It’s the Red Deer Rebels’ annual rite of fall — the yearly Eastern Division road trip roughly two weeks into the Western Hockey League season.
The Rebels pulled out of the Centrium parking lot Wednesday morning and headed east on a three-game jaunt that starts tonight against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The early-season trip, said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, is good for team chemistry and is often easier to navigate than is the case during the cold winter months.
“When you get away together as a group it’s always a good thing,” said Sutter, prior to boarding the team bus. “It’s the first (WHL) road trip for some of these kids. It’s a good time to do it for them, but it’s also better for travel because the roads are good.
“You get that one trip out of the way early because you have enough of them through the winter.”
The Rebels take a two-game winning streak into Moose Jaw and could easily be 3-0 to start the season. So far, so good.
“We just have to keep building. We have a really good group of kids and they’ve been very receptive of the things we want to do and how we want to do them,” said Sutter.
“This has been a fun group to work with.”
Considering the Rebels boss has been satisfied with the performance of his charges to date, lineup changes will be minimal tonight. The only possible change will be the inclusion of import rearguard Mario Grman, a healthy scratch for the first three regular-season contests.
“We have to start getting Grman into some games,” said Sutter. “He’s a really good young defenceman, it’s just that when you have young guys like Austin Strand and Josh Mahura, it’s difficult to find room.
“On top of that, when Haydn (Fleury) gets back we’re going to have eight defencemen. You know that (Brett) Cote, Fleury and (Kayle) Doetzel are going to be everyday guys, so it’s a matter of working the rest of the group around them. (Kolton) Dixon and (Nick) Charif have played really well and I’ve also been happy with the young guys like Josh and Strand, who have really taken steps, but we have to get Grman into the mix.”
Speaking of Fleury, there’s a strong possibility he’ll be back with the Rebels in time for the last two games of the trip — Saturday against the Brandon Wheat Kings and Sunday versus the Regina Pats. The 18-year-old suited up with the Carolina Hurricanes, who selected the six-foot-three defenceman sixth overall in June’s NHL entry draft, in a 3-1 preseason loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Despite Fleury’s imminent return, Sutter doesn’t anticipate making any moves in the near future.
“Haydn will give us eight healthy defenceman and you need that (many) throughout the year,” said Sutter. “We’re certainly going to have to continue playing these younger kids. I’m not saying they’re going to be in every game, but we have to make sure we manage them properly and develop them the way they need to be developed.”
Rylan Toth will get his second consecutive start in the Red Deer net tonight. The 18-year-old WHL rookieis tied for the league lead with a 1.00 goals-against average and sports a .947 save percentage.
“At the end of the night, he’s made the saves for us,” said Sutter. “The other night at home (during Saturday’s 7-1 thumping of the Kootenay Ice) he made a big save on a two-on-one that kept the game at 2-0 and we were able to keep rolling.
“That’s why goaltending is huge. Goaltending can not change momentum in games in a bad way. That’s just the state of being a goalie, it’s just the way it is.”
The Rebels’ next home game is Oct. 10 versus the Medicine Hat Tigers.