He’s a hard-nosed enforcer, but Red Deer Rebels winger Evan Polei also has a nose for the net.
The six-foot-one, 220-pound Polei, one of the WHL’s premier scrappers, has taken his game to a new level this season. As a result, he has been an offensive force as well as an intimidating physical presence.
Polei was extra impressive in the Rebels’ 6-1 conquest of the visiting Saskatoon Blades Friday, picking up three assists while skating alongside Lane Pederson and regular linemate Adam Musil. The large trio (Musil is six-foot-three and 196 pounds and Pederson is six-one, 189) contributed three goals and generally dominated their opposing skaters with their size and aggressive play.
“That’s the role our line has to play,” Polei said Monday. “Against Saskatoon, we outworked their second line, they just couldn’t handle us down low. We just moved pucks around and used our bodies and ended up getting three goals on the night (including one with Ivan Nikolishin temporarily on the line).”
Polei and Musil have been linemates most of the season, while several players have auditioned for the third spot on the unit.
“It’s just whoever is playing well will join us,” said Polei, who will be back with Musil and Pederson tonight when the Rebels take on the Regina Pats at the Centrium to kick off a hectic stretch of four games in five nights.
“Lane will practise with us today and he’ll definitely be with us through the week,” added Polei, looking ahead also to games Wednesday and Friday at Cranbrook and Medicine Hat and a rematch with the Pats Saturday at the Centrium.
Polei’s three-helper outing Friday boosted his point total to 16 for the season, fourth-best on the team. He is tied for second on the club — with Michael Spacek and Grayson Pawlenchuk — with 10 goals and is deadlocked with Musil for the Rebels’ best plus/minus rating — plus-12.
The 19-year-old Wetaskiwin native showed hints of his offensive ability last winter with 16 goals in 53 games and this season is on pace to score more than 30.
“My game play has been way more consistent, which is allowed me to accumulate those points,” he said. “I mean, I’m not too worried about the amount of points I get this year because that’s not what’s going to get me a contract from an NHL or an AHL team.
“I just need to finish my checks, move my feet and be hard on pucks.”
Polei got a taste of the pro game when he attended the Detroit Red Wings prospects and main camps in September.
“It was a lot of fun. I’m hoping to go back there next year, but if not hopefully another team will draft me in June,” he said.
The Red Wings haven’t kept in close contact with Polei but he’s confident they are still interested in his services.
“They said they were going to watch me all year and I have heard from one of their scouts,” he noted. “The scout talked to my agent and gave me some feedback from a recent game.”
While Polei has taken a step forward with his consistency this season, the Rebels on the whole are still searching for more uniformity in their game. Red Deer has made a habit of bringing their A-game while up against top-end teams and coming up flat versus clubs performing at a .500 rate or lower.
“I think our biggest problem is looking at the standings and seeing our opponent’s record,” said Polei.
“If it’s not one of the top teams, it gets into our heads that we’re a team that can obviously beat this team, but then we drop down to their level and they smack us.
“We need to be consistent in how we play. If not we’ll lose to those teams we need to beat every night.”