Column: Rebels need to turn back time to be successful

After last weekend, the Red Deer Rebels probably wished the neuralyzer Will Smith used to erase memories in Men in Black was real.

But alas, we still live in the real world and not Hollywood, so the Rebels were forced to do a bit of a soul searching this week after dropping to 4-5, fifth in the central and being outscored 14-1 in their two previous games.

“Everybody has been concentrated. We’ve had some hard practices, some good practices,” said young defenceman Blake Gustafson.

“Some physicality, a little compete within the team and the players. It’s been like enemies on the ice, friends in the room. Been really good, high tempo. Hopefully, we’re getting back into where we were the weekend before.”

There was a lot to dislike in the two games they lost and not really a whole lot to like. Which, quite frankly wasn’t unexpected from one of the youngest groups in the WHL.

Heck, most of them weren’t even born when Men in Black came out, a tragedy. But, I digress.

It was that “weekend before” point that stuck, well frankly, any other way of playing other than how they did in two games against Portland and Medicine Hat would be favourable.

In three straight wins before the miserable losses, maybe the Rebels played a bit above their heads. But, what they did was what the coaching staff is preaching as the way forward. In those wins, they played an aggressive, old school, slow the game down, try and bully your opponent out of the building style of play. It worked for the Rebels and the stage they’re at, where there is no sense trying to out-skill opponents. They must outwork opposing teams.

In some cases that works, but if anyone deviates from it, the game melts away faster than marshmallow in a scolding hot fire.

It takes tenacity and pugnaciousness to win in that old school way and while more and more the game is moving away from that idea, it is also coming quickly back around.

The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup by winning puck battles with their size, while also winning the war of attrition physically. And they got remarkable goaltending, which the Rebels will need, too.

The Washington Capitals won by doing a bit more of both, combining the skill, with the toughness and tenacity of guys like Tom Wilson and others.

So, the Rebels need to collect their lunchboxes, put on their work boots and try to outwork the Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday, before hosting the Regina Pats Saturday.

“Brent’s really been hammering in playing tough and heart and character. I think the boys are going to be coming out with a little bit of bang, it’ll be good,” Gustafson added.

Game Notes

The Oil Kings are in town Friday, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. at the Centrium. Edmonton beat the Rebels twice to open the WHL season and have points in each of their last seven games. They are 7-1-3 on the year, with Riley Sawchuk leading the way with five goals and 12 points. RW Josh Williams (4G, 7A, 11pts) and LW Jake Neighbours (2-8-10) are close behind and LW Vladimir Alistrov has produced nine points, including four goals. Edmonton released veteran goalie Dylan Miskiw, riding with Todd Scott and rookie Sabastian Cossa. Scott has appeared in eight games and sports a 2.95 GAA and .893 save percentage.

Injuries: Edmonton — D. Jackson Alexander (upper body, to be determined). Red Deer — LW Jace Isley (upper body, week-to-week).

Special teams: Edmonton — Power play 20.9 per cent, seventh overall; penalty kill 84.8 per cent, fifth. Red Deer — Power play 17.5 per cent, 16th overall; penalty kill 82.5 per cent, 10th.

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