The way Josh Tarzwell sees it, there’s really nothing mystical surrounding his current status as the Red Deer Rebels’ leading sniper.
“I think I’m just directing more pucks to the net and going to the net. I’m playing with guys who are throwing pucks there too,” he said Tuesday, in reference to his own play and that of his most recent linemates Jayden Grubbe and Cam Hausinger.
“I’ve been with those two the last two games and they’ve been doing a great job.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter has stressed the importance of the power forward playing a straight-line style without the dipsy-doodle east-west movements.
“Just keeping it simple and just throwing more pucks on net every chance I get. He’s really preached that and I think I’m taking it a little more seriously this year and it’s really helped me,” said Tarzwell, who has a team-leading eight goals this season after notching 11 in 2018-19.
“I definitely see myself as a power forward and Brent’s made it clear that that’s the type of player he wants me to be as well.”
So far, so good.
“Tarz has to be a north-south player. He has to be a player who’s hard on the forecheck and is moving his feet,” said Sutter.
The six-foot-one, 205-pound Red Deer product has a high-RPM motor game in and game out. His feet are constantly in motion.
“Being first on pucks is a big thing, especially in this league where everything is moving so fast,” said Tarzwell. “Getting control of the puck is vital. Generally, the team that has better control of it throughout the game wins.”
Not only is Tarzwell, who owns a heavy shot, forwarding more pucks toward the opposition net this season, he’s been more accurate with his aim.
“He has a heck of a shot,” said Sutter. “He and I have had many conversations about this and maybe I’ve sometimes teased him about it, but his shooting percentage wasn’t that high in the past.
“You have zero chance of scoring if you don’t hit the net. He’s hitting the net a lot more now and I think the biggest thing with Tarz is he’s finding areas to get his shot away. His release is much better now that it used to be.”
That Tarzwell, 19 years of age and in his fourth WHL season, has become a valuable member of this rookie-leaden Rebels squad is more than obvious.
“He’s a big part of this team,” said Sutter. “We need his size and strength. He has to be a bully on the ice, a player who is hard on pucks, finishes checks and is responsible defensively.
“When Tarz plays that way he’s tough to defend because he’s strong and he can skate. With him it’s just a mindset to consistently do that every day in practice so that it becomes second nature.
“It’s his DNA as a player. Last season and earlier this year he was fighting it a bit but playing that style is when he’s at his best and is hard to contain.”
The Rebels have won two of their last three games with the loss coming in a shootout. Included in that mini-stretch is a 3-2 win over the Prince Albert Raiders, who visit the Centrium Wednesday.
Clearly, the team is making strides, although their third-period performance in each of the last two outings had been spotty, at best.
“Everybody is just kind of clicking. I think we’ve found chemistry with our lines,” said Tarzwell.
“We’re not trying to do too much, just doing things that we know we can and I think that’s really helping.”
The Rebels have taken baby steps but that’s hardly surprising considering the club’s extensive youth.
“There’s a point where everyone is just going to figure it out,” said Tarzwell. “We’ve got points in our last three games and if we keep pushing we’ll get into a playoff spot soon enough.”
Prior to Tuesday, the Rebels were three points out of a wild-card playoff berth.
Rebels vs. Prince Albert Raiders
Wednesday, 7 p.m., Centrium
The Raiders are 7-2-1-0 in their last 10 games and occupy first place in the East Division and Eastern Conference with a 14-4-3-1 record. One of those losses was inflicted by the Rebels, who knocked off the defending WHL champions 3-2 Nov. 9 . . . C Aliaksel Protus, a third-round selection of the Washingon Capitals in the 2019 NHL entry draft, sits second in league scoring with 14 goals and 32 points. LW Ozzy Wiesblatt (9g,17a) and LW Brayden Watts (12g,14a) have each contributed 26 points to the Raiders’ cause, while C Spencer Moe has notched eight goals and collected 22 points . . . Boston Bilous has been a workhorse in the Prince Albert goal with a 12-2-3 record, 2.34 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. Rookie Carter Serhyenko has impressive numbers — 2-2-0, 1.73, .927 — based on a much smaller sample size.
Injuries — Prince Albert: C Eric Pearce (upper body, day-to-day). Red Deer: D Kyle Masters (lower body, week-to-week).
Special teams — Prince Albert: Power play 20.5 per cent, 12th overall; penalty kill 81.7 per cent, eighth. Red Deer: Power play 17.9 per cent, 17th overall; penalty kill 79.8 per cent, 10th.