The Christmas break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Red Deer Rebels.
A number of the Rebels were battling the ‘flu at the time, although you would have never known it as they downed the Kootenay Ice 5-1 on Dec. 18, before going into the break.
Matt Bellerive was the only member of the team not to dress for the game, although several others battled to stay on the ice.
“The ‘flu seemed to be hitting at that point and the guys did a great job battling through it,” said Rebels president/general manager/head coach Brent Sutter prior to a short practice Thursday at the Centrium.
“We were able to have enough bodies as some of the guys showed a lot of character. They were starting to get over it and wanted to play. Bellerive hadn’t turned the corner yet and he was feeling so rotten there was no way he could play.
“Getting him back will definitely help, as he’s a plus for us . . . a difference maker.”
Bellerive will be in the lineup tonight as the Rebels return to action in Edmonton against the Oil Kings. The two rivals clash again Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Centrium.
The Rebels could also have Cory Millette (lower-body) in the lineup.
“We’re hopping to have him back for a full practice as he was cleared to go in full gear on the 23rd,” explained Sutter. “We’ll watch him and see how he is before making a decision. It’ll be good to get him back as he was playing well before he was hurt.”
The Rebels could have a new face in the lineup tonight as they’ve brought in 17-year-old Connor Bucsis, who was the leading scorer on the Tisdale Trojans of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with 17 goals and 14 assists in 28 games. He’s ninth in league scoring and fourth in goals.
“We just listed him a couple of weeks ago and we wanted to bring him in and see him first-hand,” said Sutter. “He’s a big winger (six-foot-two, 185-pounds) and another 17-year-old. We started the season with only a couple of 17-year-olds on the roster and that’s an important year. Now we have added depth in that area as far as forwards.
“That’s something myself and the scouting staff will continue to focus on as we continue to grow the team. We need depth in that area if we want to be consistently good year after year.”
Another 17-year-old who Sutter has plans for is Scott Feser, who was called in from the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and will remain with the Western Hockey League squad until at least the new year.
Feser was called up to fill in because of injuries and sickness and has impressed.
“He’s an entirely a different player from what he was in training camp,” said Sutter. “It was important for him to play a lot this year and that’s a reason we sent him to Camrose (Kodiaks) and Boris (Kodiaks GM/head coach Boris Rybalka) has done a great job with him. We expect him to be a big part of the team as we move forward and we’ll keep him here for the next few games and possibly get in for a couple of them and then possibly he’ll go back to Camrose Jan. 3. But we expect him to be a regular for us soon.”
l Rebels will be without forward Conner Bleackley and rearguard Haydn Fleury, who are at the World U17 Challenge, and goalie Patrik Bartosak, who is with the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship.