The Red Deer Rebels came within a goal of a nearly flawless weekend.
They picked up four of six points on a crucial three games in three nights test, their only loss 2-1 on home ice to the Lethbridge Hurricanes Saturday. In a point of irony, that was perhaps their best game of the weekend.
Red Deer outscored opponents 8-4 over the three-game span and veteran forward Jeff de Wit said limiting opponents’ opportunities is going to be the key going forward.
“We’re going to build off last weekend, we feel that was our best hockey we’ve played in terms of defence leading to offence,” said de Wit, who is having a career year with 36 points in 43 games.
“If we can keep doing that we’re going to be looking pretty.”
To show how tight the Central Division is at this juncture, Red Deer dropped all the way to fourth with the lone loss but leapfrogged back into second with a win Sunday in Calgary.
Red Deer currently sits second in the central with 57 points in 44 games, while the Edmonton Oil Kings are first with 58 points through 47 games.
Hot on the Rebels heels are the Hurricanes and the Medicine Hat Tigers, who have 56 points through 45 and 46 games respectively. That makes Friday’s game at the Centrium, between the Tigers and Rebels a critical divisional matchup.
“Every point is crucial this time of year. Especially if you look at our division. We just have to stick to our game, build off last weekend, bring the momentum into this one,” said Rebels alternate captain Brandon Hagel.
Medicine Hat is red hot with an 8-1-1 record in its last 10 and has got the best of the Rebels in all four meetings this year. Those victories have been in large part thanks to CHL Import netminder Mads Sogaard.
The six-foot-seven goalie from Denmark has beaten the Rebels in all four of those games, including an outstanding 49-save, 4-1 win on Dec. 14. In those four victories, he has stopped 125 of 132 shots, for a nice .947 save percentage.
While those numbers are dominant, the Rebels boast four players with 15 goals or more this season. They sit eighth across the WHL with 138 goals allowed in 44 games, something they think is a recipe for success.
“With some of the players we have on offence, goals are going to come. If we can just shut other teams down, I think we’re going to be fine. Keep them to that two, three-goal range every game,” de Wit added.
Centre James Hamblin leads the Tigers attack with 26 goals and 56 points. He is key to the Tigers’ power play that has scored on 50 per cent of their opportunities against the Rebels this season.
The test this weekend will be made tougher, as the Rebels will be without star defenceman Alex Alexeyev for a significant period. Alexeyev was injured in the loss to Lethbridge but finished the game. He didn’t play Sunday against Calgary and is listed as out week-to-week with an upper-body injury on the WHL Weekly Report.
Red Deer will also rock a Don Cherry style jersey Friday to promote the importance of organ donation as well as the Kidney Foundation of Canada.