Contrary to what statistics might suggest, there are no easy marks in the Western Hockey League.
The Red Deer Rebels take on a pair of so-called lesser lights this weekend, with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades visiting the Enmax Centrium Friday and Saturday. But looking past the two squads with losing records — the ‘Canes sit at 5-10-3-1 and the Blades possess a 6-13-0-0 slate — would be a major mistake.
“There are no easy games in this league,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter stressed Wednesday. “Your preparation has to be the same no matter what team you play.
“You can look at the standings and say there isn’t parity, but there truly is parity in our league. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night, so your preparation is huge. We have to make sure that over the next two games we’re preparing like both these games will be the toughest games we’ve played to date.”
After a slow start, the Rebels have posted a 6-2-1-1 record over their last 10 outings and are 9-8-2-1 on the season.
The Rebels were 3-1-1-1 on a six-game trip that concluded Saturday and included five stops in the U.S., and can’t afford to lose their momentum by taking either or both of the ‘Canes and Blades lightly.
After all, Red Deer lost in Saskatoon last month and last season suffered multiple losses to an otherwise struggling Lethbridge squad.
Sutter is confident that his charges will show up Friday with every intention of proving they’re closer to the team that has prospered over the last few weeks than the club that at one time was five games under .500.
“I’d like to think that our mindset is where it needs to be,” he said. “It took a lot of work and time to get to where we are and now our biggest thing is just carrying on with how we played on the road trip.
“Our work ethic was there, we had great structure in our game as far as how we wanted to play and our discipline was very good for the most part with the fact we weren’t taking a lot of bad penalties. Now we just have to carry on with that mindset.”
• The Rebels cut ties with Latvian defenceman Hugo Jansons Wednesday, putting the 17-year-old on WHL waivers.
He cleared and will join either a North American team at a level below major junior or head back overseas.
Jansons was Red Deer’s first pick in June’s CHL import draft. The Rebels’ second pick in the draft, defenceman Mario Grman, remains with the team.
A USHL team expressed interest in Jansons and Sutter will learn today whether the team will indeed sign the six-foot-two, 183-pound rearguard.
Jansons never made his mark during training camp and the preseason and then suffered an upper body injury in practice and wasn’t cleared to play until 10 days ago.
“It’s a situation where he came in and had a real tough camp,” said Sutter.
“To be quite honest, we were certainly expecting more after listening to his agent and other people (scouts) over there. That’s just the way it works sometimes, that there’s a misconception regarding the level of play in the CHL.
“He was a young player, just 16, when he came here, but we were told he was a certain type of player and he really struggled. He had a hard time with the pace of the game and then he was injured and was out for a long time.
“I can’t hold him back, we can’t have him here all year with him not playing and developing. From a management standpoint, I have to do what’s right for the player and try and get him an opportunity to play somewhere else.”
To fill Jansons’ spot on the roster, Sutter brought 17-year old blueliner Austin Shmoorkoff back to the Rebels. The Edmonton native was reassigned to the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL prior to the start of the regular season and was later dealt to the Calgary Canucks.
In 10 games split between the Oilers and Canucks, he had four assists and 33 minutes in penalties.
• Rookie defenceman Josh Mahura has been cleared to play and will rejoin the Rebels for Friday’s contest.