Rebels youngsters show well in second preseason loss to Hitmen
Hitmen 4 Rebels 2
Clearly, Red Deer Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk wanted to see a better performance from his crew than the one put forth in Friday’s 6-3 WHL preseason loss to the host Calgary Hitmen.
Although the Hitmen prevailed 4-2 in Saturday’s rematch at the Peavey Mart Centrium, the Rebels bench boss had few complaints.
“I thought there were some improvements over last night,” he said. “We missed the net on some good chances, so you’d like to improve there and get a few more shots and maybe another goal or two.
“But I thought our mindset of what we do with the puck and things like that were better, with each player having a focus and a purpose each shift. We have some good things to build off of.”
The Hitmen led 2-0 after one period on goals by Zac Funk, who beat netminder Rhett Stoesser from the left circle eight minutes into the game, and Matteo Danis, who directed the puck into the net with his skate nine minutes later.
Red Deer’s second round pick in this year’s WHL Prospects Draft, 15-year-old Matthew Gard, closed the gap with a nifty wrist shot early in the second period following a feed from Mats Lindgren. But the Hitmen got a short-handed marker from Maxim Muranov and a late goal from Billal Noori and led 4-1 after 40 minutes.
The Rebels notched the lone goal of the final frame as 17-year-old rookie Arjun Bawa took a pass from Kalan Lind, broke down the left wing and beat goaltender Ethan Buenaventura high to the glove side.
While the Rebels dressed two 15-year-olds — Gard and defenceman Luke Vlooswyk — and four ’96 born players, the Hitmen went with a substantially older lineup of players 17 and up, a lineup closer to what they’ll ice to start the regular season.
“We mixed in a lot of young guys these last two games,” said Konowalchuk. “It was a good learning experience for them and we saw some good things. We really wanted to see what the younger kids can do and that’s what these games are for.
“I don’t worry about what the other team is playing but we took these two games as seeing what we have with the younger guys, for the future but also for position battles.”
Konowalchuk also saw a better outing from his veteran skaters, with nine dressing Saturday.
“I really thought our vets were much better today. They needed to get more urgency in their game and I thought they did,” he said.
But again, it was mostly about the prospective rookies and even the two 15-year-olds who aren’t eligible to play full time in the league until 2023.
“The young guys took a step. They got ice time and it was fun to watch them play. For young kids they did well,” said Konowalchuk.
Buenaventura faced just 17 shots as the Rebels were off the mark with several attempts, while Stoesser made 30 saves at the other end.
“He’s come in and been very good and consistent all camp,” Konowalchuk said of the 17-year-old stopper from Crossfield, a camp invite.
“I know he had a lot of nerves before the game. He was here early, probably a little too early. He had a lot of nerves but he gave us a chance.”
While the game featured just a handful of penalties — with the Hitmen going one-for-four on the power play and the Rebels zero-for-three — a few goalmouth scrums ensued.
“It’s a competitive sport, a tough sport,” said Konowalchuk. “You have to stand your ground and win puck battles and battles in front of the net.”
The Rebels wrap up their four-game preseason schedule next weekend with a Friday date with the host Lethbridge Hurricanes and a rematch the following night at the Centrium.
Red Deer opens the regular season Sept. 23 at Edmonton, then hosts the defending league champion Oil Kings 24 hours later.