Rebels fired up for Bedard’s sold-out visit
The Red Deer Rebels have played in front of energized crowds at the Peavey Mart Centrium this season, but the electric atmosphere during Tuesday’s home game against Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats will be at another level altogether.
The game, billed as possibly the local fans’ last chance to see Bedard in action, is sold out — all 7,000-plus seats are accounted for.
“It’s a sold out crowd and we’re excited to play in front of a crowd like that and the atmosphere,” Rebels forward Kai Uchacz said Monday. ‘We’re just going to have to feed off the crowd, come out sharp and get off to a better start than last game.”
Uchacz was referring to Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Ice, and while the Pats aren’t at that level, they still have a decent team and, of course, they have the WHL’s best player in Bedard.
The North Vancouver product has been among the league’s superior players since entering the league in 2020 when he was 15. Since his introduction to major junior hockey, he’s raised his game to newer heights.
Bedard stood out at the recent world junior championship, playing a key role as Canada captured gold. He’s widely expected to be the first player called to the big stage when the NHL Entry Draft is held in late June.
“He’s a good player, projected to go No. 1 overall,” said Uchacz. “For us, it’s just another game and with a player like that coming in we’re going to have to be hard on him . . . shut him down, limit his chances off the rush, his chances with the puck.
“For us, staying disciplined with be huge, we want to be playing five-on-five because we don’t want him on the power play. We’re just going to come and play to our game plan like we always do and just try and shut him down. It’s going to be exciting, our biggest crowd of the year. It will be a good time playing in front of them.”
Bedard has been on fire since returning to the Pats from the world juniors and leads the league in scoring with 85 points, 19 clear of Zach Benson of the Ice. His 42 goals are four better than Uchacz, who is second in that category.
The Rebels held the phenom to a single assist in a 4-2 win Oct. 1 at the Centrium, but Bedard tallied a goal and assist at the Pats beat Red Deer 6-2 Nov. 12 at Regina.
“He’s a pretty special player, really skilled, so we just have to be hard on him and take away his time and space,” said Rebels captain Jayden Grubbe. “We’ll be focused on that but also focused on playing a team game.
“They have a good team so we’ll be focused on shutting down their whole team as well.”
Grubbe added the overflow of fans will serve as extra motivation for the team.
“It will be an exciting game with the big crowd. Everyone is excited for tomorrow,” he said. “A big crowd helps (the players). The weekday games are sometimes a little quieter, a little harder to get up for. I think it will be easier tomorrow night.”
Tuesday’s game will be the last for the Rebels at the Centrium until Feb. 17 when the Kamloops Blazers will pay a visit. In the meantime, Red Deer will be on a U.S. Division trip that opens Saturday against the Spokane Chiefs.
“It’s the last (home game) before a big road trip, so it’ll be important to finish on a high note at home,” said Grubbe. “Everyone will be dialled in and ready to go.”
Added Uchacz: “We want to go out on a winning note. You always want to win at home and having a crowd like that is going to be huge. We want to end this home stand on a good note and take that momentum on the road, into the U.S. trip.”
Those unable to attend Tuesday’s game can catch the radio broadcast on 106.7 REWIND Radio or watch online via CHL TV.
Notable: Following Saturday’s stop in Spokane, the Rebels will face the Everett Silvertips the following night before taking on the Portland Winterhawks Tuesday. Red Deer will meet the Seattle Thunderbirds three nights later and close out their trip Feb. 11 against the Tri-City Americans.