Once they shifted into gear, Lane Pederson and his Red Deer Rebels linemates Conner Bleackley and Brandon Hagel were off and running Wednesday night in Medicine Hat.
The trio combined for 11 points in a 4-3 win over the Tigers, yet as Pederson noted Thursday, the forward unit didn’t exactly bolt out of the starting gate.
“The first few shifts we were kind of hemmed in our zone, we didn’t get much going,” said Pederson, who scored twice and assisted on each of his linemate’s goals. “I think it was about our third or fourth shift that we got into the O zone, had a strong shift and finally put the puck in the back of the net.
“Things just kind of took off from there. We just seemed to click.”
Pederson, who improved his season output to six goals and 17 points, said the line meshed despite the fact each of the players possess a somewhat different skill set.
“It was a bit of a different combination, definitely,” he said.
“But each of us seem to compliment the other one. It certainly worked out last night.”
Pederson was recently one third of another effective Rebels line, which was disrupted when Evan Polei suffered an injury. Adam Musil included, the trio was physically overpowering and used a combination of size and speed to create turnovers.
“Those are two other guys who are real easy to play with,” said Pederson, who was acquired from the Seattle Thunderbirds in August. “The three of us are similar players, we all play a similar style. We get the puck in, use our speed, play hard and forecheck.
“But playing with Bleacks and Hags is awesome too. Hopefully we’ll stay together and keep it going.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said the success of the line Wednesday had much to do with the fact that Bleackley was in top form.
“No. 1, it was probably his best game of the year with how he skated and how much he had the puck on his stick,” said Sutter. “He was dominant.
“Pedey was skating hard and all three of them were good in their own zone, which is important. And Brandon is just a really smart player with great hands and great vision, so it’s a good fit.”
The threesome will be back together tonight when the Rebels host the Tigers. How long they remain as a unit will depend on how well they perform, Bleackley in particular, Sutter noted.
“It’s going to be about consistency and it starts with your big guy,” said Sutter. “Last night was the first game this season that he was dominant physically. He was skating, shooting and making plays and he was the first guy back in our zone helping us out.”
Bleackley had a goal and two helpers Wednesday to increase his season total to seven goals and 22 points. The 19-year-old was a first-round draft pick of Colorado in 2014 and has yet to sign with the Avalanche, although the Avs’ interest will be reperked if he continues to compete with the same intensity as was the case in Medicine Hat.
“To me, it was the most complete game he’s had this year,” said Sutter. “And yet we expect that from Bleacks, anything less is unacceptable.
“When he brings those elements, it makes the team better and his linemates better. It certainly is an added boost to our hockey club.”
The Rebels boss said Polei, who has missed five games with an upper-body injury, is questionable for tonight’s contest. Defenceman Kayle Doetzel, out since mid-November with a foot injury, won’t play tonight but could possibly return for Sunday’s 5 p.m. home date with the Calgary Hitmen, as could Polei.
Red Deer is also minus the services of rearguard Haydn Fleury and forward Michael Spacek, who departed Thursday for their respective Team Canada and Team Czech Republic selection camps. Both are expected to play in the World Junior Championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Helsinki, Finland.
“With key guys out of the lineup, there’s going to be a bit of a heavier weight to carry,” said Pederson.
“But that’s just on us as players to step up and make sure we’re ready to play.”