It’s been exactly 185 days since the Red Deer Rebels ended the 2016-2017 WHL season.
A bitter Game 7 defeat in the Eastern Conference quarter-final at the hands of the Lethbridge Hurricanes brought the Rebels playoff run to an end.
Red Deer opens the season with a home-and-home against the Edmonton Oil Kings. And Rebels captain Grayson Pawlenchuk sees only one way to start the season.
“Definitely focusing on a win. I think that we’re capable of it,” the 20-year-old said.
“In practices we’re going hard and we’re working on our speed. We’re going to be a fast team too. Playing hard and physical will help. I think we should get the win this weekend.”
Associate coach Jeff Truitt said this week it’s been a long training camp and he believes the team has ironed out the finer details needed to compete in the WHL.
“We’re progressing better and better as every game goes on,” Truitt said.
“You get tested in different areas and I thought that we responded real well in exhibition. There’s a lot of optimism but we also know that we have a lot of work to do like everybody else.”
Alternate captain Lane Zablocki, who ignited the Rebels with six goals in six playoff games last year and is fresh of a stint with the Detroit Red Wings said he feels the excitement in the dressing room.
He’ll team up with import forward Kristian Reichel and veteran Brandon Hagel to start the season, a trio who should carry the lion’s share of the Rebels offensive duty this season.
Mason McCarty and Pawlenchuk will likely hit the ice in game 1 with newly acquired centre Jared Dmytriw, who was picked up in a preseason trade with the Victoria Royals. Austin Pratt may slide into the top six at points this season after a strong training camp and preseason.
Alex Alexeyev will anchor the defence along with Brandon Schuldhaus to start the year and the duo should log big minutes in all situations. Carson Sass and Ethan Sakowich, along with Jacob Herauf and Dawson Barteaux will man the blueline.
In net Lasse Petersen, 20, will be the man for the time being, with last seaon’s starter Riley Lamb on the shelf until sometime in November. He’ll be backed up by 17-year-old newcomer Ethan Anders, who is looking for his first start in the WHL.
Look out for young forwards Austin Schellenberg and Chase Lowry, two players that were extremely impressive in camp and look comfortable at this level as 16-year-olds.
Truitt said while there are some doubts about the Rebels ability around the league, he believes they’re ready to show that they have something special this year.
“I think every year you’ve got something to prove. I think we all want to take it up another notch and keep proving to ourselves, our fans and this league that we’re a good team,” he said.
“We believe we’re a good team but you have to go out and prove that every night. That’s going to be the challenge. We like what we’re doing right now and hopefully we continue to build.”
The bright lights will shine on the Centrium ice Saturday night with puck drop set for 7 p.m.