STETTLER — Ah, the exuberance of youth.
Unfortunately, with exuberance comes mistakes that are almost exclusively the result of inexperience.
That much was evident Saturday night at the Stettler Recreation Centre as a handful of Red Deer Rebels rookies — particularly on the blueline — struggled somewhat in an 8-5 Western Hockey League preseason victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers before 950 fans.
“You purposely put out some of your younger kids against the other team’s veterans to see how they will do,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose squad was outshot 38-28 but — on a positive note — didn’t waste many scoring chances.
“For the most part, our vets have been OK (in the preseason), it’s just that these younger guys have to learn the pace of the game at this level. This isn’t triple A midget, junior B or junior A hockey. This is major junior and the tempo and pace are very high. You have to read situations, you have to understand the game. And I think some of our first-year kids have handled it well, guys like (Grayson) Pawlenchuk and (Adam) Musil.”
Of course, Pawlenchuk and Musil play up front, at positions that aren’t nearly as hectic and pressure-packed as defence.
“We have some work to do on our back end with young guys like (Jake) MacLachlan, (Kirk) Bear and (Kaleb) Denham . . . there’s a lot of work to be done there,” said Sutter. “We’ll see how it all sorts out. They’re not all going to be able to play this year so we’ll have to sort through this and take the best of what’s there. Whoever leaves, we’ll have to find him a place to play where he can continue to develop so he’ll be ready to play here next year.
“Moving up to this league is a big step, especially for a defenceman. It’s a tough enough league to play in when you come out of midget AAA where you were a top two or three guy. Until we get our pro guys back we can’t make final decisions on our roster. Once we get all of our veterans in the lineup, once everyone comes back, we’ll be fine.”
Sutter won’t be able to settle on his defensive corps this week as veteran Kayle Doetzel will suit up with one of three Nashville Predators preseason squads in a Thursday game at Tampa Bay.
Fellow rearguard Matt Dumba isn’t expected to be returned by the Minnesota Wild any time soon, if at all.
Forward Lukas Sutter is still with the Winnipeg Jets, who had him in their lineup for a preseason game Sunday versus the visiting Ottawa Senators, while netminder Patrik Bartosak is slated to return to Red Deer today after attending camp with the Los Angeles Kings. Bartosak will get the start in Friday’s regular-season opener against the host Kootenay Ice.
Rhyse Dieno paced the Rebels Saturday with a three-goal performance. Red Deer, which led 4-1 after one period and 6-3 after 40 minutes, got two goals from Tyson Ness, a single from Matt Bellerive and power-play tallies from Devan Fafard and Vukie Mpofu.
Ness added two assists, while Brooks Maxwell and Conner Bleackley each had two helpers.
Replying for the Tigers were Ty Stanton, Blake Penner, Curtis Valk, Connor Hobbs and Trevor Cox. The Rebels victimized Tigers starting netminder Zac Robidoux for five goals on 16 shots, while Keelan Williams came on to stop nine of 12 shots.
Taz Burman went the distance in the Red Deer net and actually gave up only four goals. The final Tigers’ marker should not have counted as the net was lifted off its moorings for a split second and the puck passed under the post.
“The last couple of nights (including a 7-5 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday at Lacombe) we’ve let in more goals than we’d normally want to, but then we’ve also scored quite a few and at the end of the night got the W’s,” said Rebels defenceman Brady Gaudet. “But in the regular season I don’t think we’ll be able to win many hockey games allowing five goals a night.
“It all comes down to defence. At the end of the day, defence will win hockey games. It’s an area we can definitely improve on and I’m sure we’ll work on it next week.”