The Red Deer Rebels White’s 5-11-2 record is far from pretty, but they’re far from out of playoff contention in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League’s Ram South Division.
They fell 3-0 to the Calgary Flames (13-1-5) on Sunday, but they are still in third place in the division, comfortably in a playoff spot.
For head coach Mike Sawicki, he doesn’t really care what their record is, all he is focused on is getting his boys to play their best when it matters most.
“Our goal is to get to second place so we can get some home ice advantage and see what happens from there,” he said. “Once you get there we know anything that can happen.”
The top four teams in the division make the playoffs and Red Deer now has a one-point lead on the Airdrie Xtreme (5-16-1) for third place. The Medicine Hat Tigers (1-15-2) are in fifth place with four points, seven behind the Airdrie Xtreme. The Rebels are now seven points behind Lethbridge after the Hurricanes won 4-1 in Camrose on Sunday.
The Rebels had been playing well heading into this weekend, carrying a 3-2-1 mark in November. But their Saturday game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the Red Deer Arena was cancelled when the Hurricanes’ bus broke down outside of Calgary, and then were outgunned in Cowtown, getting outshot 39-10 in the loss. Still goalie Duncan Hughes played well, making 36 stops, despite the lack of offensive support.
Red Deer has shown great gains on the ice this season, particularly in their own end, but have shot themselves in the foot with a misfiring power play, a unit that was 0-for-2 on Sunday.
It has Sawicki preaching patience among his troops.
“I think those boys believe that once the power play starts clicking we’re going to be on the positive side of the loss instead — it’s coming along,” he said.
Offensively, the Rebels have been led by first line centre Josh Tarzwell who has 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 18 games. Despite his offensive ability, Sawicki has been doing his best to turn him into a two-way player, emphasizing a team motto.
“I’m trying to make him believe that if you want to score more you’ve got to play better defence,” he said. “That’s coming along. I think he’s going to break out, but that’s also given us team balance.”
He has found a lot of chemistry with his two linemates, Rylan Burns and Kaden Davidson. His wingers have flourished alongside him with Burns scoring 10 points (6-4-10) and Davidson seven (3-4-7).
But their developing defensive side has allowed Sawicki to throw them on the ice against the opposition’s top lines of late, freeing up some of the depth on the roster to contribute as well. Three other players have also broke into double digits in points this season: Zachary Froehlick (5-7-12), Elijah Funkhouser, and Keaton Sawicki (4-7-11).
“Against the (Calgary) Northstars (a 4-4 tie on Nov. 23), we had four goals come from a line that’s just muckers and they got to the dirty areas and play defence first,” said the head coach. “Every game it’s different, every game it’s some one else and I’m real proud of that.”
Sawicki says his defence has played a big part in their offence with six well-rounded blueliners that move the puck well. They have bolstered the strong goaltending they have got from both Hughes and Justin Verveda.
But it’s still all a work in progress, there is a long road a head of them to get to where they want to be.
“I’m proud of those boys, we’re coming along and we’re improving and that’s what we’re here for,” said Sawicki.
The Rebels are off next week but resume their schedule on Dec. 13 in Rocky Mountain House against the Raiders (15-1-1) and then host the Xtreme on Dec. 14 at noon.
• The Red Deer Rebels Black (1-19-1) dropped both of their games this weekend, losing 8-4 to the Calgary Bisons (13-1-4) in Calgary on Saturday and 4-2 to the Medicine Hat Tigers (1-15-2) on Sunday at the Red Deer Arena.
In Saturday’s loss, Elijah Johanson scored twice while Josh McNeil had a goal and an assist and Jace Paarup one goal. Steven Arthur allowed all eight goals on 61 shots.
In Sunday’s loss, Johanson and McNeil both had a goal and an assist while Wyatt Argent allowed four goals on 15 shots before being replaced by Arthur in the second period, and he stopped all 15 shots he faced.
The Rebels next host the Camrose Red Wings on Dec. 13 at the Red Deer Arena.