Rebels, Oil Kings set to clash in home-and-home weekend series
The Red Deer Rebels and Edmonton Oil Kings will get to know each other very well over the next two weeks.
The teams each have six games remaining in the WHL regular season, four of those contests being head to head starting Saturday at the Peavey Mart Centrium. The clubs clash again Sunday afternoon in Edmonton.
Considering they will likely face each other in the second round of the playoffs should both teams get through the first stage, the remaining four regular season games — with the others scheduled for April 9 in Edmonton and a week later in Red Deer — will serve as barometers, so to speak.
“It’s kind of interesting. We have them four times in the next six games so I suspect both teams are looking forward to playing each other,” Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk said Friday.
Barring something out of the ordinary, the Oil Kings have pretty much clinched second place in the Eastern Conference. The Rebels are sitting comfortably in third spot, nine points back of Edmonton, and unless they win at least three of the remaining games versus their provincial rivals, will almost certainly finish right there.
“Both teams are towards the top of the standings so these should be good games in that sense,” said Konowalchuk, referring to the weekend outings.
“That being said, at this time no one is fighting desperately for points. But I think it’s important that we just maintain the way we play every game, every shift, making sure we’re keeping our habits good and our compete level up.
“That’s going to be so important these last six games going into the playoffs.”
The clubs have already met on six occasions this season, with each winning three times. The Oil Kings prevailed in each of the last two meetings, 5-3 on Nov. 24 in Edmonton and 4-0 on Feb. 11 at the Centrium.
“We have to start better,” said Konowalchuk. “The last two games we played these guys we didn’t come out and initiate. We kind of came out and tested the waters.
“We weren’t initiating with a good forecheck and we weren’t moving the puck properly. We weren’t intense physically and we have to make sure we come out with that mindset this weekend.”
The Oil Kings, recently winners of 14 straight, are currently ranked third in the Canadian Hockey League and boast six players averaging more than a point per game.
A veteran team with a roster that includes five members — forwards Jake Neighbours, Dylan Guenther and Justin Sourdif, defenceman Kaiden Guhle and goalie Sebastian Cossa — of the most recent Canadian national junior team, Edmonton is stacked from top to bottom, although both Neighbours and Guhle are out with injuries, both listed as week-to-week.
The Oil Kings’ depth up front features the likes of Josh Williams, Carter Souch and Jalen Luypen, and the blueline boasts the likes of Simon Kubicek and Luke Prokop, who along with at least four of the five national team players, will play pro next season. Guenther might return to the Oil Kings as a 19-year-old, but as an early first-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes last June he’s just as likely to be in the NHL in 2022-23.
Not only are the Oil Kings loaded with talent, but they play with a swagger, confident that they can win each and every night.
“We’re really excited about the challenges. We know Edmonton is a good team but we’re a really good team too,” said Rebels 20-year-old forward Liam Keeler, acquired from the Oil Kings last May.
“This is a big opportunity for us to prove ourselves and a really good test before the playoffs. We have these guys four out of the last six games to end the season so it’s going to be a big opportunity for us to get primed and ready for the playoffs.”
In terms of confidence, Keeler stressed that the Rebels are front and centre in that category.
“We know what we’re capable of in our room,” he stated. “I think we’ve flown under the radar a lot this season, but I also think there is no team that believes in themselves more than our group.
“We have probably the closest group in the league with the guys living in the rink last year and everything else that happened. We’re a tight knit group and a confident group too.”
Notable: The Rebels’ other remaining regular-season games are set for April 8 versus the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes and April 13 at Calgary . . . Red Deer has a healthy roster with defenceman Kyle Masters coming off the injury list this week . . . Rebels sniper Ben King is the WHL player of the month for March. The 19-year-old led all skaters with 23 points (6g,17a) during the month and sits second among WHL scoring leaders with 95 points (47g-48a), two back of linemate Arshdeep Bains.