Rebels hope for better year
The Red Deer Rebels have to feel that they’re due for some good fortune in the 2012-13 Western Hockey League season, which opens tonight with the Calgary Hitmen invading the Centrium for a 7:30 p.m. start.
After opening the 2011-12 season like a virtual house on fire, the Rebels were doused by a rather large wave of injuries.
They never recovered as the ailments continued to hit them like a tsunami, and they finished out of the playoffs for the third time in five years.
Yes, the Rebels were the victim of some horrible, rotten luck last winter.
But in the not so distant future, no one will remember why the Red Deer squad didn’t qualify for post-season play in the spring of 2012, they’ll just remember that the Rebels scattered in mid March.
A playoff berth should be well within the club’s reach this season and nothing less than hockey in late March and early April will suffice.
The fans should demand as much, as should owner and newly self-appointed general manager Brent Sutter.
For the most part, the Rebels will not match the offensive muscle of, say, the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Hitmen and Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades, but blessed with top-notch goaltending and a young but competent defensive corps, they should be a middle-of-the-pack crew in the Eastern Conference.
So much will depend upon the abilities of No. 1 netminder Patrik Bartosak and caddy Bolton Pouliot, who will have to deliver on a consistent basis whenever he gets the call.
Both are proven regular-season stoppers and both looked good through most of the just-completed exhibition campaign.
Mathew Dumba comes into the season as the Rebels top defenceman and will not only be expected to anchor the blueline, but contribute offensively with 20 or more goals. From there, it’s difficult to pin down a No. 2 guy, although Kayle Doetzel will be expected to contend for that role, as will Czech import Jan Bittner.
Second-year rearguards Stephen Hak, Devan Faford and Cody Thiel, who may be used up front, and rookies Haydn Fleury and Riley Boomgaarden will battle for their team and for themselves as they attempt to move up the depth chart, and Fleury already appears to be a star in the making.
Up front, there’s plenty of experience and potential, with the likes of Tyson Ness (20 goals last season) and Colten Mayor expected to take the next step.
Joel Hamilton, Marc McCoy, Brooks Maxwell, Chad Robinson and Cory Millette are in the same category, with overagers Charles Inglis, Turner Elson and captain Adam Kambeitz already appointed as the chosen leaders of the offence.
Inglis is a proven WHL scorer but hasn’t assumed that identity in Red Deer since being acquired from Prince George last season.
Elson is a signed player, a Calgary Flames prospect, and last winter Kambeitz emerged as a better-than-average offensive player before having his season stalled by injuries.
Clearly, all three must lead by example this season, if not be the Rebels’ top go-to guys. That much should be expected from the trio.
The Rebels scoring future belongs to the likes of Conner Bleackley, Wyatt Johnson and Scott Feser, none of whom should feel pressure to produce this season, although Bleackley already has the size to work into the tough areas and the hockey smarts and skills to excel in his first full season at the major junior level.
By no means should the Rebels feel obligated to deliver a mid-season performance tonight, but they should know that another season that fades to black in mid-March will not be acceptable.