Rebels turn in best performance of preseason
Rebels 2 Hurricanes 1 (SO)
The Red Deer Rebels turned in their most consistent effort of the Western Hockey League preseason Saturday night at the Arena.
The overall performance by his club — and the resulting 2-1 shootout win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in front of 1,042 fans — got a thumbs-up from general manager/head coach Brent Sutter, who had been patiently waiting for such an outing.
“This was our best game of the preseason in a lot of different ways,” said Sutter. “Certainly our work ethic was where it was acceptable and the structure to our game was good.
“The discipline part was also good, not just in avoiding bad penalties but also within our game . . . with how we played. That being said, that’s the bottom end of the totem pole in terms of what we have to expect. Now we have to build off that.”
The Rebels carried the play most of the evening, outshooting the visitors 53-30 through regulation time and a five-minute, scoreless extra frame.
But the Hurricanes coaching staff pulled the right string by starting 15-year-old netminder Stuart Skinner, the club’s first-round pick in this year’s WHL bantam draft. The six-foot-three Edmonton product was the visitors’ best player before being replaced by veteran Christopher Tai roughly 33 minutes into the contest, turning aside all 23 shots he faced.
“He was pretty good. I got robbed a couple of times and a couple other guys did too,” said Rebels forward Matt Bellerive, who scored a power-play marker against Tai at 15:37 of the second period, roughly six minutes after Reid Nemeth took a two-on-one pass from Jamal Watson and beat Red Deer netminder Taz Burman.
Burman, 16, made 29 saves while going the distance and then stoned Hurricanes shooters Giorgio Estephan and Reid Duke in the shootout. Tai, meanwhile, was beaten cleanly by Bellerive and Dominik Volek.
Burman played beyond his years, while fellow rookie Grayson Pawlenchuk also stood out. Bellerive, Brooks Maxwell and Haydn Fleury were among the more noteworthy veterans.
“I thought everybody played well. We didn’t have any missing links here tonight and I thought our defence played well as a group,” said Sutter. “They were assertive with the puck and made the right plays at the right time.”
Overall, Sutter liked what he saw in comparison to what he witnessed in a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Hitmen Friday at Nanton, where Red Deer was victimized for three power-play goals. Certainly, he liked what he saw from his veterans, although he stressed he’ll be expecting more from the older players and in short order.
“They have to get going. The exhibition seasons ends in a week and they have to get their game to the A level,” said the Rebels boss.
The Rebels close out their preseason schedule this weekend with Friday and Saturday games at Lacombe and Stettler versus the Edmonton Oil Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“We’ve talked about treating these next games like they’re regular-season games,” said Sutter. “We played a very undisciplined game last night (Friday). We took a lot of bad penalties and you can’t play that way when you get into the regular season. We have to start forming good habits now.”
Bellerive noted that the Rebels dialed up their offensive game Saturday.
“We had over 50 shots. Getting the puck to the net was something we harped on before the game,” he said.
The Rebels were one-for-six on the power play, while the ‘Canes were zero-for-eight with a man advantage. Both teams dressed 11 returning players.
• Rebels forward Rhyse Dieno and defenceman Mathew Dumba are both with the Minnesota Wild prospects at a tournament in Traverse City. Mich.
Dieno has played in just one of three Minnesota games to date — a 3-1 loss to the Detroit prospects in which he was assessed a holding penalty. Dumba has played two games — 3-2 and 2-1 losses to St. Louis and Dallas. He picked up a power-play assist and took a roughing penalty against St. Louis, but was a minus-2.
Meanwhile, forward Lukas Sutter has suited up with the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Guns tournament in Penticton, B.C., and defenceman Kayle Doetzel and goaltender Patrik Bartosak are attending the camps of the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings.
• On Sunday, Sutter reassigned 16-year-old defenceman Austin Strand to the midget AAA Calgary Northstars. The Rebels now have 31 players on their roster.