Rebels continue to listen, learn and improve
The Red Deer Rebels showed Wednesday evening at the Centrium that they have the response time of a well-tuned SWAT team.
After having received an earful from GM/head coach Brent Sutter regarding their play in the third period of a 3-1 win over the visiting Prince Albert Raiders Saturday, the Rebels were gung-ho from start to finish against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings.
The result was a well-deserved 5-2 WHL victory, the score as close as it was due only to the work of Brandon netminder Logan Thompson.
“We talked after the (Saturday) game about how we don’t want to play a period of hockey like that,” Sutter said Thursday. “For the most part we’d been doing a lot of good things and we didn’t want bad habits creeping into our game.”
The players listened to the criticisms and clearly took them to heart, dominating the Wheat Kings from the opening faceoff while aiming 56 shots at Thompson.
Sutter wasn’t surprised, considering the energy and enthusiasm that have emanated from his charges this fall.
“This is a very coachable group. They want to get better, they want to learn,” said the Rebels boss.
“Last night’s game showed the type of team that we are. We’re going to work and play hard and we’re going to play the game the right way. That’s what the kids have been striving for and they’ve shown that they’re a resilient group.”
Accordingly, Sutter is enjoying his role as bench boss more this season than was the case last winter.
“It’s a really neat group to coach because they’re very committed and they’re hard-working kids,” he said. “They understand the importance of playing as a team and it starts with our core group, with our leadership group.
“They’re pushing it in the dressing room and so far, so good.”
Indeed, the Rebels, who entertain the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday, are riding a six-game win streak and with an 8-3-1-1 record hold down top spot in the Central Division and are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Impressive, considering their special teams are ranked in the bottom half of the league.
There have been signs, however, that the club’s power play and penalty killing units are improving. The Rebels snuffed out an extended five-on three disadvantage Wednesday and while they eventually surrendered a pair of power-play goals, also scored two of their own.
“Last night we weren’t very good on the power play early. We were moving the puck well but we just weren’t generating enough scoring chances,” said Sutter.
“Part of it is just working through it because we have a lot of guys who are new on the power play where they actually have to be the catalysts and have never been in the past.
“After the first period last night the coaching staff talked about moving some guys around and putting them in positions they would be better in. It seemed to worked for us the last two periods, it just seemed to click.”
A similar situation exists with the Rebels’ penalty kill, Sutter pointed out.
“You look at our defence, every one of our defencemen were never penalty killers in the league prior to this season,” he noted. “And our forwards, with the exception of Pawly (Grayson Pawlenchuk) and (Adam) Musil, never killed penalties last year, so it’s something new for most of these kids.”
Another factor in the process is the presence of assistant coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux, who joined the staff during the off-season. In addition, associate coach Jeff Truitt has been handling a new secondary challenge.
“We have a new assistant coach who wants to implement some penalty-killing things that I think will work,” said Sutter.
Truitt, meanwhile, is in charge of the club’s power play, a job he’s seldom — if ever — held in the past.
“Truey has always been a penalty kill guy,” said Sutter. “We talked over the summer about how he could expand as a coach and we decided that he could learn the power play side of the game.
“With Pierre coming in and being a former defenceman in the league and a guy who ran the penalty kill where he previously coached, I just thought that it was best for him to carry on with that.”
As the Rebels’ specialty teams improve, they will continue to push the pace at even strength.
“Our five-on-five play, for our record to be what it is when you consider our specialty teams haven’t been that good, speaks for itself,” said Sutter.
Meanwhile, Sutter recently granted a release to 19-year-old forward Braden Purtill, who has suited up with the Steinbach Pistons of the MJHL.
The Winnipeg native informed Sutter during the summer that he wouldn’t be returning for a second season with the Rebels and was then suspended by the team and the WHL.
“It was a process,” Sutter said of the situation. “You have a player who quit on his team. It wasn’t fair to his teammates and we also traded an asset (a third-round bantam draft pick to the Tri-City Americans) to bring him in last year, thinking he could be a 19-year-old and possibly a 20-year-old for us. “He decided he didn’t want to play major junior hockey any more and there are consequences you have to pay with that decision. But after discussions with himself and his mom I decided that it was best to get him back playing again.”
On another note, overage netminder Trevor Martin — released by the Rebels Oct. 19 and subsequently waived through the league — has joined the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL.
° Rebels vs. Medicine Hat Tigers; Tonight, 7 p.m., Centrium.
The Tigers are coming off an 8-5 home-ice loss to the visiting Regina Pats Saturday . . . Medicine Hat has an 8-4-1-1 record and is second in the Central Division, one point back of the Rebels . . . Tigers RW Mason Shaw is currently the league’s top point producer with 15, including four goals. RW Chad Butcher has garnered four goals and 12 points in 10 games while C Matt Bradley (6-18-14) and RW John Dahlstrom (5-8-13) are also producing at a point-per-game pace or better . . . Nick Schneider is 10th among WHL goalies with a 2.70 goals-against average. His save percentage is .910 . . . LW Ryan Chyzowski (3-0-3) will compete in the World Under 17 Challenge starting Sunday and running through Nov. 5 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Injuries: Medicine Hat — None to report. Red Deer — RW Reese Johnson (upper body, indefinite), G Tyson Verhelst (upper body, indefinite).
Special teams: Medicine Hat — Power play 32.8 per cent, second overall; penalty kill 86.9 per cent, second. Red Deer — Power play 16.7 per cent, 15th overall; penalty kill 73.8 per cent, 18th.