Red Deer Rebels forward Jace Isley finally broke through with his first goal of the 2021-22 WHL season on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oil Kings. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Red Deer Rebels forward Jace Isley finally broke through with his first goal of the 2021-22 WHL season on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oil Kings. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)

Rebels’ forward Jace Isley relishes role as agitator

Red Deer welcomes the Saskatoon Blades to town Friday

Jace Isley was finally walking a little lighter.

The 19-year-old forward had been snake-bitten this season for the Red Deer Rebels – goalless in 19 games after scoring seven in the previous two seasons.

What a wonder one night can do, as Isley finally got rid of the goose egg Wednesday night in Edmonton, with a late second-period goal on Oil Kings netminder Sebastian Cossa.

“Finally, get a bit of the weight off my shoulders. Felt good,” said the soft-spoken Grande Prairie product.

“It’s a game-changer. I feel way better (Thursday) than I did (Wednesday), good to see things go in the right direction.”

The goal was Isley when he’s at his best. Hard forecheck – a strong cycle before flipping out in front and jamming a quick shot under Cossa’s arm, short side. Although it came in a losing cause, it could be the start of something for third-year forward.

“Real happy to see him get rewarded. Did a good job taking the puck from behind the net and jamming it home. Just think he’s that sort of guy that has the ability to provide some grit and sandpaper,” said Rebels assistant coach Mike Egener.

“Obviously you want to be able to get the points and whatnot. When you’re going through a tougher time, you have to bring it back to the basics and bring it back to work ethic and that compete. Getting your nose dirty to bring that confidence back. That was a good step forward (Wednesday). Hopefully, he can keep building on that.”

Isley was in the running to play a big role with the Rebels this season, slated for what looked to be a spot in the top six of the forward group. That hasn’t panned out so far with just two points in 20 games. But Isley has contributed beyond the scoresheet and has played a role in the Rebels’ early success this season.

On a line mostly with Dallon Melin and Kalan Lind, the trio has been able to disrupt the flow of the game in a good way for the Rebels – laying a big hit, imposing their physical will on the opposing team’s blueline. They’re momentum shifters, a sparkplug line.

“When they’re playing that way – all three members are playing that way they are tough to play against. For the opposing team, knowing that they’re going to be hard on the forecheck, they’re going to finish checks and they’re going to make you work for every inch,” Egener said.

“Over a 60 minute game for a D-core, that’s a tough matchup to go against and it wears teams down.”

Isley says he relishes the chance to make a difference in the game however he can.

“We grind it out down low and when we get out there we give the boys some energy, whatever they need,” he said.

“It’s a huge part of this team. When the boys are down, just have to bring them up. Stay energetic and positive on the bench, too.”

Isley and the Rebels welcome the Saskatoon Blades to town Friday night. It’s the first time the two teams have played since Jan. 8, 2020. The Blades are fourth in the Eastern Conference, six points behind the Rebels with two games in hand and an 11-7-1-0 record. They’ve lost three games in a row and have 59 goals for and 60 against on the year.

San Jose Sharks prospect Tristen Robins leads the Blades with 28 points in 18 games, good for fifth in the entire WHL.

“They’ve got some good skill, some good offence. We’re expected a hardworking team, a team that’s going to be hungry coming in and playing against us for the first time (this year),” added Egener.

Saturday, Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats make their first trip to the Centrium since Nov. 30, 2019. Puck drop for both games is 7 p.m.

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