the Medicine Hat Tigers for the first wild-card berth, scored just a single goal in the final two games of their recent East Division swing, falling 2-1 at Prince Albert in a shootout and 1-0 at Saskatoon.

Red Deer’s offensive struggles, however, can be traced back several weeks and even months.

De Wit notched his 21st goal of the season in a 5-4 loss at Edmonton Jan. 2 and has scored three since. Reese Johnson had 16 goals just after the Christmas break and now has 22 to his credit, while Cam Hausinger, currently with 17 goals, has potted just five since the first week of January.

The list goes on and includes the ‘secondary’ scorers. Sophomore forward Alex Morozoff, for example, has garnered eight goals this season, but only two since mid-December and is currently mired in a 16-game scoring drought.

Brandon Hagel has been far and away the Rebels’ most consistent offensive catalyst while not receiving much in the way of support.

“I think we’ve relied on a couple guys to do the offensive work for us and we’re kind of in that mindset where we’ve been dependent on those guys,” said de Wit.

“We have to get back to everyone contributing offensively. We’ve played pretty well defensively the last few games although our third periods need to get better for sure.

“We all need to chip in offensively and I think we’ll be fine.”

Red Deer’s man-advantage blues have also contributed to the lack of team success. Often, clubs that don’t score on the power play also struggle at even strength and the Rebels’ power play has dropped to 19th in the 22-team league.

“Yesterday the first and second power play units talked and ironed some things out,” said de Wit. “We went over some things that made us successful at the start of the year and we’ll be looking to get back to those things this weekend against Brandon and Kootenay (the Ice visit the Centrium Saturday).

“But our offence has to start coming for guys five-on-five too, including myself. I’ve been trying to get to the areas I need to to get the puck in the net, but it just hasn’t gone in.

“Hopefully as our power play starts going, everyone to a man will start generating more offence five on five.”

The Rebels’ playoff hopes could very well come down to Friday’s game and if they can defeat the Wheat Kings, who were in Cranbrook for a date with the Kootenay Ice Tuesday night, they could possibly shift their sights to the first wild-card berth heading into a game in Medicine Hat March 13.

“We have probably one of the biggest games of our (WHL) careers here against Brandon. We need to come out ready to go Friday night and give our best effort,” said de Wit. “A win will be huge, it’s a must-win game for us.

“We owe Brandon one. The last time they came to our building they outworked us in every area of the game (in a 4-0 win Jan. 30). We owe them one, for sure.

“A win would be huge and then looking ahead to Medicine Hat, we’ve struggled against them this year but it’s time to change that around. We know what we need to do to be successful against teams like that.”

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