Rebels Looking Ahead
By Greg Meachem
Photo by Rob Wallator
The Red Deer Rebels will need a minor miracle to snatch first place in the WHL’s Central Division from the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Nothing less than two Red Deer wins — Thursday and Saturday versus the Edmonton Oil Kings — and two Lethbridge losses, both to Medicine Hat this weekend, will suffice.
That being said, it’s probably more vital that the Rebels simply have their game at a peak level heading into the playoffs and two strong performances against the Oil Kings to close out the regular season would go a long way in that regard.
“We’re going to want to make sure that we have some momentum and just try and have the ball rolling going into the playoffs,” veteran defenceman and assistant captain Nelson Nogier said Wednesday.
“It’s going to be important that we’re playing our game at the best of our ability and that we carry that into Game 1.”
Regardless of their opponent, the Rebels will open post-season play March 25 at home. The Calgary Hitmen will supply the opposition unless the above scenario plays out.
That’s not necessarily a good match-up for Red Deer, which fell 4-2 to the the visiting Hitmen Tuesday and thus dropped the season series 3-4-0-0. The Rebels fell behind 3-0 before rallying and pulling to within a single goal with a strong first half of the second period.
“We started out the way we didn’t want to play,” said Nogier. “The first 10 minutes we were really sloppy, we got away from our systems we were supposed to be playing.
“We tried to sharpen that up as the game went on but we fell too far behind the eight-ball in the first 10 minutes and were chasing the game from there.”
Perhaps every bit as much alarming was the fact that the hosts — after cutting the deficit to 3-2 on goals from Adam Helewka and Grayson Pawlenchuk — managed just eight shots against Calgary back-up netminder Nik Amundrud over the final 29 minutes and change.
“Brent (GM/head coach Sutter) came in (after the second period) and we talked about how we needed a big push, but we didn’t answer the bell in the third period,” said Nogier.
The Red Deer players held a meeting — a lengthy assembly, as it turned out — following the contest and weren’t available for comment.
“We tried to touch on all things,” said Nogier. “It was a big game for us as far as still having that opportunity to maybe get first place in the division with a Lethbridge loss on the weekend.
“But with us not getting those two points last night it’s going to be tough now. Most likely we’re going to see Calgary in that first round.”
Clearly, the Hitmen have played Red Deer extremely tough this winter and there is absolutely no reason to suggest that will change when the second season rolls around next week.
Nogier, however, is confident that the Rebels can erase their natural rivals by simply focusing on themselves.
“It’s a matter of us making sure we stick to our game,” he stated. “If we play our heavy game and we’re doing things right by getting pucks in deep, staying strong defensively, playing our positions the right way and filling lanes, it sets us up for success.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. If we’re playing the way we’re supposed to play and not worrying about our opponent too much, we often take good strides.”