The Red Deer Rebels can at least partially melt the playoff hopes of the injury-riddled Kootenay Ice with a pair of Western Hockey League weekend wins.
The Rebels and Ice hook up in a home-and-home series starting tonight at the Centrium and concluding on Saturday in Cranbrook. From there, the Rebels, who sit fourth in the Central Division, two points up on the Ice, will embark on a four-game trip through the B.C. Division.
“Absolutely, this is a real big weekend for us and we’ve approached it that way through the week in practice and with some good off-ice workouts,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “These are big games for a lot of reasons — they are divisional games, Kootenay is an arch-rival and there are some big points up for grabs. We have a trip coming up that we want to go into with some momentum, so it’s huge weekend for us.”
The Rebels’ blueline will get a boost tonight with the return of Alex Petrovic, who sat out six weeks with a high ankle sprain.
“That’s a big addition for us,” said Wallin.
“He’s a guy who eats a lot of minutes back there and a big body who plays against top lines. He’s arguably our top defenceman and when you lose a guy like that for that length of time, everyone else to pick up the slack and kind of bump up a spot. It gets to be a bit much for everyone to handle at times.
“His return is going to be a big lift for us and everyone is excited to have him back.”
Wallin admitted that the six-foot-three rearguard will require some time to regain his previous form.
“‘Petro’ has missed six weeks of hockey. He’s going to have to get back to game speed and get his timing back,” said the Rebels bench boss. “But his conditioning is good. He’s been moving really well in practice and the biggest thing is he has confidence in his ankle.
“He feels no pain and it’s not hindering him at all. There are no lingering affects to speak of. Mentally, he’s feeling good about his recovery and that’s the most important thing.”
l Red Deer’s B.C. Division road trips starts on Tuesday in Kamloops, continues on Wednesday in Kelowna and concludes with Friday and Saturday games at Vancouver and Chilliwack.
Upon their return, the Rebels will begin preparations for a Nov. 21 home date with the Spokane Chiefs.