By GREG MEACHEM
Advocate sports editor
In the event that one or both of Alex Petrovic and Mathew Dumba play with Team Canada in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship, one or two gaping holes will appear on the Red Deer Rebels blueline and remain for roughly a month.
“It’s glass half-full, glass half-empty. I don’t want to turn a positive into a negative,” Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin said Monday while discussing the Hockey Canada invitations issued to Petrovic and Dumba to attend the national team’s selection camp Dec. 10-14 in Calgary.
“It’s no different than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Does it hurt our team not having him? Of course if does. And yet you want the best for your players, that’s what you’re here for.
“Hoppy took the step to the NHL and we’re excited and happy for him. It’s no different with these two players. Obviously it hurts your team to lose these guys and it makes it hard on your group if you don’t have them. But at the end of the day it’s about the opportunity that they’re going to get. They’ve both worked hard and earned it and I hope they both get the opportunity to play on the team. As tough as it will be without them, they’re going to be better players coming back from it and better players in the long run.”
The Rebels defencemen were added to the Hockey Canada invitation list because both can fill specific roles, Wallin noted.
“They bring certain elements that are similar and certain elements that are different,” said the Rebels bench boss. “With Petro they’re looking for a guy who can be a steady, stay-at-home type who can shut down the other team’s top players and be a physical presence, and there’s no question in my mind that he can do that. He just has to go to the camp and carry himself that way and play to his strengths.”
With Dumba . . .
“I think they’re excited about the unique elements that he brings,” said Wallin. “The open-ice hitting is an element that can change the flow of a game and impact a game, and his offensive tools — his skating ability and his ability to shoot the puck — are huge.
“So I think they both bring some tools to the table that the national team coaches are looking for. They just have to play to their strengths, they don’t have to be something they’re not. It’s just a matter of going into the camp focused and really believing that they belong there. You have to go in and understand that you’re there for a reason. You can’t be overwhelmed by it, just go out and play the game.”
Wallin manned a blueline berth with the national junior team in 1997 — winning gold that year — and ‘98 and served as captain of the ‘98 squad.
His lone regret is that he never played in a WJC in Canada.
“I never got to experience it in Canada and that I think is just a real exciting thing for any player,” he said.
“The two years that I played, one was in Switzerland and the other in Finland. They were both great experiences in themselves, but to be here in Canada with your home crowd and your country behind you and the intensity and energy of the crowds . . . I can’t imagine that experience myself.”
With the 2012 WJC running Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton, Wallin is hoping that his two star defencemen will get the opportunity that he missed.
“I’m really excited for them. I think both are very deserving of their invitations and it’s great to see them get that opportunity,” said Wallin. “To represent your country is a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous honour, and the fact you’re going to the camp is one step and that in itself is a big step.
“It’s going to be a real intense, high-paced camp with the best players in the country. It would be great to see them both make the team, but certainly this an exciting first step and we’re happy for both of them.”
• The Rebels will be severely short-handed when they face the host Lethbridge Hurricanes tonight, with forwards Turner Elson, Daulton Siwak, Joel Hamilton, Adam Kambeitz and defenceman Aaron Borejko all out of commission and forward John Persson questionable due to illness.
Elson is still awaiting word on the length of the suspension he will serve as a result of a boarding penalty he was assessed late in Friday’s 5-1 home-ice loss to the ‘Canes, while Siwak, Hamilton, Kambeitz and Borejko are injured.
Red Deer Optimist Rebels midget AAA forward Scott Feser will be inserted into the lineup for tonight’s game and might also play Wednesday against the visiting Spokane Chiefs if Elson and/or Persson are not available.