The Advocate’s Red Deer Rebels all-decade team

Red Deer Rebels all-decade team

Looking back, it has been a unique decade for the Red Deer Rebels.

Since the turn to the 2010s, the Rebels have hosted a Memorial Cup, won a Central Division title and made the playoffs in seven of the past nine seasons, including five-straight appearances to cap it off.

They finished under .500 just once in the decade, were coached by Jesse Wallin in 2010-11 and 2011-12, before then Owner/GM Brent Sutter took over as the interim head coach early in the 2012-13 campaign.

He’s been behind the bench ever since, only missing the playoffs in his first full year as coach, albeit they missed after losing a tie-breaker game for the final playoff spot to the Prince Albert Raiders.

The 2016 Memorial Cup likely stands above most of the other memories of the decade, a tournament that the OHL’s London Knights won.

Red Deer lost 3-1 to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the semis but had their moment, perhaps the moment of the decade on May 25.

Evan Polei burying the game-winner 3:50 into OT sent the hometown faithful into a frenzy. It also booked a spot in the semifinal for Red Deer.

With so much to consider, single-season impact, franchise-altering moments and day-to-day impact, we managed to narrow the list down to five. After lots of deliberation, here is the Rebels All-Decade team.

Centre: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2008-11)

Stats: 57 goals, 120 assists, 177 points, 1.26 points per game, +20

Even if only one of his seasons count during this decade, it’s easy to label him as one of the best that’s ever suited up in a Rebels uniform.

The Nuge, as he’s commonly referred to came in as a highly-touted first overall WHL Bantam Draft pick. He delivered right from day one, but his performance in 2010-11, was special. He had 31 goals and 75 assists, 28 more than his next closest teammates. Simply put, he was a game-changer every time he hit the ice, with his skill and hockey sense. He was so good that year, the Burnaby, B.C. product was selected first over in the NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.

Where are they now:

It’s hard to believe that Nuge has been an Edmonton Oiler for nine seasons, but here we are. His most productive campaign in the NHL was last season when he posted 28 goals and 41 assists in 82 games. He has consistently produced between 45-55 points over his NHL career. He also posted 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games during his first season in Edmonton but lost out on the Calder for best rookie to Gabriel Landeskog.

Left Wing: Brandon Hagel (2014-19)

Stats: 103 goals, 176 assists, 279 points, 1.08 points per game, +68

Brandon Hagel over his entire body of work is in the conversation for most productive Red Deer Rebels ever. He finished his career as the franchise all-time leader in assists, was second in points behind only Arron Asham and fourth in goals. Especially in his final season, Hagel was an absolute difference-maker. That year, he was the first Rebel to crack 100 points since Nugent-Hopkins did it at the start of the decade. He looked like he had a gear other players simply couldn’t match in his 20-year-old season and was extremely effective on the penalty kill as well.

His play in the first two months of the year was so good, that he earned an entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was poetic justice for the forward who was passed up in the WHL Bantam Draft and selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL Draft, only to go unsigned.

Where are they now:

Hagel is in his first full pro season with the Rockford Ice Hogs of the AHL. Through 31 games, he has 11 goals and 31 points.

F: Evan Polei (2013-17)

Stats 72 goals, 59 assists, 131 points, 0.54 points per game, +1

This was the most difficult decision of all. His career will perhaps go down as one of the more unheralded in team history, particularly in the last decade. While his point or goal totals don’t immediately jump off the page, the Wetaskiwin, Alta. native was a workhorse from Day 1. He went on to play 242 games in a Rebels uniform, scoring 72 goals and adding 59 assists. In the 2016 WHL playoff run, Polei had eight goals in 17 games and one of the most memorable goals in franchise history was his, in overtime at the Memorial Cup on home ice.

His final year he turned into an offensive force, lighting the lamp 33 times in 69 games and also added nine points in six playoff games. His leadership ability, willingness to give back and work ethic made the forward beloved in the community.

Where are they now:

After his Rebels career ended, it didn’t take long for him to sign with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL, the Oilers farm team. Since then, in four seasons of pro hockey, he’s been up and down between the ECHL and AHL. He posted 20 points in 53 games last season with Bakersfield.

D: Matt Dumba (2009-13)

Stats: 51 goals, 76 assists, 0.63 points per game +27

Dumba was also a fan favourite in Red Deer, as an extremely physical player who also put up points, somewhat like another famous Rebels defenceman, Dion Phaneuf.

The Regina, Sask. product recorded 127 points over 199 games in a Rebels uniform, for 0.67 points per game. During his draft year, Dumba collected 20 goals and added 37 assists, leading to a seventh overall selection in the 2012 NHL Draft.

He was one of five WHL defenceman selected in the top 10 spots that year. He played for Canada at the 2014 world juniors and was the WHL Rookie of the Year for the 2010-11 season.

Where are they now:

Dumba is now in his seventh season with the Minnesota Wild and burgeoned into an elite blueliner two seasons ago with 50 points in 82 games.

D: Haydn Fleury (2011-16)

Stats: 30 goals, 104 assists, 134 points, 0.52 ppg, +42

Fleury followed in Dumba’s footsteps but was more of a slick playmaker and point producer. The Carlyle, Sask. defenceman played his entire career as a Rebel. He suited up for 259 games, notching 30 goals and 134 points over four seasons. He finished his career producing 0.52 points per game. He was a true power play quarterback for the Rebels during his time.

His WHL career-best year in 2014, 46 points in 70 games led him to be a highly touted prospect for the NHL Draft.

He was selected seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft, just the second defenceman picked after Aaron Ekblad went first overall.

Where are they now:

Fleury has had a tough road to the NHL, finally cracking the Hurricanes lineup as a full-time player this year. The 23-year-old has five points in 21 games.

G Darcy Kuemper

(2008-11)

Stats: 94-60-4-13 record, 2.48 goals against average, 0.914 save percentage, 19 shutouts

Although the majority of Keumper’s work came in the previous decade, his one season in the 2010s is enough to land him atop the list. The Saskatoon, Sask. product posted 13 shutouts in 62 games in 2010-11, finishing the year 45-12-5 with a 1.86 goals against average and 0.933 save percentage. He was the WHL and CHL Goalie of the Year for his efforts. He was named the 15th best Rebel by Greg Meachem in the 25th-anniversary special feature. He led the Rebels to its only Central Division title of the decade.

Where are they now:

Kuemper was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild. Although he had a strong first season playing pro hockey, he didn’t really talked the reigns until the 2013-14 season. He’s been having a career year this year with the Arizona Coyotes and has played 211 career NHL games with a 2.46 GAA and 0.918 SV%.

Honourable mention:

F Conner Bleackley, F Michael Spacek, F Turner Elson, F Adam Musil, F Brooks Maxwell, F Reese Johnson, F Byron Froese, Ivan Nikolishin, D Alex Petrovic, D Colton Bobyk, D Nelson Nogier, D Alexander Alexeyev and G Patrik Bartosak.

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