The Red Deer Optimist Rebels Chiefs are close to where they want to be heading into the Alberta Midget Hockey League playoffs.
The Rebels are closing in on first place overall and are also finding their scoring touch, which was evident during the weekend as they downed the Calgary Flames 6-2 Saturday and the Lloydminster Bobcats 7-0 Sunday at the Arena.
‘We’ve been playing stronger and stronger since Christmas,” said Rebels head coach Doug Quinn. “We did have a bit of letdown last weekend against Grande Prairie, but that came after a two week break and we were a little rusty. This weekend we were playing really well.”
The fact the Rebels found their scoring touch is the biggest improvement as the season wore on.
“It was a long time coming, but we’ve worked on a lot of things in practice, such as moving the puck and being more creative and it’s starting to pay off,” added Quinn.
The Rebels final two goals against the Bobcats gave an indication as to how their scoring has come around. Trey DeGraaf scored his second goal of the game, and the Rebels sixth, as he grabbed a rebound and calmly pulled the puck around goaltender Cade Spencer and tucked it into the open net. Jacob Schofield also scored his second of the game, and put a lid on the scoring, when he cut across in front of Spencer and put a backhand high to the stick side just under the bar.
“We didn’t see a lot of that earlier, although we had plenty of shots in good shooting areas,” said Quinn. “But we were a bit tight and didn’t capitalize. Since Christmas there’s been better puck movement and our forwards are creating quality opportunities and capitalizing on them.”
Netminder Matt Zentner, who suffered an injury during the Mac’s tournament, is starting to get back on track and recorded the shutout, making 27 saves.
“He had a couple of injuries and we’re happy to see him back to the level he was at before,” added Quinn. “Today he had a really, really strong game.”
The Rebels are close to being 100 per cent healthy, although defenceman Kaleb Denham left midway through the first period Sunday with a slight shoulder injury.
“He just got back from an injury, then was suspended for a game for a hit from behind, then this,” said Quinn. “Hopefully it’s not that serious. Other than that we have the normal bumps and bruises.”
Then Rebels have clinched first place in the South Division with two games in remaining. They need a win next weekend, or a loss by the Edmonton Boston Pizza Athletics, to clinch first place overall.
“It would be nice to finish first, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean much if you don’t do anything in the playoffs,” said Quinn. “But home ice could make a difference between winning and losing, so it would be nice to finish first overall.”
Jordie Lawson, Rory Davidson and Dustin Gorgi added single goals against the Bobcats.
Lawson, Jordan Steenbergen, Ryker Leer, Davidson, Schofield and Jack Goranson scored against the Flames. Jayden Sittler made 23 saves in goal.
The Rebels face the Calgary Buffaloes Friday at 8 p.m. and Leduc Sunday at 2:45 p.m. Both games are at the Arena.