Rebels not short on post-season experience
If the experience of appearing in post-season play goes a long way towards achieving future playoff success, then the Red Deer Rebels are in a decent position.
The Rebels lost a large chunk of their 2016 Memorial Cup hosting team to graduation and the pro ranks, but there’s still plenty of Western Hockey League playoff savvy on their roster.
“Our top guys, our older players, definitely have the playoff experience,” Rebels forward Austin Pratt said Tuesday. “We had a pretty good run last year and a long season. A lot of guys have that playoff experience and we’re going to need that going into this series.”
Pratt was referring to the Rebels’ Eastern Conference quarter-final series versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who host the first two games of the best-of-seven set Saturday and Sunday.
Although Pratt is in the late stages of just his second year with the Rebels, the 17-year-old native of Lakeville, Minn., appeared in eight post-season games with the team last season and got a feel for just how much the pace and ruggedness of the game is elevated in the spring.
“Playoffs is a big boys game,” said the six-foot-three, 205-pound winger. “There’s definitely a lot more physicality. It’s a lot harder game, a lot faster. The tempo of the game, in all aspects, increases.
“You learn a lot about yourself in the playoffs, whether you can or can’t play. It’s a big stepping stone for guys who want to play up at the next level. If you’re a good solid playoff player, it really helps.”
In Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, Pratt was ranked 83rd among North American prospects eligible for this year’s NHL entry draft. With his size and skill and the fact he’s developed at an impressive rate during his two seasons with the Rebels, it’s almost a given he’ll hear his name called in Chicago in late June.
“I think I made some definite strides this year and became a better player,” said Pratt, who scored eight goals and collected 12 points as a rookie and this season increased those totals to 16 goals and 34 points in 70 games.
“Like everyone, I definitely have to up my game for the playoffs, especially against the opponent we have. But, yes, the strides I’ve made have put me in a great spot for playoffs.”
If he can take his game to the next level during the Lethbridge series and hopefully beyond, Pratt knows he will only aid his chances of being drafted.
“I want to play the best I can for my team, first and foremost. But it (NHL draft) is always in the back of your mind, it’s one of the biggest years of your life,” he said. “If you have a great playoffs and do everything you can to help your team, it will definitely help you out in the long run.”
With four straight wins, the Rebels were on a mini-roll heading into their final two regular-season games last weekend, then dropped both to the non-playoff Edmonton Oil Kings.
Pratt, however, isn’t concerned that the loss of momentum will effect the Rebels in a negative fashion.
“Obviously you’d like to win every game, but we have to move on,” he said. “Our next game is in the playoffs and that’s the biggest thing on our minds right now — getting our bodies ready, getting the rest, getting the right nutrients . . . getting everything ready for playoffs.”
Notable: Games 3 and 4 of the first-round series go next Wednesday and Thursday, March 29-30, at the Centrium. Additional games, if needed, are set for Saturday, April 1 in Lethbridge, Sunday, April 2 in Red Deer and Tuesday, April 4 at Lethbridge.