The Red Deer Rebels are sporting a very young lineup early in the 2022-23 WHL preseason.
The youth showed well in spurts Saturday night at the Peavey Mart Centrium, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a peasky Calgary Hitmen sqaud in a 4-2 losing effort.
Rebels head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after the game his team improved since the 6-3 loss Friday night in Calgary.
“We had a few good chances there but we missed the net so you’d like to improve there, and you’d get a few more shots and maybe a goal or two,” he said. “I thought our mindset of what we do with the puck and every player having a focus and a purpose each shift, so I think those are good things to build off of.”
Konowalchuk said they’ve mixed in a lot of young players the last two games which is a great learning experience for them, especially against an older Hitmen lineup.
The veteran players he added were also much better Saturday night.
“They needed to get their game more urgent and I thought they did and I think the young guys took a step learning what we needed,” he said.
“We certainly gave them some ice time and it was fun to watch them play and I thought for young kids they did well. We wanted to see what they could do and a lot of times once you start in the regular season they don’t get time to get ice time. It’s a fine line at times, you think you want to change your lines.
“You want to maybe mix it up a bit and see if you can get a couple more goals from your top two lines but really you want to see what the young kids do and that’s what it’s for.”
Calgary opened the scoring just over eight minutes into the opening frame when forward Zac Funk put one past Rebels goalie Rhett Stoesser. With three minutes left in the first period, the Hitmen would strike again when forward Matteo Danis fired one into the back of the net.
In the second period, the Rebels came out with a burst of energy. Forward Matthew Gard brought the home team within one off a nice pass by defenceman Mats Lindgren.
However, Calgary would answer back later in the period with a shorthanded goal by Maxim Muranov. And with less than a minute left in the second, Hitmen forward Billal Noori scored on the powerplay to extend their lead to make it 4-1 heading into the final period.
Even though it was a preseason game, it carried the intensity of a regular season game at certain points. Konowalchuk said he likes to see his players play competitive hockey.
“If you’re going to a hockey game it’s a one-on-one battle sport. If you go through a game and you’re not accidentally battling sometimes or getting some pushing and shoving you’re probably not playing hard enough. We’re not looking to goon nothing like that but it’s competitive sport, hockey’s a tough sport, and you’ve got to stand your ground,” he said.
The Rebels closed the gap and got their second tally nine minutes into the third period when forward Arjun Bawa sniped his shot into the top right corner on a two-on-one rush. That’s as close as they would get as the Hitmen shut the door late in the third period to secure the victory.
The Rebels were outshot 34-17 and young goaltender Rhett Stoesser, who was signed as a free agent this week, had a solid game making 30 saves.
“He sure did. He’s come in and he’s been very consistent and good all camp and I know he had a lot of nerves before the game. He was here early, probably a little too early… but you know what he gave us a chance.”
Next up for the Rebels is two more preseason games next week against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. They will play in Lethbridge in the Enmax Centre on Friday at 7 p.m., before returning home Saturday night in the Peavey Mart Centrium at 7 p.m.