The Red Deer Rebels have to be feeling good about themselves these days.
The Rebels have been hard-luck victims this season, losing the likes of defenceman Nick Bell and top-six forwards Landon Ferraro and Nathan Green to long-term injuries. Toss in the recent loss of their third-leading scorer Andrej Kudrna to Team Slovakia for the upcoming world junior championship, and the impending departure of rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — second to Willie Coetzee in team scoring — to the World Under 17 Challenge, and the Red Deer squad could be in scramble mode.
Instead, the Rebels have emerged in recent weeks as a team that is willing to go the extra mile to make up for its dwindling assets. Red Deer has four wins and two shootout setbacks in its last six games and has picked up points in eight of the last 10.
The club has also improved big-time in the penalty-killing department, rising from near the bottom of the WHL heap to 14th overall. Most importantly, the Rebels currently occupy the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
This is a team that, with the eventual return of their absent star players, should be able to secure a post-season berth if they can indeed stay in the playoff hunt through to mid-January.
This current edition showcases arguably the most talented player — Nugent-Hopkins — to ever wear a Rebels jersey. The 16-year-old is the real deal and then some, and as a sure-fire early selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft, might not be around beyond next season.
And yet the team regularly plays in front of recorded crowds of between 4,000 and 4,500, when in fact the actual attendance is often in the 2,500 to 3,000 range.
Hundreds of fans, dismayed by the Rebels’ lack of success in recent years, have stayed away this season. But if they’re taking a ‘show-me’ stance before returning, well . . . time is up.
• This is one trade that Cass Mappin did not request.
The Big Valley native asked for and was granted a trade from the Red Deer Rebels in late September and joined the Vancouver Giants in a deal that netted the Rebels high-scoring forward Andrej Kudrna.
Last week, the 19-year-old was on the move again, this time heading back east to the Regina Pats. While the move caught Mappin off guard, he wasn’t overly disappointed.
“You never know where you’re going to end up but I was surprised at the trade from Vancouver. They kind of just popped it on me one night, I didn’t have a clue it was coming,” he said Tuesday, following Regina’s 3-2 loss to the Rebels at the Centrium.
Mappin never found a comfort zone in Vancouver, where he managed only two goals and 10 points in 22 games.
“But I wasn’t getting a whole bunch of chances there and my confidence was low,” he said. “Coming to the Pats and being on one of the top two lines and getting some power play time again has helped me regain a little of confidence, but still not a whole lot.”
Mappin wasn’t a factor in Tuesday’s game with the exception of taking a late interference penalty, but insisted that he and the Pats will be much better in the near future.
The Pats took on a Rebels squad that is missing three of its top five forwards, but are also minus two of their own top players — defenceman Colten Teubert and superstar forward Jordan Eberle, both with Canada’s national junior team.
“With those two gone we’re missing a lot of firepower and a lot of defensive ability,” said Mappin.
“Tonight wasn’t our best game and then you take those two out (of the lineup) and you get the result that we did.
“There’s been a lot of moves with this team and we’re just trying to find some cohesion. I thought that started tonight, but I guess it wasn’t enough. It’s a building process right now. There’s a lot of hockey left and once we find that niche for everybody we’ll be going and blazing.”
Mappin admitted he harboured a strange feeling while sitting on the visitors bench Tuesday.
“It felt different. I was here three years and coming back to your old stomping grounds can be a little weird,” he said. “But it’s part of hockey and you just have to deal with it.”
On the move: The Kamloops Blazers completed a pair of trades last weekend, sending defenceman Curtis Kulchar, 19, to the Everett Silvertips and dealing 19-year-old forward Shayne Wiebe to the Brandon Wheat Kings. In return, the Blazers got a fifth-round draft pick from the ‘Tips and 17-year-old forward Jordan DePape from Brandon. DePape was the MJHL rookie of the year last season with the Winnipeg Saints. He collected 85 points (34g,51a) in 55 games with the Saints and had nine points in six games with Team Western in the 2009 World Under-17 Challenge. In 22 games with the Wheat Kings, the Winnipeg native scored four goals and added four assists. Wiebe, a Brandon native, scored 11 goals and collected 25 points in 32 games with Kamloops. Meanwhile, the addition of Kulchar will help alleviate the likely loss of three of Everett’s top four defencemen to international competitions during the holiday season. Kulchar, from Martensville, Sask., has 130 games of WHL experience with Kamloops, Vancouver and Regina. He had four assists and 28 penalty minutes in 26 games with the Blazers.
Just notes: Jason Becker, a 35-year-old former Swift Current Broncos captain, has joined the Prince George Cougars as an assistant coach and is expected to be with the team for their first game back from the Christmas break, Dec. 27 in Kamloops . . . The Prince Albert Raiders have released 19-year-old Swedish forward Fredrik Cedergren, who had just one goal and five points in 31 games and was scratched for five of the past nine outings. Cedergren was the club’s first pick, 26th overall, in the 2009 CHL import draft.