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Rebels hope hard work comes together in round one

Rebels vs. Tigers
Red Deer Rebels Hunter Mayo and Talon Brigley celebrate a goal in the first period against the Saskatoon Blades at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

The Red Deer Rebels as of late have been far from perfect.

Riding a five-game losing streak into the postseason is far from how they envisioned their conclusion to the regular season but the Rebels are hoping all the hard work they’ve put in will soon pay off.

Interim head coach Dave Struch was hired nearly a month ago shortly after the Rebels parted ways with former bench boss Derrick Walser.

Since then they’ve adopted a new playing style similar to last season. It’s fast-paced but also physical and aggressive, a formula that got them to the second round of the WHL playoffs in 2022-23.

Since Struch has taken over they went 3-5 to end the season. Their five-game slide was a mixture of defensive breakdowns but also a lack of scoring at times.

Struch has been adamant that they need to be playing the right way heading into the playoffs but have had little time to put it all together.

When asked if there is a sense of urgency to fix parts of their game heading into Game 1 this week, he explained a correction isn’t needed but rather continue to develop what they’ve been building.

“I think what we did for the three weeks since I got here was a lot of conditioning and getting our fitness levels up. Playing the right way takes a lot more work when you’re playing physical and you’re moving your feet,” he said.

“You’re thinking more and we practiced that way… The investment that we put into the day-to-day process was really important because the guys got a day off [Monday] and there’s a new energy in the dressing room.

“We had a lot of meetings and we did some video and stuff like that. The energy was high yesterday knowing the season was over and now we turn the page and get ready for the next chapter.”

The Rebels have also battled with the injury bug late in the season. Defenceman Elias Carmichael is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, which is a big loss for the Rebels who will be without one of three 20-year-old players.

Meanwhile, forward Frantisek Formanek and defenceman Matteo Fabrizi, who were previously listed as out week to week, will be reevaluated this week.

Red Deer will head to Medicine Hat on Thursday ahead of Game 1 at Co-op Place on Friday night against the Tigers. Game 2 will also be played on the road Saturday before returning to Red Deer for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Struch said the Tigers have a lot of speed and are great in transition.

“They’re a really good team and we know that. You look at the forward groups throughout the league Medicine Hat does always have top-end guys and you can see it in their stats,” he said.

“Overall their team has always been at the top of the food chain… They’re at the top of a lot of categories in the league so we’re up for a challenge here and we have to be ready for them.”

Rebels captain Kai Uchacz explained the excitement level in the locker room heading into playoffs.

“When you get into that week of practice heading into the first round of playoffs it’s a pretty cool feeling in the room,” he said.

“You can just feel the energy and excitement from all the guys and we’ve got some young guys going in for their first time. We feed off that energy and it’s a really exciting time.”

Uchacz has made a point to share with some of the rookies some of his own experiences competing in the playoffs the last two seasons.

The Rebels have 16 players with WHL playoff experience but also nine rookies without any. The leadership group will be looked upon to forge a path for the whole team to succeed.

“The last three weeks here we’ve been trying to preach that playoff mindset and getting ready for it,” Uchacz added.

”I guess our last few games were not where we wanted them to be but this week of practice is going to be huge for us getting our feet under us and just the right mindset heading into the playoffs.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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