While the Red Deer Rebels have been world beaters this season, there is one team they simply haven’t been able to solve.
With only nine losses in 31 games this year, Red Deer has dropped all three meetings against Central Division rival Medicine Hat.
Ironically, over the past five years, the teams are virtually deadlocked with Red Deer holding a slight advantage in the series with an 11-9-1-o record.
The Tigers have had the division-leading Rebels’ number so far this year but captain Reese Johnson thinks his group will have a better effort Friday to close out the first half.
“They’re a good team and they play well systems wise. They’re good defending and they block a lot of shots. I think to beat that we just have to find a way to put pucks on net and get traffic, do the little things and that’s how we’re going to win,” Johnson said.
Tigers netminder Mads Soogard has posed a major problem for Red Deer, stopping 76 of 82 shots for a tidy .927 save percentage in those three games. Johnson noted it’s just a matter of making life a little bit more difficult on the first-year goalie.
“We’ve let him see most of the shots and haven’t really made it hard enough on him. Just get traffic and put everything on net is the best thing,” he said.
Defensive play has also been a problem in the three games, with Medicine Hat scoring 17 goals on the Rebels. Red Deer only notched six in the three meetings.
Newcomers Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger will bring a new look to the Rebels’ attack for the first time this year against the Tigers. With their arrival, Johnson has formed a de-facto second forward unit with Jeff de Wit and Josh Tarzwell. The unit has played well defensively so far in three games together but will be looking to add a bit more scoring heading into the break.
“It’s been good, last game we took a step and we’re keeping it simple,” Johnson said.
“I think all three of us have to play a certain way. Straight lines, we’re good skaters and big guys, one of the bigger lines around. We have to use that to our advantage.”
Both the Rebels and Tigers head into the first-half finale on three-game winning streaks, with the Rebels beating Kamloops, Swift Current and Regina on home ice.
Johnson added going into the 11-day Christmas break will be a lot better if the Rebels can pull out a victory Friday.
“We want to end off on a good night we have to stay dialed in,” Johnson said.
“It’s not something you can let off the peddle just because it’s the break. I think we’ve been doing a good job of that, we have to get a win for sure.”
Alex Alexeyev practiced with the Rebels Thursday and was in good spirits at the rink. He is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after taking a nasty hit Tuesday from Kamloops Blazers forward Zane Franklin… Rebels Brandon Hagel comes into the game with 51 points in 30 games, while captain James Hamblin leads the Tigers with 15 goals and 35 points… Medicine Hat’s power play is 18/66 on the road this year but Red Deer is 17/66 at home…Tigers forward Josh Williams and goalie Mads Soogard will play in the 2019 CHL/ NHL Top Prospects game in Red Deer next month, Oleg Zaystev will represent the Rebels.