The challenge for the Red Deer Rebels is all too obvious.
With three games remaining in their regular-season schedule, the Rebels have to win two — and possibly all three — if they hope to punch their ticket to the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The Rebels head into tonight’s 7 p.m. clash with the Kootenay Ice at the Enmax Centre tied with the Prince Albert Raiders for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with each team having three regular-season games remaining.
Red Deer got some help Tuesday when the Moose Jaw Warriors downed the visiting Raiders 6-3, but fell two points back of the Brandon Wheat Kings, 8-5 winners over the visiting Saskatoon Blades.
Of the three teams battling for the final two post-season berths, Red Deer has the toughest schedule, with tonight’s clash with the Ice and a weekend home-and-home set with the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Raiders, meanwhile, close out with a visit to Regina and a home-and-home against the lowly Blades, and Brandon has two games left with Regina — one at home and one on the road.
Regardless, as Rebels forward Aspen Sterzer admitted Tuesday . . .
“We can’t leave it up to our opponents to lose, it has to be on us. These are a huge three games. Obviously Edmonton is a tough club and Kootenay is as well,” said Sterzer. “It’s a lot of adversity for us to make the playoffs. To get three wins would be huge for us and would basically give us a guarantee of the playoffs.
“I think winning all three games is what we’re looking at here and what we need to do.”
At first glance — or at least for the uninitiated — the Rebels would appear to have an advantage with two of their three remaining games at the Centrium. Unfortunately, the club has been better on the road than at home this season.
Sterzer, acquired from the Kamloops Blazers earlier in the season, can’t explain the Rebels’ home-ice woes but still feels there’s an edge to be found with two games on the friendly surface.
“It’s difficult (to explain Red Deer’s home-ice woes) but at the same time we have home-ice advantage these last three games,” said Sterzer. “We haven’t been the best here all year but we have the fans behind us now and in desperation we’ll pull something together and bring our ‘A’ games against these teams.”
With wins in three of their last four games, the Rebels are on a mild roll, which bodes well at least somewhat for the home stretch.
“We started to play a lot better than when we dropped a whole bunch in a row earlier this season,” said Sterzer.
“We started to pick up our game and started to play more as a team.
“It’s been going a lot better. Obviously our last game was a bit of a letdown (a 5-3 loss Saturday at Medicine Hat). That would have been a huge game for us with P.A. and Brandon playing each other that night. We just have to play our game this week . . . come out hard and work hard and hopefully the wins will come to us.”
In the event that the Rebels miss the playoffs, Sterzer admitted he’ll wonder why considering the clubs’ roster includes the 2013 CHL goaltender of the year in Patrik Bartosak.
“We have a lot of talent and with Patty in net we know he’s going to make big saves for us every night and definitely give us a chance to win,” said Sterzer. “It’s vital for us to have some offensive output too, because we know Patty isn’t going to let in too many goals every night. It’s huge for us to bear down and get pucks to the net and score.”