The timing could certainly be better.
The Red Deer Rebels will attempt to snap a three-game Western Hockey League losing streak against the visiting Chilliwack Bruins tonight while minus the services of their top two point producers.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins survived the first rounds of cuts and remains at the Canadian national junior team selection camp in Toronto, and Rebels linemate Andre Kudrna was scheduled to depart today to join the Slovakian national squad in preparation for the world junior championship starting Boxing Day in Buffalo, N.Y.
Accordingly, the Rebels will require the proverbial ‘team effort’ against the Bruins, who will have sniper and Team Canada cut Ryan Howse back in their lineup.
“We just need everybody to step up and the younger guys who want ice time are going to get that opportunity, just as they did on Sunday (in a 2-0 loss at Calgary),” said Red Deer head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin.
“We need to see those guys to step up and grab the bull by the horns, but more importantly our older guys really have to pick up that slack. Guys like (Byron) Froese and (Alex) Petrovic and (Brett) Ferguson . . . those type of players really have to step up in the absence of (Nugent-Hopkins and Kudrna).
“We just need a concerted effort from everybody and our veteran players to really pick up their game.
“Those guys certainly have to lead the way and they have to elevate their game, and that will force everyone else to elevate their game as well.”
On a positive note, forward John Persson will return to the team after sitting out Sunday’s contest with an indefinite suspension for a checking-from-behind major he was assessed in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Regina Pats the night before. The league office decided Tuesday that a one-game sentence fit the crime.
Wallin agreed that the suspension was long enough.
“It was certainly a hit and the type of hit that the league is trying to eliminate,” said Wallin.
“The guy was in a vulnerable position, the tough thing about it is if he gets up right away instead of lying on the ice for awhile, there’s no (major) penalty.
“The hit (Rebels forward Adam) Kambeitz took in the Kelowna game the night before was probably a more dangerous hit . . . more deliberate. But he picked himself back off the ice and nothing came out of it but a minor (boarding) penalty (to the Rockets’ Colton Heffley). If he lays down on the ice for two minutes like (the Regina player) did, then it’s probably reviewed and he (Heffley) maybe gets suspended as well.
“That’s just the way it is and we’re certainly John got just one game.”
Persson played on a line with Froese and Turner Elson in practice Tuesday, while Ferguson was slotted in with Josh Cowen and Daulton Siwak as Wallin looked at different combinations for tonight’s contest.
“There will be a lot of mixing and matching even during the game . . . trying to find the right chemistry between players and getting different guys varying amounts of the ice time,” said the Rebels bench boss.
Following tonight’s game, the Rebels will close out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule with a home-and-home series with the Kootenay Ice. The clubs meet Friday at Cranbrook and Saturday at the Centrium.