The Red Deer Rebels coaching staff put their charges to work this week, with the practice sessions focused not only on physical components but also the players’ mental makeup.
Certainly, there was much to work on with the Rebels having come out on the short end of their last five Western Hockey League outings and heading into a virtual must-win weekend.
“Again, we’re hitting the reset button. Our season has to start over,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said Thursday, looking ahead to tonight’s meeting with the visiting Prince George Cougars and Saturday’s visit by the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“We came back after this last road trip needing to get into a different frame of mind. I hope these last five days have been good with the things we’ve done and how we managed them. We’re now starting a 61-game season.”
Sutter is convinced that the team’s problems are more mental than physical and that the players understand they have to perform with more consistent intensity than has been the case the majority of the season to date. The team’s lack of undeviating emotion and disciplined defensive play is reflected in a 3-7-1-0 record.
“The players all know where the coaches are coming from and where we want our game to be,” said Sutter. “It’s never a good thing when the game itself is generating emotion for you — you have to come to the rink with that emotion and passion for wanting to do well.”
The Rebels aren’t the only team that has stumbled out of the gate. The Kootenay Ice, Victoria Royals and Portland Winterhawks had high aspirations heading into the season and have struggled big time.
“For our players, the important thing is how they handle the adversity and deal with it the right way,” said Sutter.
“Do we want to be in the position we’re in? No, but at the same time it’s not like the season is over for us. We’re just getting started in the regular season, we’re one-seventh in. But we have to get going, we have to get playing the way we want to play. We have to start getting some wins, we have to start getting some points.
“The outcome will always take care of itself if the process and the principles are in place to give yourself a chance to be rewarded. We’ve just had too many games where the process through them haven’t been what we’ve wanted, and it’s just been different things.
“Now we have to put that all together. It’s a long year and you can’t get too riled too early, but we also have to recognize that we have to nail this in the butt right now and get going.”
The Rebels boss wasn’t identifying anyone by name, but he made it clear that NHL first-round draft picks Haydn Fleury and Conner Bleackley absolutely must be major pieces in the puzzle going forward, and that neither has played to his potential so far this fall.
“The reality is we haven’t had enough players play well enough on a consistent basis,” said Sutter. “We’ve shown signs of being a good team — our first three games were the best three we’ve played all season, and why is that?
“Personally I think it had a lot to do with attitudes . . . a lot to do with the attitude of our team when certain guys can back from pro camps. They didn’t come back in the right frame of mind and some of the other players dropped their guard when they got back. We got into a situation where some things were starting to happen and we didn’t respond the right way.
“So now it’s about hitting that button over again and getting back on the right path. We had to get everybody back in a positive frame of mind this week and I feel good about it. But let’s see what happens.”
The Rebels will close out a three-game homestand with a Tuesday date with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Red Deer will open a six-game trip next Friday against the Ice before heading south to clash with each of the five U.S. Division teams.