Red Deer Rebels bench boss Brent Sutter is hoping to see a similar performance to the one he witnessed on Saturday night as his club wraps up the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule with two games this week.
When the Rebels host the Kamloops Blazers on Tuesday and the Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday, the Rebels GM/head coach wants to see a more consistent defensive effort, as was shown in Saturday’s 6-2 win over the visiting Swift Current Broncos.
The Rebels were in lockdown mode through much of the contest, albeit against a team lacking in firepower. Yet the club mostly played that way while surging to the top of the WHL Central Division prior to hitting a recent tough patch that produced just one win in six games.
The return to playing more of a team game actually started in a 5-4 overtime loss at Lethbridge on Dec. 2 and continued into Friday’s 4-3 shootout win over Regina and the ensuing victory over the Broncos.
“I just want us to play the right way,” said Sutter. “Like I said the other night, it wasn’t the fact that we scored six goals that I liked, because that was just a reflection of how we played without the puck. You get scoring chances that way.
“It’s about playing the team game and playing it the right way, and that goes right from our top players down through the lineup. That’s what I want to see on a nightly basis.”
It was that way, for the most part, through the first eight weeks of the season. And then a majority of the players decided to adopt their own program.
“What happens is you start having some success and individuals kind of start getting off on their own with how they want to play. Playing a team game becomes almost secondary and it effects you,” said Sutter.
“It’s stuff that you address from a coach’s standpoint, but the players have to understand the importance of doing things the right way all the time. But when you’re having success you have a tendency to let the little things get away from your game.
“It happened right through our lineup, with a lot of different guys. It’s little things that you notice as a coach and you try and address it with them quickly. But if they don’t want to deal with it then you get yourself in a pickle like we did for a bit.”
The Nov. 30 acquisition of forwards Cam Hausinger and Brett Davis has certainly helped with the Rebels’ recovery. Davis has put up eight points (3g5a) in four games with his new club and Hausinger has produced three goals and two assists in two outings.
With Brandon Hagel centering the pair, the line combined for 11 points against the Broncos and should continue to flourish through the remainder of the season.
“They played together in Kootenay, which was nice,” said Sutter of his new additions, “and they’re 19-year-olds and they’re good hockey players.
“We just felt like we needed to add more to that top end of our team.”
Not only will Hausinger and Davis help the team moving forward, their presence will allow the Rebels’ younger players to develop at the proper pace while playing lower in the lineup.
“From their perspective, they look at it like ‘geez, that hurts us to some degree’,” said Sutter, referring to the likes of forwards Oleg Zaytsev, Arshdeep Bains Alex Morozoff, Zak Smith and Blake Sydlowski, and even goaltender Byron Fancy and defencemen Ryan Gottfried and Chase Leslie.
“But it doesn’t, it helps them. It helps them being where they should be (in the lineup) and in their development process.
“Now they can develop at the right rate instead of us putting them in situations to set them up to fail. And as the season goes on, it gets harder, not easier, so having that experience in your lineup really helps.
“The younger guys get to play in a winning atmosphere and they learn about winning and the commitment it takes and knowing when you make that commitment there are results at the end of the night. It’s all part of the process with these young guys.”
Rebels trade for netminder
Sutter acquired 17-year-old prospect goaltender Eric Ward from the Seattle Thunderbirds on Monday, giving up a seventh-round selection in the 2019 WHL bantam draft in return.
“You need three signed goalies in this league and he’s a guy who had already signed with Seattle,” explained Sutter, who previously had just current stoppers Ethan Anders and Byron Fancy under contract.
“Seattle had a couple of kids back playing midget hockey and this was an opportunity for them to give this kid some experience maybe someplace else.”
Ward is currently with the midget AAA Edmonton Canadian Athletic Club and in 12 games has a record of 5-4-3, a goals-against average of 3.42 and a .907 save percentage.
He will be available to the Rebels on an emergency basis.
“He’ll be an affiliate player for us the rest of the season,” said Sutter.
Rebels vs. Kamloops Blazers
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Centrium
The Blazers are coming off two losses — 6-3 Sunday at Calgary and 3-2 in overtime Saturday at Edmonton— which opened their six-game Central Division road trip . Kamloops is 6-3-1-0 in the last 10 games and is fourth in the B.C. Division and eighth in the Western Conference with a 12-12-2-1 record . . . RW Zane Franklin is the leading Kamloops points producer with 33 (17g,16a). Rounding out the top six are LW Orrin Centazzo (9-18-27), C Connor Zary (6-15-21), RW Martin Lang (6-12-18), LW Jermaine Loewen (11-4-15) and D Luke Zazula (2-12-14) . . . No. 1 G Dylan Ferguson sports a 3.22 goals-against average with a 7-9-2-0 record and a .906 save percentage. Back-up Dylan Garand is 5-2-0-1 with a 2.93 GAA and .895 save percentage . . . Loewen was selected by Dallas in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL entry draft and Ferguson is a 2017 seventh-round pick of Las Vegas . . . This is the first meeting of the season between the Rebels and Blazers. The clubs clashed twice last season, with Kamloops winning both — 3-2 at home Nov. 10 and 3-1 Jan. 20 at the Centrium.
Injuries — Kamloops: None to report. Red Deer — None to report.
Special teams — Kamloops: Power play 25.2 per cent, fifth overall; penalty kill 76.4 per cent, 15th. Red Deer — Power play 23.5 per cent, 10th overall; penalty kill 76.6 per cent, 14th.