Rebels face tough tests

Their Western Hockey League playoff berth is secure, but the Red Deer Rebels can’t rest easy.

Their Western Hockey League playoff berth is secure, but the Red Deer Rebels can’t rest easy.

In fact, the Rebels won’t be resting at all with three games slated in a four-day span, including tonight’s 7 p.m. meeting with the visiting Prince Albert Raiders.

And all three are clutch contests for the Red Deer squad as they not only battle to maintain their slim lead over the Medicine Hat Tigers for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but also strive for home-ice advantage in the opening post-season round.

“We have fourth place (in the Eastern Conference) on the line. We want to have as many games here as possible,” Rebels captain Colin Archer said Tuesday, referring to the team’s nifty 23-8-0-2 record at the Centrium and the fact they are a mere three points back of the fourth-place Kootenay Ice with a game in hand.

“It’s within reach,” added Archer. “We have two games left against Kootenay. It’s going to be a tough (regular-season) homestretch but there’s plenty to play for.”

And, again, that starts tonight against the ninth-place Raiders, who will almost certainly perform with a sense of urgency with their playoff hopes slip-sliding away.

“They’re in the playoff hunt and they’re going to be hungry,” said Archer.

“It’s getting down to crunch time, P.A. is on the outside looking in and when you’re in that position you’re desperate. We need to come out and want fourth place more than they want eighth place.”

From there, the Rebels will host the Swift Current Broncos Friday. The Broncos currently eighth place in the conference — seven points clear of the Raiders — and are looking to nail down their own playoff berth.

Then comes Saturday’s clash with the host Tigers, who are intent on reclaiming fifth spot.

“That’s going to be a huge game,” said Archer.

“A win could really create some separation and a bit of comfort for us.”

Archer isn’t concerned with the possibility of his teammates easing up on the gas pedal over the final two weeks of the regular season.

“It’s an exciting feeling in the dressing room right now, especially for guys like myself, Cullen (Morin), Landon (Ferraro) and Justin (Weller), guys who have been here for a while,” he said.

“The playoffs have been a long time coming and we’re not going to let up until someone tells us our season and our playoff run is over.”

While the casual observer wouldn’t have given the Rebels an ice cube’s chance in you-know-where of finishing fourth in the conference as recently as four weeks ago, Archer said the players never stopped believing that they could forge a major push.

“We’ve come a long way,” said the captain. “Back in November we were in 10th place and we talked about our season goals. We wanted 40 wins, which is now easily attainable and I think we’ll break that by a few games.

“We were intent and we talked about getting home-ice advantage. It seemed like a long way off at the time but (head coach Jesse Wallin) and the other coaches had a vision of where we needed to be and they knew that we could do it. It was just a matter of convincing ourselves.”

• Defenceman Aaron Borejko, out several weeks with a shoulder injury, will return to the Rebels lineup tonight.

Meanwhile, centre Nathan Green participated in a few of the practice drills Monday for the first time since undergoing surgery for a broken leg in late November.

“His strength is slowly coming back,” said Wallin. “He still has some pain. He’s OK to stride, but quick stops and starts and little agility moves give him some discomfort. He kind of gets stiff and sore afterwards.

“He’s coming along as we expected and we’re hoping we can get him into some full practices next week and that he can play the final two regular-season games. That’s what we’re shooting for at this point.”

Defenceman Simon Witt remains out indefinitely with a groin ailment.