Not only was Rhyse Dieno back to producing at a point-per-game pace or better when he went down with a leg laceration two weeks ago, he had rediscovered another part of his game.
“The point production was up, but I also think my all-around game was better,” said the 20-year-old Red Deer Rebels forward, who will return to the lineup tonight for a 7 p.m. Western Hockey League meeting with the Calgary Hitmen at the Enmax Centrium.
“I was focusing on defence and the coaches were talking to me about that. I felt that I had a more complete game. Every night I was competing and playing as hard as I could.”
Associate coach Jeff Truitt was in complete agreement with the native of Saskatoon, who joined the Rebels in November of 2012 and went on to lead the club in scoring with 59 points — including 27 goals — in 48 games through the remainder of the season.
“I think he was playing very well at both ends of the ice before he got hurt. There was a lot of jump and determination in his game,” said Truitt. “He’s been a good soldier for us. He led our team in scoring last year and he’s found his game in the last month. Now we’re asking him to do the things we need him to do.”
And that would constitute being a leading offensive player and an overall difference-maker on a team that has upgraded in the speed and talent departments with the recent additions of forward Presten Kopeck and Aspen Sterzer. The newcomers are playing on a line with captain and center Conner Bleackley, who is Dieno’s former linemate.
“The challenge for Rhyse now is that we’ve got new people in here. We’ve added skill and speed to our lineup and what that does is create internal competition, and that’s good,” said Truitt. “It makes everyone push each other a little harder and it’s no different with Rhyse. We except certain things from players, things that he can do.”
With Sterzer and Kopeck looking like the real deals, Dieno can be another key piece to the puzzle as the Rebels push for a playoff berth over the final two months of the regular season.
“Absolutely he can be a key guy,” said Truitt. “This is the nice part about what we’ve got now. When everyone is healthy we’re going to have options one way or the other.”
Dieno, who this season has scored 14 goals and garnered 37 points in 37 games, is well aware of his place with the Rebels.
“I feel like I’m a key player for this team,” he said. “I’ve been put in pretty much every situation this season compared to last year when I wasn’t on the penalty kill. This year the coaches have put a lot of trust in me and have really made my confidence grow as a player.”
While he wasn’t able to play, Dieno accompanied the Rebels on their recent East Division road trip. He saw first-hand the roles that Sterzer and Kopeck played during the five-day jaunt that produced a 2-2 record.
“Those guys have added speed and a little more grit,” said Dieno. “They come to play every night. You know what you’re going to get from them and I think that’s what this group needed.
“The last two games really showed that. Sterzer joined the team in Moose Jaw and was an impact player for us, as he was in Swift Current. The guys have really come together the last few games and it should make for a good game tomorrow.”
Dieno wasn’t 100 per cent sure who his linemates will be tonight. He skated alongside veteran Lukas Sutter and rookie Grayson Pawlenchuk in practice Wednesday and Thursday, which would indicate the trio will be a unit against the Hitmen.
“Pawly can put the puck in the net, Sutter adds that grit and I like to pass the puck, so that should make for a good line,” said Dieno.
“I know I’ll be ready to go tomorrow. I wasn’t out that long but when you go on a road trip and watch games it seems like a long time. I’m definitely ready to get back at it.”
The Rebels will host the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday before heading back east early next week for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday games at Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.