Rebels out to reverse season fortunes against Tigers in final game before Christmas
There are no guarantees on any given night, but the Red Deer Rebels have fashioned a three-game winning streak by defeating teams they’re supposed to beat — clubs below them in the WHL standings.
Next up are the Medicine Hat Tigers, who also sit below the Central Division leading Rebels — and in fact are fourth in the division — but are 3-0 versus Red Deer this season.
Friday’s game against the visiting Tigers isn’t a must-win contest for the Rebels, but a victory would send the team into the Christmas break in a more positive state of mind.
Rebels veteran forward Jeff de Wit admitted on Thursday that the contest is fairly high on the scale of importance.
“Especially playing Medicine Hat, they’ve kind of had our number so far this season,” he said, in reference to 4-1 and 6-2 Rebels setbacks in the Gas City and a 7-3 loss at the Centrium.
“We haven’t had our greatest outings against them, so we’re ready to come out and play a team-structured game tomorrow. Whatever happens happens, but we’ll give ourselves the best chance if we do that.”
The Tigers have created problems for Red Deer with their speed up front and their effective transition game. But, as de Wit noted, the Rebels haven’t exactly made life overly difficult for their division rivals.
“I think the two games we played in Medicine Hat have been some of our worst games this season,” he said. “It’s hard to judge or get a good rivalry going with them when you don’t play up to par.
“They have so many skilled forwards, a good back end and a great goaltender (Mads Sogaard, who has won all three head-to-head outings), so if we don’t play a solid team game and (instead) try to play like they do, they’re going to beat us.
“We have to stick to a team game. That’s the most important thing and we’ve been talking about that over this past week, about playing a really structured system.”
For the most part, the Rebels have followed that format in their last three contests — 4-3 over Regina in overtime, 6-2 over Swift Current and a 2-1 triumph over Kamloops, all at the Centrium.
“Against Regina we had a bit of a slow start and ended up coming back to win that game. That was a great comeback for us,” said de Wit. “In the Swift Current game we took another stride and then against Kamloops we had a tough second period but once we got back to it in the third we played a pretty good game.”
De Wit played most of the season on the club’s top-scoring line consisting also of centre Reese Johnson and left winger Brandon Hagel.
When Rebels GM/head coach recently acquired forwards Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger from the Kootenay Ice, Hagel joined the newcomers on what is regarded as the club’s top unit and Tarzwell was placed with de Wit and Johnson.
The Rebels ‘second’ line not only features two double-digit snipers in de Wit (19 goals) and Johnson (14), but the inclusion of the six-foot-one, 205-pound Tarzwell gives the trio added size and physicality.
“We’re probably one of the heavier lines in the league, we just have to have a commitment to playing like that,” said the six-foot-three, 207-pound de Wit.
“For myself, whether it’s Tarzy or Hagey or another left winger on that line, it shouldn’t matter. Tarz brings a lot of speed to our line and if we just play a straight up and down game and be hard on the forecheck and be very physical, I think it gives the team a lot of momentum and success.”
One constant for de Wit this season has been the six-foot-two, 192-pound Johnson at the faceoff dot.
“He’s great at what he does, he has a ton of speed through the middle of the ice,” said de Wit. “It’s fun to play with him, he’s a great centreman.”
Notable: Whether or not Red Deer defenceman Alex Alexeyev will suit up for Friday’s contest will be a game-time decision. Alexeyev, who participated in practice on Thursday, was taken to hospital after being checked into the boards by Kamloops Blazers forward Zane Franklin in the first period of Tuesday’s contest. A CAT scan and x-rays revealed no serious injuries. The Washington Capitals prospect is slated join Team Russia on Saturday to prepare for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Victoria and Vancouver . . .
Rebels forward Oleg Zaytzev is one of 16 WHL players selected to compete in the CHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 23 at the Centrium. Zaytsev is ranked by Central Scouting as a ‘B’ prospect — a second-to third-round selection — for the 2019 NHL entry draft . . . The Rebels’ first game following the Christmas break is Dec. 28 against the visiting Vancouver Giants. Red Deer will host the Edmonton Oil Kings the following evening.
Rebels vs. Medicine Hat Tigers
Friday, 7 p.m., Centrium
The Tigers are coming off Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the visiting Kamloops Blazers, their third consecutive victory. Medicine Hat is 7-3-0-0 in the last 10 games and is fourth in the Central Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-14-1-2 . . . C James Hamblin paces all Medicine Hat scorers with 15 goals and 35 points. LW Ryan Jevne is close behind with 33 points (16g,17a) while three others players have cracked the 20-point barrier, namely RW Tyler Preziuso (13-14-27), C Ryan Chyzowski (11-14-25) and overage import D Linus Nassen (4-20-25), a third-round selection of the Florida Panthers in the 2016 NHL entry draft . . . RW Josh Williams (6-10-16) will represent the Tigers in the CHL Top Prospects Game Jan. 23 at the Centrium . . . The Tigers are 3-0 versus the Rebels this season, with Mads Sogaard posting all three victories in goal. The Danish stopper has a 9-4-1-2 record with a 2.47 goal-against average and a .926 save percentage. Crease mate Jordan Hollett is 7-10-0-0, 3.88, .891.
Injuries: Medicine Hat — C Elijah Brown (upper body, day-to-day). Red Deer — D Alex Alexeyev (upper body, day-to-day).
Special teams: Medicine Hat — Power play 23 per cent, 11th overall; penalty kill 80.2 per cent, sixth. Red Deer — Power play 22.7 per cent, 14th overall; penalty kill 77.2 per cent, 13th.