Rebels own ‘Grind Line’ playing vital, invaluable role
It’s the Red Deer Rebels’ version of the Grind Line, a Detroit Red Wings threesome that was instrumental in winning the Stanley Cup in 1997.
Or maybe the threesome of centre Jayden Grubbe, Dallon Melin and Jace Isley can simply be tagged as the Rebels’ own Masters of Mayhem.
Whatever, the oppressive trio owns the boards in the offensive zone and forces turnovers that often lead to scoring chances. They are masters of playing a grinding, physical style that, over the course of a game, can effectively wear down opposing players.
“We all kind of have similar styles and we know what we have to do out there,” said Melin, a six-foot-four, 212 pound left winger and native of Czar. “We have to work pucks down low and kind of wear teams down. A lot of times offence comes from that — just playing the right way and getting pucks in and working them down low.”
The line’s role is based mostly on maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone and putting pressure on the opposition, causing stress and turnovers.
But as Melin noted, strong defensive play leads to scoring chances. He himself has registered 10 points over the last six weeks, bringing his total for the season to 22 (9g,13a).
And it’s not like the line isn’t capable of scoring on at least a semi-regular basis. All three forwards have good mobility and are able to find the back of the net.
Isley, a six-foot-two, 192 pound native of Grande Prairie who plays the right side and will celebrate his 20th birthday in July, has scored 14 goals this season. Grubbe, 19, the line’s six-foot-three, 201-pound pivot from Calgary who was selected by the New York Rangers in the third round of last year’s NHL entry draft, has tallied nine times and added 19 assists.
“It’s about wearing down the other team’s D-men,” said Melin. “If we get in on the forecheck and finish checks, eventually they’ll start turning pucks over a little more, which leads to more offence for us.”
And while the three are capable of chipping in offensively as they’ve proven, their main role is defending with a grinding, physical style that keeps pucks away from the opposition.
“We’re all big guys who can all skate and we all have good enough skill,” said Melin. “We complement each other, but being able to hold on to pucks down low and wear down the other team’s defencemen is just kind of a unique skill set that we all bring.”
Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk has praised the trio following recent games for their ability to spent a lot of time below the other team’s goal line.
Clearly, the coaching staff has complete confidence in a line that is capable of quickly changing the momentum in a game with a strong cycle. That confidence can rub off on the players, Melin noted.
“For sure, but a lot of it is also staying on an even keel,” he said. “You don’t want to get too high with the highs. As individuals and as a line, we approach every game the same way. It doesn’t matter who we’re matched up against, we just play the same way every game and make other teams play our game.”
The fact that Grubbe is one of the league’s premier faceoff men helps the line maintain puck possession and set up a successful shift.
“One hundred per cent, we’re pretty confident in him winning most of the draws,” said Melin, who turns 20 next week. “We can make set plays off draws. It’s pretty easy to gain possession and keep possession when he’s in the dot.”
Notable: The Rebels are in Lethbridge Friday to face the Hurricanes, then host the ‘Canes Saturday at the Peavey Mart Centrium . . . Rebels linemates Ben King and Arshdeep Bains are now tied for the WHL scoring lead following a recent scoring change which added an assist to King’s total. The two each have 91 points. The last Rebels player to win the league scoring title was Justin Mapletoft in 2000-01. King leads the league with 46 goals and is on pace to become the first Rebels player since Kyle Wanvig in 2000-21 to score 50 goals in a season. King also leads the league with 21 power play goals and 14 game winning tallies this season, leaving him just two shy of the WHL single season record of 16 game winning goals (Brian Propp, Brandon, 1978-79).