The Red Deer Rebels would prefer to crack their Western Hockey League preseason goose-egg this weekend, but simply improving their quality of play will be the priority in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. meeting with the Edmonton Oil Kings at Lacombe.
The same goes for their preseason clash with the Medicine Hat Tigers 24 hours later at Stettler.
“That’s been our focus and that was the message after the game last Saturday (a 1-0 exhibition loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes at Innisfail),” Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin said on Thursday, following a practice session at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
“Obviously, we want to win these next two games, but it’s more about daily improvement and raising our game and getting to where we need to be.”
Wallin hasn’t been tickled with his 0-4 club’s performance through most of the exhibition season. Clearly, he feels he has more at his disposal than a winless record would indicate, including three new defencemen set to start the regular season with the club next week.
“We have some new defencemen in the lineup and this weekend we want to continue to push them to acclimatize to the league as quickly as possible . . . to get used to the strength and the pace of the game down low in our zone,” said Wallin, in reference to Jan Bittner, Haydn Fleury and Riley Boomgaarden.
“It’s also important that we really work on puck movement with our overall group and just work on our overall game . . . raising our level. We’re down in numbers now and we had a good week of practice. Now we’re looking to continue to build and get better going into this weekend and the following weekend (including a regular-season home opener Sept. 21 versus the Calgary Hitmen) for sure.”
Patrik Bartosak will start in the Rebels net tonight and will eventually be spelled by Bolton Pouliot. Bartosak will play the entire game on Saturday.
l Rebels star defenceman Mathew Dumba was limping along in a walking boot on Thursday after suffering a mild ankle sprain in practice earlier in the week.
“He hurt it in practice and we’ve kept him off the ice ever since,” said Wallin. “There’s no break, it’s just a sprain, and he should be OK for next weekend.”