Tonight’s visit by the Kootenay Ice might be precisely what the physician ordered in an attempt to snap the Red Deer Rebels out of their late-winter Western Hockey League doldrums.
After all, if the archrival Ice can’t bring out the best in the Rebels . . .
“We always play with a lot of intensity against (the Ice). In a sense, it’s a really good thing that we see these guys tomorrow so that we can get back on track,” Red Deer captain Colin Archer said Tuesday.
The Rebels haven’t been terrible over the past two weeks with just one regulation-time loss as opposed to four wins and two overtime setbacks, but they’ve struggled somewhat against so-called weaker teams. The passion has leaked out of their game and the club, in general, seems out of synch.
“We haven’t been playing to the identity that we built for ourselves prior to these last four to five games. It’s something that we’re aware of and trying to get back to,” said Archer.
As badly as the Rebels need to get into gear, the Ice will be doubly determined to snare a positive result tonight. Kootenay went into Tuesday’s home engagement with the Kelowna Rockets trailing the front-running Rebels by 10 points in the Central Division.
Archer suggested that the Rebels will be ready and rarin’ to go when the puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
“When we play those guys it’s a playoff atmosphere pretty much every time,” he said. “It’s just the way it’s been for the last few years. Every time we play them it’s a very tight, highly-intense game, exactly like it is in playoffs.
“We’ve matched up quite well for the last three years. It’s always been really tight when we play each other and when you play a team about eight times every season it’s just naturally going to be like that.”
Meanwhile, rookie defenceman Matthew Dumba will return to the Red Deer lineup tonight after missing nearly two weeks with a knee injury. Dumba is an effective open-ice hitter and should give the Rebels’ struggling power play a boost with his puck-handling skills and heavy shot.
“For sure, he definitely gives us another element back there,” said Wallin. “He’s a guy who has a real presence with his energy and I think that’s contagious for everyone.”
The Rebels, however, will be minus the services of winger Josh Cowen and defenceman Aaron Borejko. Cowen underwent surgery for a broken hand on Sunday and is out at a minimum three weeks, while Borejko sustained a concussion during Monday’s 2-1 overtime loss at Lethbridge and will miss at least two games, including Friday’s home date with Kelowna.
Winger John Persson, who crashed into the end boards during a 4-3 overtime win over visiting Kamloops on Saturday, is listed as questionable for tonight’s game.