ST. ALBERT — The Red Deer Rebels’ slow start in Saturday’s Western Hockey League preseason-opening loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings didn’t concern Brent Sutter.
Nor was the Rebels GM/head coach disappointed with the manner in which his rookie-laden crew — with the roster featuring 15-year-olds Jacob Herauf and Eli Zummack — went about its overall business at Servus Credit Union Place while dropping a 5-2 decision.
“We dressed a young lineup and it took those kids a while to adjust to the pace and the timing,” said Sutter. “Edmonton had a decent team dressed, so it was good for our young kids to go through that. It’s what that first exhibition game is about — getting those kids some game experience before they all have to go back to their midget teams.
“With all that being said, I thought our veterans were fine, as well.”
The Rebels had seven returnees in their lineup — defencemen Josh Mahura and Austin Strand, and forwards Reese Johnson, Jeff de Wit, Evan Polei, Adam Musil and Grayson Pawlenchuk— as well as former Seattle T-Birds centre Lane Pederson, as opposed to nine for the Oil Kings.
After a scoreless opening period, the Oil Kings got a goal from Colton Kehler at 4:43 of the middle frame and never looked back. Kyle Yewchuk and Lane Bauer both beat Rebels netminder Dawson Weatherill before the second intermission.
The Rebels finally got on the board when Akash Bains connected at 3:34 of the third period, but Brandon Ralph restored Edmonton’s three-goal cushion at the 7:07 mark.
From there, Musil closed the gap — beating netminder Carter Phair — 10 minutes later and Oil Kings winger Garan Magnes rounded out the evening with an empty-net marker with 23 seconds remaining.
Edmonton starting netminder Alec Dillon turned aside all 10 shots he faced through the first half of the game, while Phair made 13 saves, including nine in a third period in which the Rebels held an 11-7 edge in shots. Weatherill made 29 saves while going the distance in the Red Deer net.
Sutter was impressed with de Wit, Pawlenchuk and Polei, and also credited all 11 rookie skaters for at least holding their own.
“I thought they (prospects) were all good in their own way,” said the Rebels boss, noting that defencemen Ethan Sakowich and Herauf, along with forward Austin Pratt, were more than adequate.
“Weatherill also played well in net,” added Sutter. “For our first (preseason) game, it was exactly what we expected. It just took the younger kids a while to adjust to everything.”
l Six players — Pederson and Wyatt Johnson (both Anaheim), Polei (Detroit), Michael Spacek and Nelson Nogier (both Winnipeg), and Musil (St, Louis) — will leave Wednesday for NHL camps, while Conner Bleackley will depart for Colorado Saturday. Haydn Fleury left last week for the Carolina Hurricanes camp.
l The Rebels resume their preseason schedule this weekend with two games at the Tri-City tournament in Kennewick, Wash., taking on the host Americans Friday and facing the Spokane Chiefs 24 hours later.Red Deer’s final two exhibition contests are Sept. 18 versus the Oil Kings at the Centrium and the following night at Stettler against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Rebels’ regular-season opener is Sept. 26 at home to Edmonton.