Heading into the Christmas break as back-to-back Western Hockey League losers would have been a major downer for the Red Deer Rebels.
Instead, the Rebels were truly in holiday mode when they departed for points far and wide following Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings before a gathering of 4,698 at the Centrium.
“It was really important to get that win. We weren’t happy with our game Friday in Edmonton (a 3-1 loss) and we wanted to go into the break on a positive note,” said Rebels assistant coach Dallas Gaume.
“As coaches, we thought the kids responded well after a game we weren’t happy about. They responded in a positive fashion, played well and deserved to win.”
Red Deer improved to 18-15-0-2 and will return to action Sunday against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes as the team holding down fourth spot in the Central Division and eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Rebels are 6-2-0-2 in their last 10 outings despite the absence of top-six forwards Landon Ferraro, Nathan Green and Andrej Kudrna for all or parts of that stretch.
“The guys are really pulling together and there’s a great atmosphere in the dressing room right now,” said Gaume. “Guys are feeling good about all the little things, whether it’s blocking shots, maybe sticking up for a teammate if that means dropping the gloves, winning faceoffs and killing penalties. All these little things that mean so much in a hockey game, these guys are taking a great deal of pride in, and they fell good about doing anything they can do to help the team.
“We know our (manpower) situation. We’re a little short-handed right now with some key guys out. But guys are stepping up and doing whatever they can to help.”
Two such examples are rookies Turner Elson and Colten Mayor, who provided the Red Deer goals Saturday. Both are listed players who certainly weren’t pencilled in prior to the start of the season and yet are contributing on a regular basis.
The extra ice time the aforementioned duo, as well as the likes of Adam Kambeitz and Daulton Siwak, are getting with the bigger guns out of the lineup, is surely accelerating their development.
“You’d sure think so, especially with a guy like Elson who’s playing a lot,” said Gaume. “He’s been playing some power play and has been a key guy on our penalty kill. He’s just getting more and more confident every game.”
Another ‘lesser light’, netminder Kraymer Barnstable, also came up big Saturday. The Rebels back-up stopper turned aside all 24 shots he faced to give the club its first shutout of the season.
“There are times when a team is missing that number of guys that the rest of the team goes in the bag and gives games away, but we pulled together and played with a lot of pride,” said Barnstable.
“We stuck to our systems, which was a key. We also did a good job of getting on their defence and hit them all night and wore them down.
“It was a great way to go into the break. The team did a great job. The D kept everything to the outside and let me see the puck and the forwards got the puck in deep . . . just a great team effort.”
The Rebels will have forward John Persson back in the lineup for their Sunday contest, and are hoping winger Josh Cowen will also be available. Both missed Saturday’s win with concussion-type injuries.
Red Deer will be without rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who will play with Team Pacific in the World Under 17 Challenge Dec. 29-Jan. 4 in Timmins, Ont.