In their own way of extending the Christmas holiday season, the Red Deer Rebels have made like Ebenezer Scrooge while running off five consecutive victories since Jan. 3.
The Rebels have been downright stingy while knocking off the Lethbridge Hurricanes (twice), Kootenay Ice, Brandon Wheat Kings and Calgary Hitmen.
While Brandon poured 37 shots on the Red Deer net in a 6-1 Rebels win last Saturday, the Wheat Kings’ grade-A scoring chances could be counted on one hand. And while the Hurricanes and Hitmen combined for seven goals Tuesday and Wednesday, the Rebels allowed a total of only 47 shots over the two games.
“Coming into the New Year, one of our goals was to improve our goals-against average and with that comes limiting the other team’s chances and trying to keep opposing forwards to the outside,” said Rebels captain Conner Bleackley, who has been a two-way force with back-to-back two-goal outings and six points in the last three games while being a plus-4 skater during that stretch.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that so far and hopefully we can just continue.”
The Rebels have simply stuck to a system that calls for the forwards to take as much pride in their defensive play as the blueliners.
The up-front skaters have bought into the concept of sharing defensive responsibilities, a trait that will have to continue if the club is to extend its streak with the Victoria Royals and Regina Pats at the Centrium tonight and Saturday.
“That’s just it, if the forwards are back it allows the defence to get up and take away time and space from the other team’s forwards,” said Bleackley. Limiting the other team’s chances really is a six-man effort, with the goalie included.
“We’ve done a real good job of clogging things up in the neutral zone and limiting teams’ speed, and their best option is usually a dump. When we can create that it frustrates teams. Throughout a 60-minute game if you have to constantly dump the puck in . . . I know, as an offensive player, that’s not what you want to be do doing.”
Rebels overage rearguard Brett Cote explained the secret to the club’s success in layman’s terms.
“We’re just trying no keep shots down,” he noted. “The less shots the other team gets the less chance they have of putting the puck in the net and the greater chance we have of winning.”
He, like Bleackley, admitted that team defence is just that — a combined endeavour.
“Everyone is back, everyone is doing his part. If one part breaks down the whole thing breaks down. It’s a whole-team effort.”
The recent additions of experienced defencemen Nelson Nogier and Colton Bobyk have also aided the cause, Cote admitted.
“They’ve been great for us,” he said. “They’re great guys who fit in with us right away, both personally and on the ice. They’ve been great.”
From here on in, Cote added, it’s simply a matter of following the season-long message put forth by general manager/head coach Brent Sutter.
“Brent preaches that every day — play the right way,” said the Rebels top-scoring and top-plus/minus defenceman.
“We’re just playing how we should. We’re just trying to play the right way and we’ve been having success.”
— Unlike the claims in the shampoo ad, Jake Leschyshyn was always going to get a second chance to make a first impression.
But he got that part of his WHL debut out of the way, regardless.
The 15-year-old centre, whose rights were acquired from the Rebels Jan. 5, caught the eye of Regina Pats head coach John Paddock despite being held pointless during a pair of call-up games last weekend, 4-1 and 6-5 losses to Edmonton and Prince Albert.
“I thought he was really good (Friday),” Paddock told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post.
“He was a little bit better (Friday) than (Saturday). You could say that about our team. He looks like a really good young player. I’m very happy with how he looks. He definitely showed he’s going to be on the team next year.”
Leschyshyn, the Rebels’ sixth overall pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft, is eligible to play just five WHL games this season as an underage affiliate, but can join the Pats full time once his midget AAA team season is over with the Saskatoon Blazers. Since the Blazers are 7-22-0-0 and pretty much out of the playoff hunt, the Saskatoon native could be back in Regina by late next month.
“I’m looking forward to the possibility of that,” said Paddock.
And after getting his feet wet at the major junior level, Leschyshyn is anticipating a long WHL career with the Pats.
“I was really excited to get out there and put on a Pats’ uniform and see what it’s like,” he told the Leader-Post.
“I didn’t feel too nervous until I heard my name called to go out on the ice. Other than that I think I was pretty comfortable.”