Considering the minimal degree of success his club experienced through the first month of the 2014-15 Western Hockey League season, Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter is satisfied with the team’s current status.
The Rebels, who will officially complete the first half of their regular season tonight when they take on the Oil Kings in Edmonton, won just three of their first 11 games, but then turned it around to the point where they now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and third in the Central Division.
“We’ve had a good run. After our start, we had an 11-game swing. We were five games under .500 and now we’re five games over (18-13-3-1),” Sutter said Friday.
“When we went into Brandon (on Dec. 14) we had accumulated 32 points in our previous 22 games, while they (the conference-leading Wheat Kings) had 31 points in their previous 22. The difference from where we’d like to be right now, which is pushing for first in the division and conference, is simply our first 11 games of the regular season.”
While goaltending was an issue early in the fall, it came around — mainly in the person of Rylan Toth who has played the lions share of games — and helped the Rebels become the highly-competitive team that everyone, including the coaches and players, thought they would be when the season started.
“We’re developing areas that we said we needed to be patient with, and one of those areas is goaltending,” said Sutter. “Now, in the second half, we need both of them to be better and we need Burms (Taz Burman) to come in and win us some games.
“At the end of the day you need goaltending and you need a goaltender who will win you a game here and there where he stands on his head. We need that from our two guys.”
Burman has appeared in only eight games this season. The fact that he struggled through the majority of his 258 minutes of playing time necessitated that Sutter ride Toth to the tune of 1,849 minutes over 32 games.
“I wish that we didn’t have to play Tother as much as we did in the first half,” said Sutter. “But that being said, we need Burms to step up in the second half and give us some real solid outings and have Tother just continue to grow like he’s been growing.”
The Rebels boss stopped short of forecasting a start for Burman either tonight or Sunday when the Oil Kings visit the Centrium for a 5 p.m. start.
“We’ll take it a game at a time,” said Sutter. “Would I like to see Burms in there sooner that later? Absolutely. It’s important for the growth of both of these guys.”
• Rebels defenceman Nick Charif, who has been out nine weeks due to knee surgery, has been cleared to play. The 19-year-old underwent surgery to repair a partly-torn meniscus.
“He’s good to go. He was back skating about 10 days before Christmas,” said Sutter. “He could have played our last game (a 6-1 loss to the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Dec. 17) but we decided to give him another week of rest.”
Second-year centre Adam Musil will return to the Rebels lineup tonight after missing the final three games prior to the Christmas break with a lower-body injury.