The Red Deer Rebels pulled together as a team while posting two large wins during a wintry Western Hockey League weekend.
The Rebels also pushed together.
As the team bus was leaving Lethbridge on Saturday morning following a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes the night before, it hit a snowdrift and was instantly immobile.
All 20 players and the coaching staff hopped off and strong-armed the vehicle through the blockage, and the team, forced to stay in Lethbridge Friday night due to road conditions, was back in Red Deer by 1:30 p.m.
In essence, then, the Rebels’ home contest on Saturday evening more closely resembled the second game of a road trip. Not that it mattered; they skated miles while dropping a 5-1 beating on the Saskatoon Blades before a relatively small (between 2,500 and 3,000) but bold gathering at the Centrium.
What a weekend.
“It really showed how mentally tough we are as a unit,” said Red Deer netminder Darcy Kuemper, following a 35-save performance versus the Blades.
“We had lots of adversity with getting to Lethbridge about a half an hour before warm-ups. Then we went out and played solid and got the win, and came back today and got another win against the top team in the league.”
The Rebels not only battled the elements, they were minus the services of two top-six forwards in Nathan Green (leg fracture) and Landon Ferraro (knee).
The alibis were already in place, although head coach Jesse Wallin insisted they would never have been summoned in the event of a 1-1 or 0-2 weekend. “I’m proud of the team, absolutely, but it’s what we talked about all week, that excuses are just that — they’re just excuses,” he said.
“We expect to win, that’s the expectation. That’s where our mentality has to get to as a team and we took steps that way this weekend.
“But the message tonight is that we played well and the way we needed to win, but we want to keep this thing going. Let’s not be patting ourselves on the back too hard.
“It was a good job, but that’s the way we expect to play every night and we have to continue to do that.”
The usual suspects were at work on Saturday, with Willie Coetzee netting a pair of goals and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sniping the eventual game-winner. Defenceman Alex Petrovic opened the scoring for Red Deer and one of the weekend upstarts, Turner Elson, scored a short-handed marker.
While there wasn’t a single passenger on the Rebels bench, the likes of youngsters Elson, Colten Mayor, Adam Kambeitz and Daulton Siwak stood out with their strong two-way play. All four were equally as impressive in Lethbridge, where Kambeitz tallied twice and helped set up a goal, Elson had a goal and a single helper and Siwak and Mayor each picked up an assist.
“I thought they competed hard and played well,” said Wallin. “Some of those younger guys move the puck real well. I like the way ‘Kamby’ and Elson are competing right now. Daulton Siwak has been playing hard the last couple of games and is starting to get some confidence with moving and handling the puck, and Colton Mayor played well again tonight. He’s a skilled player and he made some real heads-up plays.”
With the Rebels due to lose Andrej Kudrna to Team Slovakia for the world junior championship and Nugent-Hopkins slated to compete in the World Under 17 Challenge, the foursome of aforementioned skaters will have to continue to deliver before and after Christmas.
“Everybody wants ice time, everybody wants to play and now there’s an opportunity with some guys out of the lineup,” said Wallin. “It’s an opportunity for some of these guys to take advantage of that and we’re seeing some of that right now and it has to continue.”
• Walker Wintoneak scored Saskatoon’s lone goal, a power-play tally midway through the third period. Meanwhile, Blades netminder Adam Morrison stopped 41 shots.
The Rebels return to action on Wednesday when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers at 7 p.m.